At times, Darrin Horn showed a bit of an edge, taking subtle jabs at his new rival as well as another coach. In other moments, he showed humility, making light of how he arrived at this point.
Mostly, Horn tried to convey one thought: He wanted this job. He long ago thought of South Carolina as a place he might want to be the men’s basketball coach.
And on Tuesday afternoon, the 35-year-old Horn — born a couple of months before USC won its last NCAA tournament game — left Western Kentucky, his alma mater, to take that job, replacing Dave Odom.
“This is a great job — not a good job — a great job,” Horn said at a news conference at the Colonial Center.
Horn received a five-year contract, with a guaranteed annual income of $800,000, and incentives for on-court performance that could push it to $1.14 million. Those incentives are mostly based on reaching different rounds of the NCAA tournament, and Horn — coming off a Sweet 16 appearance — made clear that was his goal.
“We want to compete nationally. We want to be relevant nationally. We want to compete for championships. And we want to do it the right way.”
Pressed later, Horn said he meant SEC championships, not just the NIT. That echoed the expectations set recently by athletics director Eric Hyman, who hired Horn to inject energy into a program coming off two consecutive losing seasons.
Hyman led the search, but admitted Tuesday that former coach Eddie Fogler, whom Odom replaced, served as a paid consultant. Fogler was used as an intermediary to research and sound out potential candidates, including Horn.
“Basically, my role was to help Eric identify candidates that we felt would be a great fit for the university’s basketball program as head coach,” Fogler said. “Then the next step for me is to make sure that those candidates that get great consideration all would be excellent choices, and then ultimately Eric is the one that makes the selection.”
Hyman said Horn’s name was on his list from the start and his stock rose during the NCAA tournament. His team reached the Sweet 16 with a fortuitous draw and a last-second shot: Guard Ty Rogers nailed a long 3 to beat Drake in the first round.
That led one reporter to ask Horn whether he would be USC’s coach if Rogers had missed the shot. He laughed it off.
“I know we did and I’m here and that’s all that matters,” Horn said. “It’s irrelevant to me. I’m not even sure I was (his wife) Carla’s first choice.”
Asked the same question, Hyman called it “hypothetical,” adding that Horn was the only person offered the job.
“He was there before the shot went in,” Hyman said. “He was there from the beginning.”
Horn said his courtship with USC started this past weekend and went “fast and furious.” Asked if it was tough leaving Western Kentucky, not only his alma mater but his native state, he said “professionally, no.”
Horn dived into the role of Gamecock coach from the minute he took the podium. He even took a shot at Clemson, without mentioning the rival because “that would justify their existence, wouldn’t it? We’re the University OF South Carolina.”
Later he was asked about facing Georgia coach Dennis Felton, his predecessor at Western Kentucky. USC plays its division rival at least twice a year.
“(Western Kentucky was) 2-1 against him, so I’m not too shook up about it,” Horn said.
Western Kentucky played Georgia because of an unusual clause in Felton’s contract, one which Horn also agreed to: If each coach left, he had to schedule a four-year, home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers. That means Horn is probably headed for a couple of awkward returns to Bowling Green, Ky. Hyman said he would probably abide by the clause after getting a “legal interpretation.”
Hyman agreed to pay Horn’s $200,000 buyout from Western Kentucky, and inserted an unusual clause of his own in Horn’s new deal. The coach will receive $50,000 for each increase of 1,000 full-pay season tickets sold for men’s basketball at the Colonial Center.
“This is something where if we can increase the season tickets, he can benefit,” Hyman said. “The kind of exciting basketball that I think we’ll play, the kind of product that he’ll put on, I think will generate a lot of interest.”
Indeed, Horn promised to bring his fast-paced, trapping style to South Carolina. He inherits a team seemingly made for that: 11 scholarship players return — most perimeter-oriented.
Horn also said recruiting was the foundation of a program, adding that he already had three instate recruiting trips planned for this week. He talked of “building a fence” around the state, and doing so right away.
“Recruiting, it’s like shaving, it’s something you’ve gotta work on every day,” Horn said.
On Tuesday, Horn lauded the school’s administration, it’s fan base (“but our passionate fan base has gotta grow”) and its tradition (“and this is coming from a guy who grew up in Kentucky”). After meeting with Hyman, he decided to make the leap.
“I am convinced this is a special place,” Horn said. “I am honored as a coach to be alongside great coaches like Steve Spurrier and coach (Ray) Tanner in baseball. I feel really privileged to be a part of the athletic family and the Gamecock family as a whole.”
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