Okay, okay, okay. The title is a bit over-the-top. But in all seriousness, Eric Hyman's seven year tenure as the Athletic Director (2005-2012) has arguably marked the most momentous era in the 120 year history of Gamecock sports. Now that Hyman has formally stepped down and become the A.D. of our new conference-mate and permanent cross-division football rival Texas A&M University, it's worth a retrospective on what went right - and what went wrong - during Hyman's sojourn in Columbia.
The goal certainly not to be overly-negative; regular readers of GABA know that editorial opinions in these pages regarding Eric Hyman have been both fair and generally favorable. But we shouldn't do a puff-piece, either. Honesty with ourselves is what's called for here. We can wish Eric Hyman every success in College Station, and express the thanks of the Gamecock nation for his services, but we don't need to pull punches, In other words, we should give credit where credit is due, but we shouldn't shy away from criticism where it's likewise warranted.
Since it's human nature to want the bad news first, however, In Part 1 of this series, we'll focus on seven things in USC athletics that didn't go well - or could have been handled better - by Eric Hyman during his Athletic Directorship. And to keep it interesting, we'll go in reverse order:
7. The 2010 UNC return game (2009).
Love 'em or hate 'em (and it's your birthright to hate 'em, particularly in light of the way they've appropriated (h/t Hogbody Spradlin) the name "Carolina" when we in the southern portion were the first to settle Carolina), you have to give Chapel Hill grads credit for keeping alma mater first in their hearts. For example, while he was USC's head basketball coach, Eddie Fogler did everything in his power to avoid playing Dean Smith ["I'll make some Gamecock fans mad, but that's the way it is,'' Fogler said]. Of course, when Dean retired in 1998, Fogler dutifully refused to play Bill Guthridge, also.
So with Fogler's example still sticking a bit in our craw, it galled a lot of us when Hyman allowed UNC indefinitely to postpone their scheduled 2010 date at Williams-Brice Stadium so that the Heels could have a big pay-day ESPN game with LSU. Keep in mind that 2010 game was the return of our visit to Kenan Stadium in 2007 - a three year hiatus on a series which had been originally scheduled back in 2005. It would be over my dead body that North Carolina wouldn't return the game," said Hyman, himself a UNC grad. "And I wouldn't want that game returned in 2030. No, that's not the way it works."
We're scheduled (hopefully) to play the Heels in 2013 so you might think it's no big deal. And maybe it's not that big a deal except there was a lot of static that UNC always intended to screw us and Hyman's willingness to let the Heels slide for four more years (if ever) made us wonder - unnecessarily as it turns out - whether his heart was fully engaged at South Carolina, or whether he wanted to back to Chapel Hill. All in all, it would have been better for us to play the Heels in 2010; not because of all the suspensions they got hit with after Marvin Austin tweet heard round the world (remember how hard they played LSU) but because it was demeaning to us to allow the Heels seven years before completing their home-and-home obligations. Coming in the wake of the polarizing YES! Program (see below), this apparent acquiescence to North Carolina unnecessarily undercut him. Thus, this error makes our list at number seven.
6. Stephen Garcia's fifth suspension (2011).
The news came like a bolt from the blue - Eric Hyman had handed down a fifth suspension to Stephen Garcia days before the 2011 spring game - only two weeks or so after the troubled quarterback had been reinstated following a one week spring practice suspension (his fourth) for the heinous crime of partying in his hotel room the night before the 2010 Chik-Fil-A Bowl - and after he had solemnly pledged to be on good behavior. What could possibly have happened to have the A.D. step in so forcefully, we all were left to wonder? Keep in mind that news of the suspension broke before we learned the details of the latest transgression - at first Hyman would not give any specific but the word quickly spread that it had to do with disruptive behavior and alcohol at a mandatory training seminar; the lack of specifics emanating from the Roundhouse was noteworthy to some since the HBC wasn't talking, either.
