“Cause I’m a businessman taking care of business.” --------------------------------------------- 12 GAUGE
Thanks to my superiors at The State, I was able to go to Waco, Texas, and watch South Carolina take on Baylor on Nov. 12. They had a great idea while I was there – since it was around 90 minutes away, why not take a trip to College Station and catch up with Eric Hyman?
I liked the idea. Hyman always treated me well when he was at South Carolina and I hadn’t spoken to him outside of a text message or two since he left. I got there and he was the same guy – welcoming me into his office, catching up with what was going on at USC, asking about the basketball game that night and about how Dawn Staley, his landmark hire at USC, was doing.
There was a lot in the story that I just didn’t have room to print, and I wanted to post it here. There are also my opinions on Hyman that I wanted to also express.
I maintain that Eric Hyman is the best thing to ever happen to South Carolina. He was the one that bucked the status quo, of always following the “old boy’s network” at USC that had been in place for decades, and really got the department moving to where it needed to be. It was the case of him walking in, saying, “You guys are OK, but you could be great. Let’s make it great.”
He talked willingly about some of the criticism that he faced at USC, but wasn’t angry about it. It was part of the job. Like board member William Hubbard also said for the story, any time a person is in a leadership position, he’s going to take some heat. Hubbard never saw the criticism get Hyman down, because he had this grand vision.
Full disclosure – we in the media judge coaches and athletic personnel on how well they do their jobs, like everybody else. We also judge them based on how they are to deal with. Like I said before, Hyman always treated me well. He never refused me an interview, was always polite and cordial, and even dropped the guard once in a while so we could just talk. I didn’t agree with some of the ways he approached the improvements to USC, but I saw them as a means to an end, instead of some of the decisions that people still scorned him for all these years later.
* How the Texas A&M hire went down: I remember it really started moving the day after I got back from the 2012 College World Series.
Hyman: “What happened, it was very quick. I didn’t even know there was an opening here. Pauline (his wife) knew about it before I knew about it. It was in Destin when I was approached. They followed up on it, so during the College World Series, we went to Dallas and met. We had a discussion, and I was very honest, very frank, with them. They had two board members and the president and another person, and we sat down and talked. The next day, they offered me the job. It was a matter of deciding what was the right thing to do.”
Being near his children, who each live in Texas, played a part in it as well.
“That played into it. It was time to hand the baton off to somebody else. I never made a move for money. People said that, that was not true. I left TCU, there was no push for me to leave. But I felt it was time to hand the baton off to someone else. My kids said I had the seven-year itch, because at VMI, TCU, and USC, I was there for seven years each. It gets to a point in time, where they all want to listen to a fresh voice.”
* Of course we talked about the things he was criticized for. I narrowed it down to three main things – the YES program, the pep band to New York and the Garcia situation. The pep band, Hyman said, was real simple. It cost money to send it, and USC didn’t have it at the time.
“I still wouldn’t change what I did with the pep band. I didn’t have the money. The school wasn’t giving me the help. We ended up having to do things that people got really upset with me for doing, but I got my message across, that we were struggling financially. We had lost a million and a half or something like that, the year before I got there. We were fast losing another million or two million. I asked people in the athletic department with the budget, they said we’d be fine. That wasn’t true.”
(There was also Hyman’s notorious dislike for the Roundhouse. While it reeked of tradition and was a historical part of the campus, it was decrepit and outdated. Now that it’s finally gone, Hyman didn’t back down one bit. “I wouldn’t want my child to work in the Roundhouse,” he said.)
The YES program, like I said in the story, had to be done. We actually had a comment from a reader that he was one of those who was hurt by the increase and had to give up his tickets, but he understood. It was a case of paying to watch a mediocre team play in person, or giving up the tickets in the name of sacrifice to watch a great team play on TV.
The Garcia situation, as the sidebar said, I was honestly surprised that he talked as much as he did about it. There was the previous incident that landed Garcia on his last chance, which some claimed Pauline had a hand in. Absolutely not true. “If Pauline had done that, I would have fired her,” Hyman said.
The thing with Garcia is that Hyman understood how the fans thought. They all loved the guy ever since he showed up at his commitment ceremony and ripped open his shirt to reveal his USC T-shirt. That hair and that attitude only brought forth one thought – “Taneyhill.” And because he had some success (not nearly as much as his successor did), fans were always going to turn a blind eye to his off-the-field dalliances. The thing with the life skills seminar, which had 100 different versions of what really happened, no one ever recognized the fact that Garcia showed up with alcohol on his breath. And some still decry that Hyman was the big villain in the case, that he was the one who pulled the final trigger.
