COLUMBIA -- When Eric Hyman wonders if things can get much better for South Carolina sports, he looks behind his office at revitalization taking place for the university's athletic footprint.Some might say the athletic director has already done that with back-to-back national baseball championships, a record-setting 11-win performance from the football team and the women's basketball squad reaching the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the first time in a decade.Not everything went smoothly. Hyman fired men's basketball coach Darrin Horn after four seasons. Horn was the athletic director's first major coaching hire at South Carolina.The program went through a very public and scarring NCAA investigation, which concluded last week when the governing body largely accepted the school's self-imposed penalties."You can't get drunk on the highs, or the lows will kill you," the 61-year-old Hyman said. "What you have to do is try and keep even keel. You have some moments that are challenging, and you have others that are exhilarating."South Carolina athletes, coaches and fans have had their share of the latter recently, none bigger than the baseball team's victories at the College World Series in 2010 and 2011. Both were celebrated with parades along Main Street in Columbia to the Statehouse steps, where Hyman beamed with pride as coach Ray Tanner and his players thanked the large crowds that turned out.Football coach Steve Spurrier picked up the baseball team's theme of "Win anyway," to overcome the cloud of NCAA investigators, the dismissal of troubled quarterback Stephen Garcia and the loss to injury of star runner Marcus Lattimore midway through the season to go 11-2.Dawn Staley's women's basketball team used its tenacity, speed and defense to get past more highly regarded programs in the Southeastern Conference and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. The Gamecocks also won at powerhouse Tennessee for the first time ever as Hyman and Spurrier watched."You could look in the team's eyes down the stretch and see Dawn," Hyman said.Hyman knows that in many ways, his work is just beginning after seven years. It's one thing to rise up and achieve things you haven't. It's another, he said, to show consistent excellence. University President Harris Pastides said Hyman has the athletic department poised to take the next steps"We view him as an athletic CEO," Pastides said. "He is very business oriented."That's essential, Pastides said, when managing about 500 athletes and dealing with a budget nearing $80 million this academic year.Hyman began a $200 million capital campaign in the fall of 2006 to reshape South Carolina's aging facilities in order to keep up in the SEC. The country's economic bottom dropped out less than two years later, yet Hyman was counseled to continue pushing forward with the plan. The result? Completed facilities like the $36.5 million Carolina Stadium for baseball, the $13.5 million Dodie Anderson Academic Enrichment Center and a $20 million coaches support building scheduled to open in June that would've cost much more had South Carolina waited for better economic times.The goal is an athletic village that stretches several blocks and closes in on the State Fairgrounds next to Williams-Brice Stadium."Almost connecting it in corridor to the football stadium," Pastides said. "It's wonderful to behold."Not so wonderful was the NCAA investigation or South Carolina's basketball performance.The NCAA found South Carolina athletes and prospects received more than $59,000 in improper benefits and inducements for staying at an area hotel for reduced rates and for involvement with a student-mentoring foundation from Delaware. The NCAA said South Carolina failed to monitor its athletic department yet did not impose additional penalties from what the school imposed on itself. The NCAA also cited South Carolina's superior cooperation during the inquiry.Hyman is not happy with the infractions, but is proud of how the department turned a challenging situation into a positive for the future. "It says a lot about the University of South Carolina," he said. "We were intent on finding our mistakes and then not making those mistakes again."Those are lessons Hyman appeared to use during the men's basketball situation. The team finished last in the SEC at 2-14 and Horn's program had lost the support of several fans. Hyman acknowledged the team's improved academics under Horn, but there was not enough ammunition from a wins and losses view to keep the coach.Hyman eventually landed Frank Martin of Kansas State, who led the Wildcats to four NCAA tournament trips in five years. Martin, 46, is older than Horn and considered a talent at reviving struggling programs.Hyman said the search was not easy. Just ask wife, Pauline, who "had to revitalize me a couple of times."One of the big draws for Martin was joining a program with solid leadership and winning programs like those led by Spurrier, Tanner and Staley."Who wouldn't want to be here?" Martin said.Hyman's next challenge is to grow that attitude and get other Gamecock teams on top of their sports. Hyman has a contract into 2015 and he's not sure how much longer past then he wants to remain."Ultimately, I'm going to do what's right for the university," Hyman said. "And that's not going to change."
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