Eric Hyman was the athletics director at South Carolina for eight years before coming to Texas A&M in 2012.
Hyman sat down with The State this week to discuss the abrupt resignation of Steve Spurrier, where the South Carolina job ranks and why some coaching hires work out and some don’t.
“You don’t know how the fit is going to be,” Hyman said. “To a certain extent, you are rolling the dice.”
What was your first thought when you heard Steve Spurrier was leaving?
I was floored. That was really surprising. That’s probably a thing he’s been tossing and turning. He’s the only one that could really answer that, but I’m sure in his mind, that thought has been there. When he did it was a surprise, but I liked working with him. I thought he was terrific. He and Jerri were off the charts. They are as good as I have ever been around. He helped elevate South Carolina where it is today. He’s a lot different than people think he is. I was surprised by the timing, but I wasn’t necessarily surprised that he has resigned. It’s a tough job. It’s hard. What a remarkable job he has done.
Where do you think South Carolina’s job ranks now?
I think it’s a lot better than it used to be. When I got there, I said, ‘There’s good news and bad news.’ The good news is I bring an outsider’s perspective. The bad news is I don’t know the history and tradition, so when I talked to Steve from a facilities standpoint when I first got there, he said to me that we were good enough to be competitive in the SEC and our facilities were fine and all that. I just didn’t know that we were there based on an outsider’s perspective. In time, I talked to him about it, and I give him credit, he said, ‘I was wrong. I made a mistake. We’re not.’ And he got up in front of the board. I think it was in the spring of 2006, he got up and said, ‘I made a mistake. I said some things that weren’t correct.’ I really tip my hat to him because he recognized that the SEC had changed so much in the two or three years that he had been away. I told him if I didn’t get his support I was going to have a hard time raising the money to do the necessary things. I was very frank with him. He got it and time went on and the rest is history.
The athletics director position involves a lot of things but the one thing that you are judged the most on from a public perspective is the football coaching hire. Fair?
You are judged by a lot of things, but unfortunately some things are judged more than other things. Your coaching hires are a high level of visibility, and it’s not an exact science. You look across the country and you look at what happens with hires. Sometimes as much due diligence and research as you do, it’s just not a good fit, and you don’t know that until you put the person into the position. Sometimes you think it’s going to work perfectly and it ends up not being that way.
As athletics directors share war stories, do you guys talk about coaching hires and that nature of it, which seems to be sort of a roll of the dice?
It’s not an exact science. You do as much as you can do, as much due diligence, as much research into doing it and you hope there is a connection and you never know because every environment and every situation is different. If you’re taking an assistant coach to a head coach, you are not really sure how they are going to handle the pressure. What I have said to some in the past is you have to learn how to say no to people and the buck stops with you. You don’t know how people are going to respond who have never been in that situation. You take Gary Patterson, going from an assistant to a head coach (at TCU), you just don’t know. He had a lot of strengths going into it but you just don’t know. Then you hire a head coach and they may be in a totally different environment. You don’t know how the fit is going to be. To a certain extent, you are rolling the dice.
Ray Tanner will be making his first high-profile hire with this move. Do you remember your first big hire?
Ray has hired coaches before. He’s hired coaches. It’s not like somebody who has never done it before. Ray has got some insight. He’s not Johnny off the pickle boat. He’s got a lot of knowledge in this. It’s in a different sport but there are similarities. If it were someone coming into the situation from any school that had never hired, that would be a little bit different.
What’s the role of a search firm in hiring a coach?
I’ve never used a search firm so I don’t know. They do background checks but you have to be careful, too. A couple high-profile ones in this part of the country have hired search firms.
What are the similarities between the job at Texas A&M and the job at South Carolina?
It’s very different. The job here you have one of the largest schools in the country. You have about 62,000 students. You have a state of about 26 million. You have over 420,000 former students. In South Carolina, you don’t have the pro influence. Here you have a greater pro influence. You probably have more resources here, but that doesn’t constitute success, but you have a little more flexibility. The cultures are different. The former students are different. There is probably more media scrutiny at South Carolina than you have here. Part of it is because (the Gamecocks are the biggest game in town). There’s a lot more involvement with the media at the South Carolina program, just daily, constantly. Here if somebody were to blow their nose, it wouldn’t be in the paper, but if something were to happen of a similar magnitude (at South Carolina) it would be headlines in the Sunday paper on the front section. So it’s a little bit different.
Has anyone at South Carolina contacted you to pick your brain about the renovations you have just completed at Kyle Field?
No, we’ve had Notre Dame come in. We’ve had other schools come in. Purdue has come in, Wake Forest has come in, Notre Dame has come in. There might be even more than that so yes, we have had people come in but South Carolina, no they have not.
Where on your plate when you left was a significant revamp of Williams-Brice Stadium?
It wasn’t a front-burner issue.