College Sports

Barring SEC tourney win, this is it for USC's Odom

COLUMBIA -- This is it for Dave Odom. Barring something unforeseen, this is the final week of his coaching career at South Carolina.

Technically, he remains on until April, or until another coach is named. But on the court, this is it.

He had his high marks during his seven years, and he had his failures. The successes were never enough for a lot of fans. They were never were going to be, according to Odom.

"I was never totally accepted here as the right person," Odom says last week in his office. "Now, I could almost feel it when I came in. That does not mean that the majority of people here have not been very, very supportive and appreciative and backed me and everything. But there was always a segment that kind of held back for whatever reason. I don't know exactly why that was."

This was not the first time he has voiced that thought; he mentioned it a while back to athletics director Eric Hyman, though Odom said he could sense it himself a year after being hired.

He was aware he was the third or fourth person offered the job, after then-athletics director Mike McGee made runs at Kentucky's Tubby Smith and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun. That wasn't a problem for Odom, who pointed out he wouldn't have accepted the job if it had been, but he thinks it was a problem for some fans.

"Though they're not mad at me, they don't ever totally embrace you or your program because they're always saying, 'This is not gonna work,'" Odom said. "I didn't look at it as a personal sort of thing. But I could tell. You could just tell."

During his seven seasons, Odom became the third-winningest coach in program history, behind Frank McGuire and Frank Johnson. Hyman pointed out that 2004-06 (an NCAA tournament berth followed by consecutive NIT titles) stands as one of the program's best runs.

But the latter years of Odom's tenure made him a lightning rod for fan criticism. The Gamecocks enter the SEC tournament with a 13-17 overall record and seem doomed to finish with a worse record than last year's 14-16 mark. His overall record in conference play, including the tournament, is 41-73.

Calvin Hill, a 49-year-old Gamecocks fan in Rock Hill, said most fans regard Odom as "a great guy," but they were looking for more.

Odom arrived at USC from Wake Forest with a lot to prove because "he's not our guy," Hill said, but fans took a wait-and-see attitude. When the team failed to build on the NIT titles, the fans turned.

"It manifested itself as personal negativity towards him," Hill said of Odom. "In reality, they were just tired of not winning. He was just the recipient of the anger that the fans had."

There always appeared to be a disconnect between the fan base and administration. Hyman, hired after Odom's fourth year, was a stalwart defender of his coach. And two of the most powerful members on the USC board of trustees were behind Odom.

"If any of the fans were disgruntled, it was the winning and losing. And you know, I looked a little further than that," board member Eddie Floyd of Florence said. "I just think he was so good for the university, and if I had a vote -- the athletic director makes the decision -- but I would never have voted to let Dave Odom go."

Herbert Adams, the board chairman, said Odom deserves more credit for his off-the-court actions. Adams mentioned public actions like bringing players from the McGuire era back to the program. And like Floyd, he also was happy to see Odom at last year's ceremony honoring the victims of the Ocean Isle beach house fire.

"He wasn't trying to be seen. He was genuinely, I think, concerned," Adams said. "But I've seen him do other things like that, where something good that happened to another sport, or they would celebrate, he would be there."

But Odom thinks his personality had a lot to do with not being accepted by some fans. While he always had a great relationship with the media, he wondered whether he was more withdrawn than former football coach Lou Holtz or baseball coach Ray Tanner.

"I don't know, maybe I was in some ways not as colorful as (fans) envisioned," Odom said. "I chose to be my own person in the private way of doing things."

He also wondered whether fans were looking for a younger coach. Odom was 58 in his first season at USC.

"I think they were hoping for a 16-year coach (like McGuire), which they couldn't get with me," Odom said.

Odom left out another issue: his reported talks with Virginia about its opening in 2005. At one point, The Washington Post reported Virginia offered him the job, though Odom and Virginia later denied that. They maintained the coach only met with the athletics director, with whom he was an assistant in the 1980s for the Cavaliers.

Odom remained at USC three more years, then announced on Jan. 18 that he would retire at the end of this season. He said it was his own decision, which Hyman and the board members verified, but Odom also knew the administration was feeling pressure from fans.

So while officially it's a retirement, he doesn't know if he's done yet. He plans to take a couple of months off to digest not having a job for the first time since college and see if any opportunities come his way.

"I don't know what's out there, I really don't," he said.

If he doesn't get a job in Columbia, he doubts he and his wife, Lynn, would stay in town, because he wouldn't want to be a distraction to the new coaching staff. He lives so close, he thinks it could be viewed that way. While former coach Eddie Fogler stayed in Columbia, Odom said Fogler lives so far from campus he's not around very much.

But Odom doesn't want to divest himself completely from the program. He imagined a night next fall, when USC opens under its new coach, and guard Devan Downey places a call to Odom's beach house.

"He says, 'Coach, I just wanted to call and thank you for that year, and the team just played great tonight. And we like our new coach,' " Odom said. "That's OK."

Odom is optimistic about next year's team. He's excited about freshmen Mike Holmes and Sam Muldrow, whom Odom thinks can give the team "an inside force we've never, ever had." It should also have Downey running the point and an improving Dominique Archie at forward. Then Odom ticks off the players Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will lose.

"The table is set, and I'm happy for them," Odom said.

It is pointed out to Odom that he is using "they" instead of "we."

"Well, I feel part of it, but it's going to be 'they,' " he said. "I mean, it's gonna be their team, of which I'm gonna be the No. 1 fan."

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