Ron Morris

January 24, 2010

USC AD has whipped department into shape

In a short period of time by college athletics' standards, Eric Hyman has reorganized USC's athletics department and steered it on a path never before attempted by a Gamecock athletics director.

Talk to almost anyone about Eric Hyman, and they are likely to relate immediately how South Carolina's athletics director is the product of a military upbringing.

Texas Christian University football coach Gary Patterson mentioned it. So, too, did Lamar athletics director Billy Tubbs. The same goes for Kevin O'Connell, USC's executive associate athletics director.

Then you spend a day with Hyman, and it all comes into clearer focus.

His father, Art Hyman, imparted a tremendous influence on the second oldest of his four children. Hyman's father earned the rank of general in the U.S. Army, along with the loyalty and respect of his troops.

Over the years, Hyman has tweaked his father's style, adding management skills here and subtracting tasks there. It has left Hyman with the kind of leadership style his father demanded of his children.

Today, the 59-year-old Hyman leads one of South Carolina's largest corporations. He is chief executive officer of a $70 million-a-year operation, managing a staff of nearly 200 and almost 500 student-athletes.

"People think an athletic director just schedules the games and goes out and you play the games," Hyman says as he adheres to a New Year's weight-watching regimen by shunning a cheeseburger for a salad recently at Rockaway Athletic Club, a restaurant on Rosewood Drive not far from his office. "It's a big business.

"It's a complicated business."

In a short period of time by college athletics' standards, Hyman has reorganized USC's athletics department and steered it on a path never before attempted by a Gamecock athletics director.

He has worked the department out of what he termed "financial hemorrhaging" into one that Forbes magazine recently reported to have the 12th-most profitable football program in the country - at $37 million a year. He embarked on the athletics department's first capital fundraising campaign, a $200 million effort aimed at making USC's facilities competitive within the Southeastern Conference.

He also moved plans off paper and into fruition for the building of Carolina Stadium, a $35.6 million baseball park considered among the finest in the country. And he made high-profile hires for men's and women's basketball.

All has not gone smoothly, though.

Into the teeth of a recession, Hyman raised season-ticket prices for football and increased dues for Gamecock Club members. He also instituted the highly unpopular YES program, a seat-licensing policy that annually taxes season-ticket holders for the right to keep their seat locations.

"I know I'm not going to win a popularity contest," Hyman says. "That's not my objective. In time, people will realize what we are trying to do."

In five years at USC, Hyman has proved to be an executive with vision who has provided the athletics department with perhaps its first master plan. He has brought competitive fire, organizational skills, frugality in financial matters and a call for integrity, mixed with a dose of humility and a splash of humor.

Dutch Baughman, executive director of the NCAA Division I-A Athletic Directors Association, says Hyman is one of the nation's most respected leaders of athletics. He said men and women entering the profession often mention how they long to work for Hyman.

Of course, Baughman also says you should know Hyman is the product of a military background.


It is little coincidence that every characteristic that defines USC's athletics department was first learned from Hyman's father.

Hyman, along with his two sisters and younger brother, lived a nomadic life growing up. He was born in Georgia and, until he went to school at the University of North Carolina, lived in eight states as well as two cities in Germany.

Because his father often served overseas, the responsibilities of running the family were divided among the siblings. Hyman, for instance, was assigned care of the family car and maintenance of the lawn, meaning he picked more than his share of dandelions.

Then there was SMI, or Saturday Morning Inspection. When home, Hyman's father made certain all beds were properly made and bathrooms spit-shine clean. When the family ate at the dinner table, the siblings sat upright and on the edge of their seats. The boys' hair was trimmed to a certain length, and blue jeans were not allowed.

"He (their father) had a very specific set of things you had to do," says Hyman's brother, Jon, who owns a research-and-development company for construction materials in Alexandria, Va. "He would outline them for you.

"If you didn't do them, there would be consequences."

The consequence often was denial of a 25- to 50-cent weekly allowance or suspension from participation in sporting activities.

Competition ran deep in the Hyman household, whether it was skeet shooting or playing the card game Hearts.

Pauline Hyman, Eric's wife of 36 years, recalls vividly her first visit to meet the Hyman family, when she was a 24-year-old just out of the University of North Carolina.

The family was living in Fort Polk, La., and Hyman gave his girlfriend specific instructions.

No one questioned Hyman's father.

"Hey" was not an acceptable greeting.

Hyman also purchased a sweat suit for Pauline. Upon arrival in Louisiana, the family led Pauline to a game of touch football, followed - over the next several days - by competition in tennis, basketball, horseshoes, volleyball, racquetball and skeet shooting.

"It reminded me of the Kennedys," says Pauline, who also learned how to shuffle a deck of cards that week.

By the time she returned to Chapel Hill, Pauline had shed 10 pounds and gained a better idea of her future husband's desire to win - at everything.