Later details began to emerge that the SEC official had unprofessionally provoked Garcia and other Gamecocks resulting in a verbal confrontation; after asking Garcia to leave the seminar, the official then complained to Hyman (funny - we never learned who this official was, did we?). Garcia, who was of legal age, admitted to having had a couple of beers before the seminar (even though he was not under a no-alcohol restriction); that admission was enough to result in the suspension. A few of us who thought it was the final straw for the gunslinger from Lutz, FL, reconsidered whether his dismissal would be warranted under these facts. The official story was that Hyman, Spurrier and President Pastides had all signed off on the post-seminar (fifth) suspension. Reading between the lines, however, it was clearly Hyman's call - as evidenced by the way Spurrier described it a "university decision" and repeatedly said thereafter that Garcia's reinstatement would be also be a "university decision." In other words, it wasn't up to the HBC.
I don't mean to absolve Stephen of his irresponsible behavior - which ultimately led to his final suspension and dismissal six months later after testing showed he had consumed alcohol during the time he visited home for his grandfather's funeral. But Hyman over-reacted in the April incident. It was a minor contretemps that would have never seen the light of day even in the local media if Hyman not ordered the suspension; any discipline could have taken care of internally. Bluntly, this offense warranted company punishment not court-martial. Instead, it became a national story to everyone's detriment. Handling the matter privately would have saved the University, Garcia and Spurrier a great deal of bad publicity - all of which could have easily been avoided - and almost certainly aggravated the Garcia situation to the delight of our rivals and detractors. Later, it caused rumors to swirl late last year that the Hyman and Spurrier had been feuding and that Spurrier was actively considering retirement on the heels of an historic 11 win season - none of which can have helped with recruiting. While the rumors that Mrs. Pauline Hyman had been involved in the decision were entirely baseless and cruel, nevertheless Garcia's fifth suspension was an unforced error on Hyman's part; either he let his temper get the best of him, or he failed to see what a rod he made for our own backs.
5. The BurnLounge Business (2007-2009).
In 2007, the story broke online and in non-traditional media that a number of ex-USC and Clemson football players, not to mention at least one member of the coaching staff, had participated in one form or another in a ponzi scheme called "the BurnLounge," which resulted in a lawsuit by the FTC that same year. Our own Cocknfire wrote about in June, 2007 in the predecessor to this blog. Former USC RB and catcher Rob DeBoer - a fan favorite who had become a USC radio personality with ISP Sports/Learfield Communications- was identified as a BurnLounge co-founder in court documents. DeBoer was ultimately forced to step down from the radio booth and later it was reported he got hit with heavy fines as part of a settlement with the FTC.
I can state from personal experience that BurnLounge was on everyone's lips in '06 and '07 as its promoters scoured the state for new blood - and it smelled like a ponzi-scheme from the jump. You can read about it in greater detail with a Google search, but bring your hip-waders and be prepared to spend a lot of time trudging through a lot of ugliness involving a lot of people who you may know (or think you do) associated with both USC and Clemson. As someone put it, BurnLounge was "a jock-inspired network of investors across the Sunbelt, including University of Oklahoma football head coach Bob Stoops and some of the biggest names on both sides of the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry." The best you can say is that a lot of these people should have known better - and a lot of them are lucky to have preserved their jobs, their reputations and even their professional licenses as the case may be.
Eric Hyman was emphatically not involved as an investor with BurnLounge. But Hyman was reported in The State as saying that the University was investigating the situation. Unfortunately, if the investigation was ever undertaken - or completed - it was never made public. Other than DeBoer - who was openly unrepentant and unwilling to return investor money - no one one was publicly disciplined or disassociated from the university. Some of you might argue that it is a credit to Hyman he was able to squelch the scandal before USC's name got dragged deeper in the mud - and that he was right to do so, since most of the issues were with ISP/Learfield and not within the Roundhouse. But in light of the Penn State business - albeit of an entirely different magnitude - is that position morally defensible anymore?
