As some fans clamor for firing the Gamecocks' basketball coach in the midst of his third-straight losing season, several USC board of trustees members said Friday that Darrin Horn deserves more time to try to turn around the program.
“I have confidence in coach Horn and that we’ll have good days ahead of us and we will develop a winner,” trustees chairman Miles Loadholt said.
Loadholt and William Hubbard, head of the board’s athletics committee, said trustees have not discussed potential replacements or buying out Horn’s contract, which would cost the school $2.4 million after this season -- $800,000 each of the three years remaining on the agreement through 2015. He earns $1.1 million on average annually in his current contract.
The trustees' support echoes the backing USC Athletics Director Eric Hyman has given Horn over much of his embattled fourth season in Columbia. Hyman, who is Horn’s boss, will review the team's performance with the coach soon after the SEC tournament ends next week.
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Home attendance has dropped 25 percent in the past three seasons in a program that is just one of two that earns money at USC. The other is football. Still, quick fixes won’t help the team, said trustees, who can sway what happens with coaches.
“Our goal is always to have a lot stability,” said Hubbard, a Columbia attorney. “You look at successful programs and rarely they have turnover in coaching. If you’re going to err, you do it on the side of stability.”
Horn is 60-61 in four seasons in Columbia. South Carolina is 10-19 and 2-13 in the SEC this season with losses to mid-majors Tennessee State and Elon. The team will finish last in the conference, and, if the Gamecocks fall to Georgia in the regular-season finale on Saturday, they would post their worst-ever SEC record since joining the league in 1991-92.
But some board members think the 39-year-old Kentucky native needs another chance.
“I’m disappointed in the season,” said Eddie Floyd, a Florence surgeon who has been on the board since 1982. “My feeling is that we ought to keep coach Horn at this time. If next year, there’s deterioration then we need to re-evaluate. He needs to show improvement.”
Floyd, a member of the board’s athletics committee, did not say how he would measure that improvement but stressed he did not want USC to look like a school that jettisons coaches before they have had ample time to try and fix a program. Previous Gamecock basketball coaches -- Eddie Fogler and Dave Odom -- had eight and seven years, respectively.
Board member Egerton Burroughs, a real estate developer from the Myrtle Beach area, said he thought Horn was a good man and a good coach who is still in the midst of building a program in the competitive SEC.
“I think coach Horn needs little a more time,” Burroughs said.
At his pregame news conference on Friday, Horn said criticism of his record this season is justified but the program has made strides.
Asked if he received support from USC administrators, Horn said: “We have, but I don’t think that’s not the most important thing right now. We still have games left to play. And that’s what we have to be concerned about.”
Horn won a share of SEC Eastern division title in his first season at South Carolina after coming from Western Kentucky. But USC’s wins have dwindled each year during his tenure from 21 to 14 last season.
The Gamecocks would need to beat Georgia and reach the finals of the SEC tournament to equal last year’s victory total. Horn has not won a game in the tournament in three seasons. Instead, the team appears headed for its first 20-loss season in 13 years and could tie the all-time mark of 21 defeats in a season.
South Carolina has had one of the nation’s youngest teams for two seasons in a row and lacked scoring punch and experience to bag wins. Some fans want a coaching change because of the team’s lack of recent progress and player departures.
Horn has not brought in the same caliber of players as more successful programs at USC, including the two-time NCAA champion baseball team and 11-win football squad, Loadholt said.
“Recruiting is the key to winning the game,” he said.
Hyman has said Horn needs time to build the program that has gone to just eight NCAA tournaments in seven decades. He also has bolstered the team’s academic performance. John Calipari, coach of the nation’s top-ranked team Kentucky, said last month Horn deserves six or seven years to try to turn around USC.
Board members understand the unhappiness of fans, who showed their displeasure this year with setting an all-time low for an announced attendance at an SEC game in the 10 years of Colonial Life Arena.
“We all wish the team had more success this year, and I continue to support the coaches and players,” Hubbard said. “They have never quit this season. They work hard and they play hard. I know some fans are disappointed in the performance and are not coming out. But you support the team in good times and bad.”