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USC pays top dollar for top coaches

Readers must scroll to the second page of the Director’s Cup online standings before finding South Carolina.

Sandwiched between Dartmouth and Western Kentucky, the Gamecocks are 97th among 249 Division I schools and 10th among SEC schools in the all-sports rankings.

Though USC athletics director Eric Hyman does not put a lot of stock in the Director’s Cup, saying it favors schools that field the most teams, this has not been a stellar year for the Gamecocks by any measure.

The football team lost its last five games and missed a bowl game. Neither the men’s nor women’s basketball teams made the NCAA tournament under coaches no longer at USC.

Barring a Super Regional appearance by the baseball team or a strong effort by the track squad at nationals, USC’s best NCAA showing will be the women’s golf team’s 22nd-place finish at the NCAA championships last week in Albuquerque, N.M.

But as he nears the end of his third year at USC, Hyman said the objective remains the same: to field top-25 programs across the board.

“That’s what our goal is. That’s what we’re trying to achieve,” Hyman said. “That’s why we’ve had some transition in the athletic department.”

Following the resignation of men’s basketball coach Dave Odom and women’s counterpart Susan Walvius, Hyman made his most significant coaching hires since arriving from TCU in 2005.

He plucked Darrin Horn from Western Kentucky following the Hilltoppers’ Sweet Sixteen run, then shocked many in women’s basketball circles by hiring Temple’s Dawn Staley, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA All-Star.

The surprising aspect of the Staley hire is the steep price USC paid to land her — a guaranteed annual package of $575,000 after subtracting Staley’s yearly $75,000 contribution toward her Temple buyout.

The figure is nearly three times what USC was paying Walvius and places Staley among the top 10 highest-paid women’s coaches in the country, according to Hyman.

And it would not have happened without another athletics department contract that was finalized this year.

When announcing USC’s new nine-year, $50.6 million multimedia rights deal with ISP Sports in February, Hyman said the increased revenues would allow the Gamecocks to hire “some of the best coaches in the country.”

It took Hyman a couple of months to put his money where his mouth was.

“The ISP deal was spectacular,” he said. “It’s going to give us some latitude to do things we’ve never been able to do before.”

USC is guaranteed $4.4 million for the first year of the ISP contract that takes effect in July — more than double the $2 million the school received during the final year of the existing ISP/Learfield deal.

Staley’s hire reshuffled the deck among USC coaches, putting the 38-year-old Philadelphian third behind football coach Steve Spurrier ($1.75 million) and Horn ($800,000) in terms of guaranteed income. Baseball coach Ray Tanner is fourth at $370,000, although Tanner has a deal with Easton worth an additional $110,000.

“The marketplace is different in every sport,” Hyman said. “It’s different in football. It’s different in basketball. It’s different in golf. It’s different across the country.”

Horn said Staley’s hire speaks to Hyman’s desire to be successful in every sport.

“I’m pretty easy compared to bringing her in. That’s a big deal. I think it’s a great hire and think she’ll do really well,” Horn said recently. “I think Eric’s leadership and vision are strong and I think part of that is doing what the market’s doing.”

While Staley took Temple to the NCAA tournament in six of her eight seasons, Hyman said her value goes beyond wins and postseason appearances.

Staley carried the American flag at the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Olympics in Greece and is an assistant coach for the U.S. team that will compete in the Beijing Games this summer. Like Horn, she has a business relationship with Nike.

“Part of what you do in athletics is brand identity (and) creating a perception, and I think Dawn Staley creates a tremendous perception,” Hyman said. “It helps all of our programs.”

Part of the public response to Staley’s hire was speculation the Gamecocks’ other coaches would form a line at Hyman’s door with their palms out.

But track coach Curtis Frye said there are two ways to get a raise: win consistently or have another school call with a job offer.

“It would be ridiculous for someone else to go in and start making requests based on someone else’s salary,” said Frye, USC’s fifth-highest paid coach at $183,000 a year.

Frye, whose women’s team in 2002 won the only NCAA title in school history, ranks among the top-paid track coaches in the SEC.

“We get paid pretty good compared to the league. That’s because we won a national championship,” Frye said. “Winning a national championship put us in a special group.”

Hyman wants to see that group grow.

Before negotiating with Staley, Hyman approached USC president Andrew Sorensen and Herbert Adams, chairman of the board of trustees, to gauge the university’s willingness to spend big on women’s basketball.

“There’s a price for excellence,” Hyman recalled telling Adams.

Flush with the new ISP dollars, USC is in a better position to pay it.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.