In retrospect, should Hyman have pushed for transparency? If he had, he would have avoided a lot of the ugliness that emerged after popular USC play-by-play announcer Mike Morgan was terminated in 2009. While the major dailies and pay sites avoided comment on the Morgan firing like the plague, alternate media as politically divergent as the Columbia Free Times and FITS news slammed Hyman for permitting what they saw as a retaliatory firing that was directly connected to BurnLounge payback (by powerful ex-BurnLounge promoters with an axe go grind against Morgan - who was allegedly a whistleblower against the scheme). Whether the Free TImes or FITS were right is largely immaterial - but the smell factor was pretty severe. In any event, Hyman opened himself and the University up to criticism by not being transparent in the BurnLounge scandal - yet another error that could have been avoided had he been willing to lay all the cards on the table from his promised BurnLounge investigation.
4. The 2012 SEC football schedule (2011).
Notwithstanding criticism of bad decision number 7, there wasn't a whole lot Eric Hyman could do about the schedule when he arrived at the Roundhouse in 2007. Year in and year out, we play eight conference games a season plus the home-and-home with Clemson. Not only that, but the university announced its indescribably dumb five year deal with East Carolina two weeks before Hyman's first day on the job. When you factor in the demands by fans and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce for at least seven home games a year ... plus the fact that SEC league play usually begins within the first two weeks of the season (as opposed to the Pac-12 or B1G which have traditionally reserved the whole month of September for out-of-conference play) ... and also the pressure from State legislators for us host one of the in-state FCS schools each season for some football-socialism wealth-redistribution (though perhaps not as fairly as we should), his hands have been pretty much tied in terms of non-conference games.
All that being said, that doesn't mean we should walk naked through the halls of Birmingham when it comes to how we're dealt with in terms of conference scheduling. Unfortunately, however, that still seems to be the case - and Eric Hyman owns a share of the blame. We had some cause to gripe as far back as 2010 (GM satire warning!). But even before the start of SEC schedule negotiations in December, 2011, there was a feeling that Georgia was maneuvering to push the USC-UGA game back. Before expansion caused the reshuffling of the 2012 schedule, we were supposed to have finished our home-and-home with Mississippi State and picked up the front end of a home-and-home with the 2011 national champion runner-up LSU.
By the time the 2012 schedule was released right before the New Year, however, it was clear we had gotten the "shaft" (as no less an authority than ex-UGA LB David Pollack said recently on ESPN). Our game with Mississippi State, was taken away, and our customary early September date with Georgia was moved to October. To add insult to injury, Georgia got to keep the back-end of their home-and-home with Ole Miss, and also received t the boon of dropping the game with defending National Champion Alabama. This isn't the place to re-open the debate about whether Georgia has any easier schedule (since its really not open for debate), but, dadgummit, it's clear we got out-maneuvered in the 2012 scheduling process in December - only to see it happen again in the SEC spring meetings which resulted in Texas A&M becoming our new permanent cross-division rival (which I thought was a bad idea though that still may be a minority opinion). In any event, Hyman was entirely ineffective in protecting our interests for the 2012 season - a critical year for us - while Georgia got more than they could have hoped for. With Tennessee down and Florida having to play catch-up, it was essential that we maintain scheduling parity with the Dawgs in 2012 to maximize our chances for a return-trip to the Georgia Dome. Alas, we surrendered with a whimper and the Peanut State gang has an easier row to hoe to Atlanta for the second-straight year. Eric Hyman has to shoulder a lot of that blame.
3. Classic YES (2008).
Let me say from the start that the Yearly Equity Seating income plan - known as "YES" - had to happen. For those of you blissfully unaware of all the sturm-und-drang those three simple letters caused to countless Gamecock fans four years ago, the basic gist is that during the summer of 2008, Eric Hyman secured approval from the Board of Trustees to add a per-seat surcharge at Carolina Stadium of anywhere from $25 to $1500 per seat before the holder could order baseball season tickets - and then later implemented a similar pay-by-the-seat program for 2009 football season ticketholders at Williams-Brice Stadium. To say this proved unpopular with older Gamecock Club members would be the understatement of the century. For decades, priority seating was based more on seniority in the Gamecock Club than in donation level. Now, years of unbroken membership did not count as much as the size of the check you were willing to write. The old guard howled. They complained. They lashed out at Hyman. "Bludgeoned," is the word he recently described how he felt once the hue and cry went up against the new plan ... and him.
