In South Carolina’s search for a new head coach, the one thing the Gamecocks needed most was what Dave Odom could not give them: youth.
Enter Darrin Horn, the baby-faced 35 year-old former head coach of Western Kentucky.
With an unfortunate but striking resemblance to George McFly, Darrin Horn does not exactly pass the “eye test.”
And for this reason alone, I thought the Gamecocks made a mistake when they officially hired Horn on Monday afternoon. After all, this is the man who split open his nose walking into a sliding glass door while checking text messages.
But then I did some research.
Turns out Darrin Horn is a pretty good coach. And recruiter.
Before taking the head position at Western Kentucky, Horn served as an assistant coach at Marquette for four years, where Horn’s primary role was recruiting coordinator.
Perhaps you have heard of Horn’s most prized recruit: Dwyane Wade, whose dominating performance during the Golden Eagles’ 2003 Final Four run catapulted his draft status.
During his time at Marquette, Horn secured commitments from three top 30 players, and his best incoming class was ranked 11th in the nation.
Horn also helped corral two other future NBA players in Travis Diener and Steve Novak.
Horn’s recruiting translated into Marquette wins as well—in Horn’s four year tenure, Marquette was an overall 83-41. Above all, though, Horn’s time at Marquette also coincided with the most successful individual season in Marquette’s history.
In 2003, Marquette’s overall record was 27-6, including a 14-2 conference mark—and the Golden Eagles went all the way to the aforementioned Final Four.
The next year, Horn accepted the head post at Western Kentucky at only 30 years old, returning to the school for which he played.
And at Western Kentucky, Horn slowly but surely built the program into what everyone saw in this year’s tournament.
Improving on his win total each season, Horn’s teams came closer and closer to winning the Sun Belt Conference, but could only manage second place finishes and NIT appearances.
This season, the Hilltoppers were not settling for the NIT.
On their way to a 29-7 overall record, WKU tore through opponents en route to a 16-2 conference record, finished the year with 19 wins in their last 21 games, and danced all the way to the Sweet Sixteen.
Western Kentucky’s tournament run marked only the second time the school has reached the Sweet Sixteen, and Horn has been a part of both of them—as coach this season, and as a player in 1993.
But while Horn’s success and pedigree seem close to a sure bet, caution flags are up around Columbia.
While no one is upset Odom is gone, the nation has seen the up-and-coming coach at a mid-major take on a high-paying job at a school in a major conference, and with varying success.
Most recently, Thad Matta and Bruce Pearl are the best examples of successful transitions.
But for every Matta or Pearl, there is also a Dennis Felton.
After bringing his mid-major program to national prominence after three straight conference championships, Felton took the job at Georgia in 2003. In that time, the Bulldogs have gone a less than impressive 58-63.
While Felton took over a program mired in NCAA probation, progress has been hard to find in Athens. This past season was especially bleak: Georgia lost 10 of its last 12 games and entered the SEC tournament with a dismal 13-16 record.
That’s when the stars aligned and Felton’s squad pulled four upsets in four days on their way to an SEC title.
t’s no secret, however, that Felton likely would have been shown the door if not for his team’s courageous post-season run.
The mid-major Felton used to coach: Western Kentucky.
For the sake of the sagging SEC and for South Carolina itself, let’s hope Darrin Horn fares better than his Western Kentucky predecessor.