USC’s Darrin Horn added another embarrassing loss to a Southern Conference team Tuesday night with a road loss at Elon, a middle tier SoCon team. At this stage it is hard to argue USC isn’t a middle tier SoCon team. In Horn’s four years they’ve lost to five teams from the FCS conference, including an 0-4 mark on the road.
Sure it is mid November, and a lot of teams suffer bad losses during the first two months of the season and go on to have solid regular seasons. That being said, it is hard to predict this USC squad will be one of those teams.
Here’s the problem: Darrin Horn doesn’t look like he has any clue what he’s doing. How can you draw any other conclusion? From coaching to recruiting to just simple people skills, Horn seems to be lacking. Some have tried to say this is all part of some master plan by Horn to build USC into an SEC power. If that’s the case, shouldn’t there be some semblance of improvement in year four? Shouldn’t there be just a smidgen of hope? Shouldn’t the roster have at least three or four experienced SEC caliber players? Shouldn’t you have at least one guy on the preseason all conference team? Shouldn’t you be picked higher than last two straight years?
This Darrin Horn experiment started bad and is heading for an even worse ending. By the end of Dave Odom’s run fans were sick of NIT runs (which now would be welcomed improvement) and tired of the perceived poor recruiting by Odom and his staff. These days Odom recruits like Dominique Archie, Sam Muldrow, Devon Downey, Buck Fredrick, Tarence Kinsey, Renaldo Balkman, Tre Kelley and Brandon Wallace would run circles around Horn’s current guys. The talent pool has not only slipped under Horn, it’s fallen off a cliff.
Again, signs recruiting were going to be a problem started almost from day one. Horn not so subtly let it be known the days of under talented Dave Odom type players coming in were over. Shortly after taking over Horn chased off the lone incoming freshman Odom had signed that year, Darius Morrow, causing the kids high school coach, the highly respected Phil McCrarey (no relation by the way) to publically question Horn’s integrity. Morrow ended up signing with East Carolina.
Current players linked to Odom also weren’t exempt from Horn’s wrath. Trevor Deloach and Chad Gray were shown the door immediately. Horn made sure to point out there was a reason he was taking over a team that won only eight games the year before and that reason was Dave Odom and his staff stunk. He never acknowledged the obvious fact that Odom left the cupboard far from bare. Devon Downey was only a junior, and he was easily one of the top guards in the country. Buck Fredrick was a senior and Dominique Archie was a junior. He also had experienced players like Sam Muldrow and Mike Holmes. Brandis Raley-Ross was the SEC’s top sixth man Horn’s first season. There was talent in the fold. Much more talent than Horn currently has. The group above would beat Horn’s current starters by 25 points if they played today.
Plus, when Horn arrived the SEC was way down, even by its standards. Kentucky was bad, Florida wasn’t even a tournament team, and Vanderbilt was re-tooling. Tennessee was the only good team in the East. Out West LSU and Mississippi State were the only teams to make the NCAA Tournament that year. Horn and the Gamecocks went 0-5 against those teams. They won 10 SEC games, a handful of which were on buzzer beaters, against teams a group of league teams that failed to make the postseason. This, by the way, is the high water mark for Horn’s tenure at USC.
Things went downhill quickly because Horn failed to cash in on the talent he inherited and the down cycle in the SEC. Worse still, he failed to sustain the talent he inherited, much less improve upon it.
Compounding the questionable recruiting and on the court coaching Horn has displayed at USC is the fact his personality seems to clash with just about anyone who meets him. You have to look really hard to find someone in the media, coaching community or local community to say anything that could be deemed complimentary about Horn. He has a well documented chilly relationship with local reporters and has turned off some fans with decisions like not finding it worth his time to speak to the weekly Tip Off club. Horn often presents himself as arrogant and aloof. He may be the nicest guy in the world, he just doesn’t come across that way and no one seems to think that way about him. Perception becomes reality.
Then you have the mass exodus of players this offseason, which doesn’t speak well to his relationship with his own team. According to a source, last year after Horn informed Austin Steed, the team’s SEC Good Works player and a rising senior, that he would not be a part of the team, the coaching staff told a recruit not to visit campus that weekend because they were worried the rest of the current players would tell the prospect not to come to USC. That recruit ended up singing with another program, one that made it to the NCAA Tournament last year.
Horn’s staff members aren’t immune either. Shaking up his coaching staff two years into the job with the demotion of Cephus Bunton to bring in Orlando Early was an eyebrow raising move. Not as eyebrow raising as when Early bolted one year later and after weeks without announcing a hire Horn opted to bring Bunton back on staff. If Bunton wasn’t good enough for the job two years ago, why is he now?
Horn has clearly rubbed some coaches the wrong way. Former Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton appears to have an icy relationship with Horn. Former Georgia interim coach Pete Herrman refused to shake Horn’s hand after a game. Herrman, who coach at David Robinson at Navy, is widely regarded as one of the nicest guys in college basketball. The fact he wouldn’t give Horn the courtesy of a handshake is telling.
These types of things aren’t too big if you are Bobby Knight and have won 900 games. They matter when you’ve lost to half of the SoCon in four years.
Horn defenders usually point out the fact that USC basketball has been a struggle for the better part of the past three decades. The team hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since Richard Nixon was in the White House. But Horn’s job was to change that history, not repeat it. He was supposed to take a stagnant program and make it better. So far, he’s only made things worse.