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March 28, 2011

BLOG: Making Sense Of One Wacky Week

The week of March 21-27 should go down as one of the wackiest and wildest in recent memory. Every five minutes, it seemed, something newsworthy happened from Darrin Horn to Jadeveon Clowney to Bruce Ellington to Stephen Garcia. Here are my thoughts on the week that was.

MEN'S BASKETBALL: It's hard to argue the USC men's basketball program is in turmoil right now. The pending transfers of Ramon Galloway (mildly surprising) and Stephen Spinella (no surprise) followed by the stunning announcement Murphy Holloway would leave the program without playing a game for USC and transfer back to Ole Miss has depleted the roster. USC will enter the 2011-2012 season with nine scholarship players on the roster unless Horn signs somebody during the spring signing period.

Holloway's explanation for the retreat back to Oxford to the school that played hardball with him last year when he initially sought to transfer closer to home (he's from Irmo, SC) was curious at best. At this point, I question if Holloway truly wanted to be at USC in the first place.

I understand the frustrations of USC fans. The Gamecocks are 29-32 overall in the last two seasons (that 21-10 season in 2008-2009 feels like it happened a century ago) without sniffing the post-season. Certainly, that's not what USC supporters expected. And next season offers little encouragement or hope for improvement. But talk of firing Horn is pure fantasy for a number of reasons.

Eric Hyman is a Horn supporter because, as the man who hired him, he badly wants the former Western Kentucky coach to succeed. Second, economics are always a factor. Do you want Horn fired? OK, just be prepared to write a check for $3.2 million and make sure there are sufficient funds in your back account.

In case you've forgotten, Horn was given a two-year contract extension in December of 2009 through the 2014-2015 season at $1.1 million per year, a bump in salary of $300,000 per year. Under the terms of the new deal, Horn would be owed $800,000 for each year left on his contract if he's fired without cause. No, lack of success on the basketball court doesn't constitute 'cause.' Think Bruce Pearl.

Horn must pay the school $2 million if he chose to leave before next season. That figure drops to $1.25 million after the 2011-2012 season and $750,000 following the 2012-2013 campaign.

Right now, Horn has four years left on his contract. Multiple $800,000 by four and you get $3.2 million. Thus, even if Horn survives and coaches the Gamecocks in 2011-2012, the school would still have to pay him $2.4 million to go away a year from now.

Oh yeah, USC also created a tax-deferred compensation plan for Horn under the terms of the revised contract. The school contributed $300,000 to the plan in March 2010 and must pay $200,000 by the end of this month and $100,000 by March of 2012 for a total of $600,000. Horn has immediate access to those funds once the contribution by the school is made.

So, if you're still anxious to get rid of Horn right now, it could cost up to $3.7 million to make it happen depending on how much money Horn has pulled from the tax-deferred plan.

Bottom line: USC and Horn are married to each other for the foreseeable future. And, as some of you may know from first-hand experience, divorce is very expensive.

Why is Horn struggling? Without question, the coaching staff has made some mistakes in recruiting. Some players they thought could play at the upper Div. level didn't produce, Galloway (35.8 FG pct) and Spinella (36.1 FG pct) among them.

But as far as I'm concerned, the most curious decision made by Horn in the last year or so was booting Austin Steed from the team yet offering to keep him on scholarship. While Steed may have had some physical limitations and didn't squarely fit into Horn's system (remember, he was recruited by Dave Odom), he could have certainly helped this season. Now he's transferring to East Carolina.

JADEVEON CLOWNEY: When many Gamecock fans woke up Friday morning and turned on their computers, they saw a cell phone photo of Clowney being searched by Columbia police. But USC's biggest recruit ever (if you go by the rankings) was quickly released after being questioned for a minute or so.

Hours later, Steve Spurrier and the Columbia police chief faked the coach's own brief arrest following practice to make a point about mistaken identity. But, in my opinion, Clowney's case was not a case of mistaken identity nor was it a situation involving being in the "wrong place at the wrong time."