Hyman said at the time that "Quite frankly, I didn't want to introduce this ever." Not only did the best seats get hit with fees of $25 to $395, but the season tickets and parking passes went up simultaneously. On the heels of the Recession and five blah seasons ('04-'08) - preceded by two losing seasons ('02-'03) - the fans who had loyally sold out Williams-Brice through thick and thin were upset. Loyalty points built over years of giving now no longer mattered. Money talked now - and, to his credit, Hyman turned that was an athletic department running deficits and lagging toward the bottom of the SEC into a moneymaker. As much as it had to happen, however, doubtless it could have been handled more diplomatically. In his interview with The State's Ron Morris, you can sense - if you read between the lines - that he and the fans weren't on the same page:
What are the two ingredients it takes to be successful? It takes good coaching and it takes a sincere commitment. I was good news, bad news coming in here. The good news is I brought a different perspective. The bad news is that I didn’t know the history and traditions of South Carolina. When I came here, I don’t think people really understood the sincere commitment that it took. In time, I think, people got a better grasp of it. Initially, I didn’t sense that. So there was a lot of heavy lifting in the beginning to get to that point. Now I think the university has a grasp of the significance of what a viable athletic program can do for an entire school, not only athletically but perception-wise and all the other things that go along with it. There is more of a commitment than there used to be. To a certain extent, I don’t think they understood how (emphasis added).
Hyman could have been less dictatorial and more conciliatory. He could have tried to do a better job of explaining his vision to the Gamecock Club members rather than making decisions by fiat. Had he tried more diplomacy, he might not have been such a polarizing figure early on.
2. Darrin Horn (2008).
There's been a lot written about Darrin Horn on these pages and - unlike some of the other topics - not a whole lot more needs to be said. Back in March, Matt Barber, at Dixiefriedsports.com, wrote one of the best recaps of Darrin Horn's four year tenure at USC - which I commend to you. There was a lot of hope for Horn early on [hough ironically this Bleacher Report writer worried back in 2008 whether Horn's career might follow the same trajectory as the last WKU coach to make the jump to the SEC - UGA's Dennis Felton [It turns out the BR guy was prescient.: Felton went 87-100 (0.465) in his six years in Athens - compared to Horn's 60–63 (.488) mark in four seasons]. Well, at least Felton had the Dream Dawgs run in '08; we got waxed in the first round of the SEC Tournament during Darrin's run at Carolina.
During the heat of the 2011-2012 season, when things looked so bleak, I bellyached about Hyman having given Horn a two-year extension in 2009 - after his first season, winning (when we finished tied for first in the SEC East but missed out on the NIT). In hindsight, that criticism was misplaced; the true mistake was the original hire and a contract extension was fairly insignificant at the end of the day. Perhaps it's totally unfair to lay all the blame on Hyman. Horn was widely acknowledged as a hot commodity in 2008 and Fogler recommended him. Still, the responsibility has to land on someone's shoulders and A.D.'s are judged on their hires.
Three losing seasons and transfer turmoil after the 2011 put the program in the ditch and wiped out all of Horn's early progress with recruiting and firing up the fans. The Colonial Life Arena had become a tomb and the program was shedding both recruits and money. In the warm afterglow of the brilliant Frank Martin hire (as well as Dawn Staley's Sweet 16 run), it may seem a bit petty to harp on Hyman for the Horn failure. But a program that on the whole had been a consistent winner under Dave Odom will take some years of patient rebuilding by Martin just to get back to where it was in 2008. The four lost years of Carolina hoops, thus, have to be laid at Hyman's doorstep.
1. The Whitney Hotel and SAM (2010).
Lest you leave with a bad taste in your mouth, be sure to stay tuned for Part 2 where we go over the seven "good" things.