South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman liked the improvements men’s basketball coach Darrin Horn made in academics and character development with the players.
There just weren’t enough wins and the outlook was bleak.
“We didn’t have the hope out there for the program,” Hyman said.
Hyman fired Horn on Tuesday after four sliding seasons of Gamecock basketball. The team posted fewer victories in each year, bottoming out in the Southeastern Conference this season at 10-21 and 2-14 in the league – its worst record in 20 years in the SEC.
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The rumor mill immediately went into overdrive, pronouncing Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall as a leading candidate for the job. Marshall spent part of his childhood in South Carolina and coached at Winthrop in Rock Hill, S.C., for nine seasons before taking the WSU job in 2007.
Hyman said he wants basketball to compete on a national level.
“We really do want to have a basketball program that fulfills the aspirations that our board wants – a top 25 program,” Hyman said.
Hymen met with the players after talking to Horn to gauge what they wanted from their next coach. Make no mistake, Hyman said, while he’ll talk to advisers during the search, the final decision would rest with the AD. Hyman said he’ll take as much as time as necessary.
“But I do understand the sense of urgency” to complete the process as soon as possible, he said.
The athletic department was better financially with a reserve fund of about $12 million, Hyman said, than when it hired Horn in 2008, so he hoped to have more flexibility in the search for a new coach. He refused to speculate about any potential candidates.
Horn, who just completed his fourth season as the Gamecocks coach, has three years remaining on his contract and his owed a total of $2.4 million.
“I swallow when I think about it,” Hyman said of the buyout. “In reality, that’s the arena we compete in.”
Horn was hired from Western Kentucky after leading the Hilltoppers to the Sweet 16 in 2008. His first team at South Carolina went 21-10 and 10-6 in the SEC, winning the Eastern Division. But it wasn’t enough to get the team’s first NCAA tournament bid since 2004, and his teams won fewer games each season.
Horn wasn’t at the news conference, but issued a statement thanking fans for their support.
“My family and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Columbia and wish nothing but the best for the Gamecocks,” Horn said.
The Gamecocks have lost 24 of their last 27 SEC games. Horn finishes his career at South Carolina 23-45 in league games and 60-63 overall with thee losing seasons in a row.
Fans had already expressed their frustration with Horn by not showing up. Average paid attendance this season was 8,900 people in the 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena.
Horn improved his team grade point average and his players kept out of trouble. The coach “had his fingerprints on things we can be proud of,” Hyman said.
However, he had trouble keeping players. Expected starter Murphy Holloway returned to Mississippi after agreeing to play for Horn. Star point guard Bruce Ellington chose to play football, keeping him out of the opening games of this season.
Ellington, the team’s point guard and second-leading scorer this season, announced Monday that he was giving up football to concentrate on basketball for his final two years.