The evidence supports the argument Clowney was targeted by an individual who either thought he was going to play a sick joke on the best high school football player in the country in 2010 or, worse, had malicious intentions. Whatever the purpose, it backfired, and gave us the amusing image of Spurrier in handcuffs.

Here's the key sentence from the police report: "Officers made contact with the 911 caller who stated that the subjects fled on foot into a nightclub located on the 2000 Greene Street, Suite B (Pavlov's), but the caller was unwilling to cooperate further or make a report."

First, the fact someone would give police a description matching Clowney's is too much of a coincidence. Second, the theory someone would run into as nightclub after robbing someone is ludicrous. Finally, the fact the caller didn't cooperate with police after making the initial allegations speaks volumes.

Should Clowney have been in Five Points at 2 a.m.? No. Should he have been in a nightclub where alcohol is served and you must be 21 to enter? No. Hopefully, Clowney learned an important lesson. He will be targeted by people jealous of his football success and celebrity, as well as fans of rival schools scheming to prevent him from playing for the Gamecocks. In short, some people will try to topple him from high perch.

Spurrier and Clowney had a heart-to-heart conversation on Friday. The message from the coach was clear - don't go to Five Points for the foreseeable future and don't put yourself into a vulnerable position. Hopefully, the message was heard loud and clear.

BRUCE ELLINGTON: From the first day Ellington arrived on campus, people were asking when or if he would play football. That day has arrived after just one season of basketball. But he will attempt to play both sports, which will be difficult consider the seasons overlap.

However, the idea Spurrier "poached" the basketball team to get Ellington - the allegation made by a local columnist - is ludicrous. Based on all of my conversations, Ellington is the one who initiated contact, made the first move and the football coaches didn't move forward until Darrin Horn was full appraised of the situation.

The fact Ellington will play football shouldn't be a shock to anyone. In my opinion, the more intriguing question is why Ellington is prohibited from practicing this spring with the football team. Quickly, NCAA rules prohibit an athlete who signs a letter of intent to play a sport other than football during the early signing period (typically in the fall) from practicing or playing football during his first year on campus.

Why does the rule exist? Easy. The NCAA doesn't trust the coaches. And that's ALL coaches, not Spurrier in particular. The mistrust extends to the situation when a player competes in two sports and one of them is football. In that case, the player must be placed on football scholarship.

The NCAA rulebook is filled with mandates applying solely to football. Why? The NCAA doesn't trust the coaches. Pure and simple. Unfortunately, it means Ellington gets hurt because he can't practice the sport he wants to play. And that's too bad.

STEPHEN GARCIA: I thought Garcia handled his much anticipated media session like a fifth-year senior should. I know many fans wanted to know exactly what happened at the hotel in Atlanta during bowl week, but Garcia smartly declined to offer details.

What should he? Spurrier handed out his penalty a couple of weeks ago - three practices and no participation in an unofficial scrimmage held March 19 - and Garcia didn't want to open the door to additional sanctions for something that occurred almost three months ago. My take? Insignificant penalties for an insignificant event.

Now that Garcia has met the media, he can now focus on football. He promised to behave himself for the final nine months of his career. If he does, he has a chance to conclude his four years with a flourish and holding most or all of the major passing records. While some in the media want to portray Connor Shaw as a legitimate threat to beat out Garcia for the starting job, I haven't bought in yet. Garcia still gives USC the best chance to win, and he'll be the starter on Sept. 3.

LAST WORD: Although this week promises to be a little quieter, we should hear something on Dawn Staley within the next five days. Virginia fell in the quarterfinals of the Women's NIT (What? You didn't know that existed?), ending the career of long-time Cavaliers head coach Debbie Ryan, who was Staley's mentor at UVa back in the early 1990's. Virginia will likly seek permission from USC to talk with Staley about the vacant head coaching position. Of course, what we don't know is what discussions Staley's agent or third-parties on her behalf have had with UVa since Ryan announced her retirement a couple of weeks ago. Based on her career success, I believe Staley is high up UVa's list.


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