Western Kentucky coach Horn leaving for S. Carolina

Updated: April 1, 2008, 7:41 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn is leaving for South Carolina after the Hilltoppers' best finish in the NCAA tournament in 15 years.

Horn told the school's president Monday he had accepted an offer from the Gamecocks to replace Dave Odom, who retired at the end of the season, Western Kentucky University spokesman Bob Edwards said.

Darrin Horn

Horn

Western Kentucky athletic director Wood Selig told ESPN.com that he was "extremely disappointed" that the school couldn't keep an alum like Horn, who played at the school in the early 1990s.

"I was pretty confident we could withstand the outside pressure," because of Horn's ties to WKU, Selig said. "I hate it for us, hate it for our fans, hate it for Darrin and his family."

South Carolina athletic officials did not confirm Horn's hiring, but university trustees plan to meet Tuesday morning to approve a new athletic contract. A news conference to announce a new coach for the Gamecocks has been scheduled for later in the afternoon.

Horn, 35, went 111-48 in five seasons at his alma mater. The Hilltoppers went 29-7 this season, winning the Sun Belt Conference title and advancing to the West Regional semifinals, where they lost to top-seeded UCLA 88-78.

It was Western Kentucky's best season since making it to the regional semifinals in 1993.

Western has been a remarkably successful stepping-stone job in recent decades. Horn becomes the fifth coach to parlay success in Bowling Green into a bigger job: Gene Keady went to Purdue, Clem Haskins to Minnesota, Ralph Willard to Pittsburgh and Dennis Felton to Georgia.

So the school has succeeded in attracting talent. Retaining the talent has been the hard part.

Selig said the school made its best pitch to Horn. It gave him a $200,000 raise last July, increasing his salary to $350,000. When South Carolina showed interest, school president Gary Ransdell had a conference call with Horn pledging to do more, including another pay raise, enhanced bonuses and a promise to revisit the buyout component of his contract, which currently calls for Horn and/or South Carolina to pay WKU $200,000 and play a four-year, home-and-home series with the Hilltoppers.

"We didn't want it to be a volley back and forth," Selig said. "We said, 'This is our best shot, hopefully it will show you how committed we are to you and the program.'"

It wasn't enough. Selig said Horn called Ransdell at 1 p.m. CT on Monday to tell him he had accepted South Carolina's offer. Selig said Horn was scheduled to meet with the WKU players Monday night and then have an introductory news conference in Columbia Tuesday.

Selig said the job search to replace Horn already has begun. He said he's confident the job is more attractive now than when Horn succeeded Felton and will attract plenty of candidates.

"We could go in a number of different directions," Selig said, from hiring yet another up-and-coming assistant to hiring a current head coach to hiring a current assistant with previous head-coaching experience.

Among those believed to be interested are current Texas assistants Ken McDonald and Russ Springmann -- McDonald is a former assistant to Felton at Western -- and Minnesota assistant Vince Taylor, a Kentucky native.

Another potential candidate who would fit Selig's profile is Florida assistant Larry Shyatt, a former head coach who has been credited with much of the defensive work on the Gators' back-to-back national champions.

Horn was an assistant at Western Kentucky, Morehead State and Marquette before becoming the Hilltoppers' head coach in 2003.

South Carolina went 14-18 this season, including a 5-11 mark in the Southeastern Conference.

The Gamecocks struggled in the SEC under Odom, going 128-104 overall and 41-71 in the conference in his seven seasons at the school.

South Carolina has made the NCAA tournament only once this decade, in 2004, and only four times since 1974.

ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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