He did make the final decision, but like the story says, Garcia was the one who broke the contract. He was forbidden to drink. He drank. He got caught. Many moaned and pointed the finger at Hyman for it, but always conveniently overlooked the six – SIX! – chances that Garcia received. It’s calmed down a lot now, since Connor Shaw took over and led the team to its greatest heights, but at the time, man Hyman was the modern-day version of Snidely Whiplash, tying the destitute widows to the train tracks when they couldn’t come up with the mortgage.
“Stephen, he’s a good kid,” Hyman said. “Life is not a game of perfect. I’ve always tried to say this to athletes – life is full of experiences, success will be learned from it.”
* Hyman has already faced some criticism at Texas A&M. A report surfaced before basketball season by a local A&M writer that said that Hyman had met with coach Billy Kennedy. The report said that Hyman told him to make the postseason or he was going to be fired. Hyman flatly denied that, and also said he challenged the reporter.
“I told him that I’d take a lie detector test on it, and if I passed, he’d lose his job,” Hyman said. “And supposedly that happened a month ago. That never happened. I would never tell a coach anything like that.”
That also led to the supposed meetings he had with Johnny Manziel and his parents, which also, Hyman said, never happened. He told Manziel’s dad something at a party or the Heisman dinner, and it got blown into this major “story” about how he was trying to script Manziel’s behavior.
* Hyman’s track record of hiring USC coaches will always have a black eye attached to it, strictly because of how he handled the end of Dave Odom and the hiring of Darrin Horn. Although Horn did win just the second SEC East title in program history, the program completely bottomed out after that season. As Hyman said, mistakes were made.
He doesn’t have the track record of hiring great coaches like Mike McGee did (as blustery as he could be and despite leaving the department in debt, McGee could hire a coach, now), but then again, he didn’t have to hire a football or a baseball coach during his USC tenure. He did get Frank Martin and Dawn Staley, and Staley, he said, was one of the moves he made at USC that he was the most proud of.
“As much flak as I got for hiring her remember that?,” Hyman said. “I talked to one of the radio guys when she started winning, and said, ‘Now you’re praising her, but before, you were ripping her.’ Deep down inside, the thing I’m really proud of, is Dawn Staley. As much criticism as I got for hiring her, and she’s special. I think she’ll do remarkable things, which I felt when I hired her.”
* Some leftover quotes from Hyman, and Ray Tanner:
“South Carolina was not an easy job. There were a lot of difficult decisions that had to be made. When I got there, to be successful, I think you have to have great coaching and you have to have a sincere commitment. And I really didn’t feel that South Carolina understood what a sincere commitment was. Comfort, you can maintain the status quo. Courage, you’re going to have to do things where people will criticize you. And people were very critical of some issues, but look at where South Carolina is today. There’s an expression, like Bill Cosby said, I don’t know the formula for success, but I know the formula for failure, and that’s trying to please everybody.”
“You look at what they’ve achieved and what they’ve accomplished, the coaching staff, the people that are there, I’m very proud and very excited. It’s not all about one person. We had a great team. We had quality people in the athletic department. I’m excited because of the team effort and the success that they’ve had.”
“It was our watch, not my watch. After the Connecticut game, I got ripped pretty good about the football program. It took a while for the football program, it’s taken us a while to get where we are, it’s going to take a while to get where we want to go. It took Steve (Spurrier) a while to change the character of the team. It didn’t happen overnight. You could see the things that turned the corner, and when Stephon Gilmore and DeVonte Holloman came to USC, South Carolina had stability and was ready to take advantage of it. That, to me, was the catalyst. There are a lot of great South Carolina players that followed them.”
“I wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest, I was trying to do what was right. The proof’s in the pudding. It was a team effort. A lot of people worked hard to get USC where it is. Hopefully, I was a difference-maker, and there was improvement. There’s a lot of positive things. From an overall standpoint, I guess you just want to make every day a little bit better. I look at it from that perspective. It was hard work, it was not easy, it was a challenge, a healthy challenge.”
“I think that having been a coach for so many years, we always have a little skepticism, but Eric Hyman is very experienced in the business, and his vision, I loved the progressive nature that we’re trying to move this department. We’re competing in the greatest conference in the country, and it’s not going to be easy. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and we all have to be ambitious. One of his favorite sayings is shared sacrifice, shared vision. He was a true leader and has to be rated as one of the best athletic directors in the country. He would make you fight for an increase in dollars, but if you could justify it, in most cases, he would go with you. I think that one thing that he did, he did a lot of great things here. He was instrumental in so many missives that we have moving forward.”
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState