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A day after mingling with several hundred fans who packed the Colonial Life Arena’s McGuire Room to celebrate the USC women’s basketball team bid to the NCAA tournament, athletics director Eric Hyman entered the same room Tuesday and announced he was firing men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn after four seasons.
Hyman declined to name a point in the 10-21 season when he decided Horn had to leave. Instead, he said the coaching change came from what he was seeing as the worst campaign in 13 years went along — growing antipathy of fans and faltering progress from players.
Horn, who went 60-63 at USC, could have helped his job with some wins late in the season, Hyman said, but the Gamecocks lost 11 of his final 12 games this year.
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“He’s had to give me some ammunition,” Hyman said at a news conference while a cutout poster of Horn hovered in front him. “And I just didn’t get the ammunition.”
While praising the coach for his integrity and focus on improving academics, Hyman said he “didn’t go to the games with blinders on.” The team has not had a winning season since Horn’s first campaign in 2008-09 and average attendance dropped by 25 percent.
“We didn’t have the positive energy going forward, and we didn’t have the hope out there for our program,” Hyman said. “You get to a point in time, you have to turn the corner, and we were not able to turn the corner. We have to put a product out there that is successful.”
Hyman said the school has the resources and new facilities to develop a top-25 basketball team.
“We have three of our four most high-visible programs (football, baseball and women’s basketball) competing on a very high level,” Hyman said. “We want to be nationally prominent and to be able to battle for championships. And we want our men’s basketball program to do the same thing.”
Hyman told USC president Harris Pastides of his decision on Sunday and told Horn and the team on Tuesday morning. He said Horn took the news in stride and was apologetic for not doing more to help the program that has long struggled to match the success of the late-1960s, early-1970s under Frank McGuire.
Horn, who cleaned out his office shortly after meeting with Hyman, did not attend the news conference with Hyman and did not return calls for comment.
“I’d like to thank Eric Hyman, Dr. Pastides and the Board of Trustees for the opportunity I’ve had as the head men’s basketball coach at South Carolina for the past four years,” Horn said in a statement released by the university. “I appreciate the Gamecock Nation for its support of the program. My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Columbia and wish nothing but the best for the Gamecocks.”
Horn is scheduled to receive $2.4 million to buy out the final three years of his contract. “I swallow when I think about $2.4 million,” Hyman said.
But USC has built $12 million in reserves to pay unexpected costs, he said. Pastides and the board of trustees said in statements that they backed Hyman’s decision.
Hyman said he would conduct a national search and that the school is in better financial condition than five years ago to pay the SEC’s market rate for a coach. Horn earned $1.1 million per year, among the lowest salaries in the league.
The school is receiving new injections of money from the SEC’s $3 billion television contract that started in 2009, which makes the basketball program profitable before the first ticket is sold.
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall, a Greenwood native and former coach at Winthrop, is among numerous potential candidates.
The new coach will inherit a program losing its leading scorer, possessing few All-SEC caliber players and having problems scoring.
In the meantime, the program is being overseen by executive associate athletics director Kevin O’Connell and academics advisor Al Daniel, Hyman said. He will meet with assistants, who are under contract through June, on Thursday.
Hyman brought in Horn as a youthful alternative to a pair of veterans before him, Dave Odom and Eddie Fogler, who also could not make South Carolina basketball into a consistent winner.
Horn, 39, was unable to repeat the success of his Sweet 16 NCAA run from his final season at Western Kentucky or even the winning record of his first season at South Carolina after replacing Odom. The Gamecocks went 21-10 that season, won a share of the SEC Eastern division title and earned a NIT bid.
But as Odom’s players left the program or graduated, including three-time first-team All-SEC guard Devan Downey, Horn’s team got younger and wins dwindled from 15 to 14 to 10.
He fared worse in the SEC, where he was 23-41. The Gamecocks won seven league contests in the past two seasons. Horn never won a SEC tournament game and dropped his only postseason appearance, a first-round NIT game against Davidson.
The Gamecocks’ 21 losses this season, including to mid-majors Elon and Tennessee State, tied a school record. South Carolina also posted a school-worst 2-14 record in the SEC.
Critics point to the low point of the season as a 34-point loss to Kentucky in February in front of a mostly blue-clad Wildcat-partisan crowd at Colonial Life Arena.