After a three-season varsity football career as a defensive lineman at UNC that included two Atlantic Coast Conference championships and appearances in the Peach, Gator and Sun bowls, Hyman attended training camp with the New Orleans Saints.

A few days after being cut, Hyman engaged in a heated racquetball game against his father at Fort Polk. During play, Hyman accidentally was struck by his father's racquet, and a gash was opened on his forehead.

"There was no comment about, 'Oh, my God, I'm sorry. Let me take you in, and let's get it fixed up,'" Jon Hyman says. "Dad said, 'If you quit, you lose.'"

They continued playing.

Later, when Hyman and his young wife were co-coaches of the North Greenville College women's basketball team, Pauline recalls the challenges her husband occasionally presented to the team.

One day, Hyman told the team it did not have to run a series of sprints if the fastest girl on the team could beat him in one run.

Even at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Hyman won.

The team ran.

Baughman, the executive director of NCAA athletics directors, was athletics director at Furman University when Hyman was a young assistant football coach in the 1970s.

They often competed during lunch breaks in racquetball, basketball and golf. The golf games usually included small wagers, such as a pack of crackers or a soda. Years later, the competition had become so fierce that they agreed to eliminate wagering.

"Eric is always concerned that failure is around the corner," Jon Hyman says. "So he works doubly hard to make sure that failure never catches up."


When there is time for relaxation at home, Hyman often will curl up with a book, most likely something to do with leadership. He is known to buy and distribute such books to his senior management staff. If John Maxwell, a nationally renowned leadership expert, is speaking within driving distance of Columbia, Hyman will alter his schedule to attend.

As the athletics director at Virginia Military Institute, Hyman established a list of components for a successful athletics department. The list - upgraded over the years - hangs in the senior management meeting room next to the Roundhouse on the USC campus.

The seven components include guidelines for integrity, student-athlete management, winning and losing, academics, marketing, teammates and producing contributors to society. When then-President Andrew Sorensen interviewed him for the athletics director job, Hyman presented the components and asked whether USC could operate within those parameters.

Hyman uses the components when conducting exit interviews with student-athletes and as a guideline for prospective coaches.

Baughman says no athletic director in the country does more thorough research than Hyman when making hires. O'Connell, an associate athletics director who has followed Hyman from Miami of Ohio to TCU to USC, says his boss hires values rather than teaching values.

Upon arriving at USC, Hyman established a personnel flow chart and instituted organization to a department that was largely disjointed. His weekly staff meetings on Wednesdays are a lesson in efficiency. Hyman moves from senior staffer to senior staffer, with each presenting his or her work for the week. Hyman is versed on every subject and peppers each staffer with questions.

His attention to detail can seem borderline obsessive.

In a review of the upcoming dedication ceremony of the Dodie, an academic center for athletes, Hyman made certain the sun would not shine in the faces of dignitaries, and that the eight-inch step to the dais will not be too high for Dodie Anderson, the major donor for the building named in her honor.

With an eye on the future, Hyman last week asked Charles Waddell, an associate athletics director, to explore the financial impact of USC's playing six - instead of seven - home football games in future seasons. You can be assured Waddell will have his figures in order in time for Wednesday's meeting.

O'Connell says a staff member will attend a meeting with Hyman unprepared only once.

Occasionally, if Hyman conducts a meeting in which he offers a plethora of ideas, one staff member will turn to another afterward and say, "He's been on a plane again (and had time to think)."

Hyman also instituted a monthly all-staff meeting. More than 100 employees, including head football coach Steve Spurrier and baseball coach Ray Tanner, attended the meeting this past Wednesday. The meeting was a mid-year chance to gauge the progress on departmentwide goals established by Hyman.

Quantifiable goals have been set in academics, business, competition, compliance, development, facilities, marketing, media relations, life skills, sports medicine, and strength and conditioning.

Hyman opened the meeting by explaining why the monthly meeting is held.

"A team can't function if the members of the team are isolated from one another," he said. "A high-functioning team throws people together and keeps them interacting on a regular basis."

At the meeting's conclusion, Hyman posted a quote on the overhead screen that had to be read before an employee could exit.

"True humility does not mean you think less of yourself; it simply means that you think of yourself less," the message read. "Most humble people have a healthy sense of self-esteem. In fact, it's dysfunctional and insecure people who tend to be the most arrogant and vain."


Hyman is a man of what seems like a million sayings, some passed down by his father, others picked up from his readings.

Some of his favorites:

"You can never mortgage your integrity because you can't get it back."

"You are the choices you make."

"Your action speaks so loud, I can barely hear what you say."

"Principles over politics."

"Honesty brings no regrets. It just makes life more complicated."

Hyman offers his words - as he does just about everything - with a sense of humility.

