COLUMBIA -- On Sunday, South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman told school president Harris Pastides he had reached a decision about the fate of men's basketball coach Darrin Horn. On Tuesday morning, Horn met with Hyman in his office and learned the decision -- that he would be fired after four mostly unsuccessful seasons with the Gamecocks.
Shortly after speaking with Horn, whom Hyman said was "classy" and "apologetic" for not winning enough games, Hyman began the process of moving forward, by speaking to the players about what they want to see in the next coach.
Hyman declined to divulge details of the conversations when he met with media later Tuesday. Nor did he mention the name of the coach who many observers believe could be the leading candidate to replace Horn: Gregg Marshall.
The Greenwood native and former Winthrop coach is in his fifth year at Wichita State, and he has the Shockers in the NCAA tournament for the first time in his tenure there. Wichita State won the National Invitation Tournament last year. Marshall participated in seven NCAA tournaments in his nine seasons at Winthrop and won a game in his final year.
Hyman uttered no names of prospective candidates, but did say, "Obviously, a connection in this area (of the country) makes a difference."
Marshall makes $900,000, about $200,000 less than what Horn earned this season. When Horn arrived at USC in 2008, he made $800,000.
"I'm in a little bit better financial position than I was five years ago," Hyman said while addressing what Horn's replacement could earn. "I have a little more flexibility than where I was."
Horn will get a $2.4 million buyout, and will receive that regardless of whether he gets another job, Hyman said. The money will come from a reserve account of about $12 million that is designed to pay for things like coaching changes, so that the money doesn't have to come from a program's operating budget, Hyman said.
"I have to swallow when I think of $2.4 million, but in reality, that's the arena we compete in, whether you like it or you don't," Hyman said.
And the arena of big-time college basketball is such that Hyman couldn't tolerate the oncourt downturn of Horn's program, despite his progress with academics.
In Horn's first year, he went 21-10 and 10-6 in the Southeastern Conference. That remains one of just three winning SEC records for USC, which joined the conference in 1991-92. In Horn's final three years combined, his record was 39-53 and 13-35. USC went 10-21 this season, 2-14 in the SEC, tying its most overall loses ever and setting a school record for worst SEC mark.
Moreover, USC's average home paid attendance this season was 8,868, down from 11,994 in Horn's second season.
"Credibility comes with competitive success," Hyman said. "I talked about hope a lot. Hope -- you saw what I saw as far as the basketball season was concerned. I didn't go to the games with blinders on. We didn't have the positive energy going forward and we didn't have the hope out there for the program.
"I really feel, having been in this business for many years, you get to a point in time, you've got to turn the corner. I really don't think we got to where we'd be able to turn the corner. So therefore, when that happens, it just becomes more and more difficult to do it."
Hyman was willing to give Horn the benefit of the doubt because of his academic progress. The team's fall 2011 grade-point average (2.932) was its second-highest on record. But Horn simply wasn't successful enough on the court, as he had losing overall records in his final three seasons, something that hadn't happened at USC since 1991-92 to 1994-95.
"He just had to give me some ammunition (by winning), and I just didn't get the ammunition," Hyman said. "If we had success, I'm going to err on a person that's doing things the right way academically and ethically. But in the same light, I've got to have some ammunition to proceed the program forward."
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