College Sports

Horn officially in

New South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn fields questions from the media after being introduced by athletics director Eric Hyman during a news conference. Horn, the former coach at Western Kentucky, replaces Dave Odom, who retired after this season.
New South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn fields questions from the media after being introduced by athletics director Eric Hyman during a news conference. Horn, the former coach at Western Kentucky, replaces Dave Odom, who retired after this season.

COLUMBIA -- The first test's already been passed.

The question to newly hired South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn was simple. It seemed a test of Horn's familiarity with the program.

"Who's your No. 1 rival here?

Horn hesitated slightly.

"Our No. 1 rival other school? Should I even say it loud?" he said as laughs began to emerge. "I think they wear orange. I think to mention the name would be to justify their existence, wouldn't it? We don't want to go there.

"I think I mentioned we're the University OF South Carolina."

Yet to conduct a practice, hear the fight song or hear his name introduced at the Colonial Center. Already drawing blood.

Horn at least made a great first impression.

"I am thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to be joining the athletic family," Horn said on Tuesday, when he was officially announced as Dave Odom's successor. "I want to be here. I think this is a great job. Not a good job, but a great job."

Following a whirlwind weekend, Horn was introduced to a crowd including USC's Board of Trustees, the basketball team, boosters and media in a room overlooking the Colonial Center floor. Horn nor his new team could get right out to practice, considering the arena was set up for hockey, but the new coach seemed ready to start anyway.

Horn was at Western Kentucky, his alma mater, less than a week ago, preparing the Hilltoppers for a Sweet 16 date with UCLA. His fifth season ended with a loss to the top-seeded Bruins, putting the wheels in motion.

USC Athletics Director Eric Hyman already had Horn's name on the short list of candidates, and after contacting the coach, interviewing him and showing him around Columbia, offered him the job. Horn accepted almost immediately, bringing his family to Tuesday's press conference.

While his wife, Carla, and two young children beamed in the front row, bedecked in their new USC gear, Horn took the podium and credited Hyman for being a terrific recruiter. After the jab at Clemson, he got down to business.

"My goal is to have a team that plays up to its ability," he said. "I'm here to compete and win big."

Horn has agreed to a five-year deal worth $800,000 per season, with incentives up to an additional $335,000. If Horn leaves in the first year, he will owe USC $1.5 million, with the sum decreasing each year until the final season ($500,000), and if Horn is fired, he will be owed the base salary remaining on his contract.

USC has agreed to pay Horn's $200,000 buyout at Western Kentucky and to honor the stipulation in Horn's deal at WKU. The Gamecocks and Hilltoppers will play a four-game series in the immediate future.

Horn also has a clause in his new contract that will give him bonuses based on ticket sales. For every thousand season tickets sold above last season's total (9,322), Horn will receive an extra $50,000.

"It's got to be sold out every single night that we play," Horn said. "We've got to have the rafters full and it's going to start with our students. We need them out in full force to drive the energy in that building."

Horn, 35, will be the only SEC coach under 40 once next season rolls around, although LSU has yet to hire a replacement for John Brady. The Gamecocks' new skipper brings a four-year streak of 20-win seasons to USC, along with two NIT berths and this season's run to the Sweet 16.

For a program that was great in the NIT and hardly anywhere else under Odom, Horn's declaration of competing for SEC championships and playing in the NCAA tournament was just what the room wanted to hear. Horn vowed to literally get started right away -- he claimed to be leaving today on the first of three recruiting trips, all to in-state prospects.

"We have to start on the inside," Horn said, "and work our way out. We have to put up a fence around the state of South Carolina."

As Horn stepped down to continue asking questions, Hyman did the same and stressed his want to have Horn lead the program. Although Jeff Capel's name was bandied about on the rumor mill, discussions with the Oklahoma coach never went anywhere.

"Darrin's name was there in the beginning," Hyman said. "His name continued to rise. If you've watched Western Kentucky play, you've seen he fits a lot of the profile of what we're trying to achieve here at the University of South Carolina."

The Gamecocks, who have already met their new coach and seemed impressed, all seemed relieved the search was over instead of dragging on.

"I'm pretty sure he knows my ability," said All-SEC first-team guard Devan Downey, who naturally drew the most attention. "We just have more energy because as a team, we're tired of losing. We've been in the gym every day at 4:30, we're going to play today. We're just going to try to build on what we're doing right now."

  Comments