He says he never asks a staff member to conduct a task he would not ask himself to do. Pauline Hyman recalls game days at VMI when her husband was the athletics director, yet he raised the flags of every Southern Conference team and took them down.

When the new baseball stadium opened for the 2009 season, the pregame dedication ceremony focused on Tanner and former USC coaches and players. The man most responsible for getting the stadium built, Hyman, stood on the sideline.

Pauline Hyman recalls the time she and her husband attended the New York premier of a made-for-TV show about Jim Valvano, the late N.C. State basketball coach. Seeing the red carpet outside the Ed Sullivan Theater lined with reporters and photographers, Hyman quickly stepped outside the ropes and avoided the crowd.


Of course, not all USC followers are enamored of Hyman and his ways.

His chief critics say Hyman has put the athletics department's financial gain ahead of fans' loyalty to the school. The raising of Gamecock Club dues and football season-ticket prices tested the commitment of fans.

Pauline Hyman says her husband loses sleep over those who have lost their jobs in the weakened economy and no longer can afford to be USC fans.

Among Hyman's decisions was the institution of the YES program, which Hyman concedes came at the most inopportune of times because of the economy. He defends the seat tax as a move made after most major-college football programs already had taken such action.

George Lee, a Columbia attorney and longtime USC supporter, filed suit against the athletics department. He claims the seat tax does not apply to those, like himself, who long ago purchased lifetime memberships to the Gamecock Club. The suit is pending.

"You either love him or hate him," Lee says of Hyman. "There is not a lot of middle ground there. I think some things have been bungled, but overall I don't know. I just don't know how they run their business model down there."

Hyman also received heat for his 2006 decision to leave cheerleaders and the pep band in Columbia when the men's basketball team participated in the National Invitation Tournament in New York.

A couple of other debated decisions include:

- A two-year contract renewal in 2007 for men's basketball coach Dave Odom, who was let go a season later

- The $650,000-a-year salary given to women's basketball coach Dawn Staley upon her hiring in 2008

Hyman says he learned long ago he would not win favor for all his decisions.

In 2001, he elevated a relatively unknown assistant coach, Gary Patterson, to head coach at TCU. When Patterson's head-coaching career got off to a rocky start that included a loss to Northwestern State in the fourth game of the season, Hyman felt the wrath of TCU fans.

Hyman had the misfortune of presenting an award at halftime of the Northwestern State game. He was booed unmercifully as he trudged up and down the stadium steps.

Since then, Patterson has established himself as one of the nation's top coaches with six seasons of 10 or more wins.

"He was unbelievable inside, structurally," Patterson says of Hyman. "He really turned TCU into big-time football, from the good-old-boy days to big corporation football and athletics as it is today."


Hyman aims to do the same at USC, and his plan starts with an athletics department that is fiscally sound. To a person, the motto in the athletics department is to spend USC's money as if it were your own.

Facing a second consecutive school year of projected deficits in the $2.5 million range when he arrived at USC, Hyman instituted zero-based budgeting.

Now, instead of spending first and covering costs later, every department is allowed to manage its budget but not to exceed it.

Managers improvise.

For example, Steve Fink, USC's director of media relations, who followed Hyman from TCU, found ways to trim expenses for media guides and funnel the savings into computer upgrades.

Hyman sets the example.

He views use of USC's private airplane as too expensive, instead opting to find the cheapest commercial flight. Hyman will drive to Charlotte for a flight to save the department $200.

Hyman often is the subject of ribbing from friends and associates for his frugality.

Baughman and Jon Hyman laugh about the time the trio traveled to Ireland for a week of golf. Jon, who was in the golf business at the time, arranged for an inexpensive week that included air travel, lodging and golf.

Only his brother would not pay the daily $12 caddy fee.

As much for his frugality, Hyman is known for his love of pranks.

Unsuspecting sports writers, coaches and associates have been the subject of Hyman's antics. It was another trade - or trick - learned from his father, who as an undergraduate at West Point was expelled for one semester for removing the wheels from an officer's parked car.

Baughman recalls attending a convention and being awakened by a telephone call in his room in the middle of the night. Somewhat groggy as he awoke, Baughman recognized the voice on the other end as Hyman's.

Baughman cleared his eyes and was startled to see Hyman sitting on the edge of the adjacent bed laughing hysterically. Hyman wanted Baughman to stop snoring, so he used his cell phone to call the hotel's front desk, then had the call transferred to their room.

A year ago, during the official campus visit of highly touted women's basketball recruit Kelsey Bone, Hyman sidled up next to Bone's mother, Kim Williams, during a meeting.

When the meeting adjourned, Hyman and Williams pretended to part ways in a huff as USC women's basketball coach Staley watched in horror.

Another prank.

No doubt, Art Hyman, who died in 1986 of colon cancer, would have been proud of his son.

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