COLUMBIA -- South Carolina basketball coach Dave Odom stood behind the podium and swore the reason for his announcement wasn't increasing fan unrest.
Yet what some fans have long desired -- for the Gamecocks' seventh-year coach to step aside -- is coming true.
"Those who love you must let you know it in the quietest of ways," Odom said Friday morning, a bounce pass away from where he would conduct practice that afternoon. "Those that feel anger and unrest vent it in the loudest of ways."
Odom announced his retirement Friday, effective April 1, citing reasons that he said were a long time coming. The 65-year-old coach said he first thought about retirement in the spring of 2007, reassured himself that he was the right guy to lead the program the following summer, but came to the conclusion less than two weeks ago that he should step down.
He admitted recent hostile reactions at home games -- some of the Colonial Center crowd chanted "Go, Dave, Go" during an 80-56 loss to Tennessee on Jan. 12 -- had been heard, but Odom said he wasn't leaving because of the booing.
Odom said while the insults stung, he was walking away because he felt that if he left, the fans could put all their energy into cheering for the team.
"It's not Dave's day, it's their day," Odom said, pointing to his 14 players camped in the back of the room. "If you take me out of the equation, the voices of dissent can now use their energy in support of our basketball team and give them a chance to be all they can be this season."
Odom will become USC's third all-time winningest coach with one more win, and he's been a driving force behind the program's bridge-rebuilding efforts, getting former players re-involved with the team.
But Odom only guided the Gamecocks to one NCAA tournament (2003-04, his third year) and his SEC record is 37-62 after a win at Arkansas on Jan. 16. Odom coached USC to an NIT runner-up finish, an NCAA tournament berth and an NIT championship in his first four years, but the ride went downhill in 2005-06.
The Gamecocks, coming off the NIT title, missed the NCAAs and were again relegated to the NIT. Although USC won its second straight NIT championship, many wondered why the team didn't improve enough to get to the next level.
Then, last year, USC finished 4-12, worst in the SEC, and the boo birds really began calling. Odom said he approached athletics director Eric Hyman and told him he was thinking about retiring, to which Hyman told him to think it through and that he was under no pressure.
Hyman extended Odom's contract through the 2009-10 season based on the potential of this year's team. Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick were eligible after transferring from other schools and the freshman class featured three in-state stars.
But the team still struggled, losing close games to N.C. State and George Mason before being blown out by Clemson for the third straight year. USC squandered a 20-point lead at home and lost to Baylor and when UNC Asheville visited Jan. 5, the Gamecocks again lost after holding a seven-point lead with less than four minutes to play.
Odom decided then that he was going to call it quits at the end of the season and waited until Friday to announce it. With no game this weekend -- USC next plays Wednesday, hosting Florida -- Odom told his players Thursday night among the flying rumors.
Some players still seemed stunned Friday. Downey, the Chester native who's leading the team in scoring in his first year in Columbia, realized he's going to be playing for his third coach in four years once the season's over.
"I'm a ballplayer. Whoever the coach is, just give me the ball and let me play," Downey said. "I'm just going to keep my team together and try to make a positive."
Downey said he'd heard the boos at recent home games but felt like the team deserved it, not just Odom.
"The fans who held so much of a grudge against him, it wasn't even about us no more, it was about him, hating him," he said. "Now they ain't got to worry about him, they know he won't be here."
Fredrick, Downey's backcourt teammate, agreed.
"I thought it was directed toward the way we played at the end," he said. "That wasn't the first time we lost a game in that manner."
Odom said he wasn't worried about being labeled a lame duck and he was positive his team would play its best within the next two months. He didn't promise NCAA tournament berths or SEC titles, but he said the team's promise would be on full display.
"This program is sitting on a launching pad," he said, "waiting for the right ignition."
He also said taking another position with the university hadn't crossed his mind because his immediate chore -- the rest of the season -- was more pressing. Hyman likewise would not address any of his future plans about the search for Odom's replacement.
"It's right that this decision was made," Odom said. "As of April 1, I have no worries."