"Every beginning has an end"
"Every beginning has an end," Odom said. "I'm not at the end, but I can see it. I've got a unique opportunity at this point to make a huge impact on Carolina basketball. I think I've got a greater opportunity now than if I remained the head coach beyond this year. For I can say things now my way, that I know to be true, that can help the future."
Odom considered retiring following last season, but athletics director Eric Hyman encouraged him to take some time before making his decision. Odom eventually opted to return, but said he did not feel the same fire that he felt in the past. Shortly after the New Year, he again began to feel it was time to retire. He told Hyman at 2:30 this past Wednesday, prior to the game at Arkansas, that he intended to retire. Odom chose Friday to make the announcement because the Gamecocks are off this weekend, giving the team an extra few days to let everything sink in. The fact that he made the announcement following a win was just a happy coincidence.
"When you do something like this, you need enough time to let it settle a little bit," Odom said. "I looked at the schedule and decided, if we do it [retire], this [the bye week] is the time to do it. We've got a difficult assignment on Wednesday [against Florida], and I felt doing something today would give over the weekend [to settle]."
Odom then talked about his thoughts as he walked off the court at Arkansas for the final time.
"I started waling toward the exit, and I got to center court, and a little grin came over my face," he said. "I closed my eyes just for a second and I said the Lord really does take care of us doesn't he? I knew this announcement was coming Friday, and it makes it so much easier. If we'd have gone out there and laid a huge egg, everybody would have jumped on that. The Lord stepped in and delivered that for us."
Odom acknowledged that it is unusual for a coach to announce his retirement during the season, but said that he hopes announcing the decision now will benefit the Gamecocks over the remainder of the season.
"The atmosphere in the building decides in large part how the game is played," he said. "When I walked into the Colonial Center, there was a difference there. I didn't feel the arena was excited to see our team play. If you take me out of the equation, the voices of dissent can now use their energy in total support of our basketball team and give them the best chance to be all that they can be this year."
Despite this, Odom repeatedly denied that public criticism was forcing him to retire. He insisted that he was retiring on his own terms, although the criticism may have affected the timing. That timing caught most people off-guard, including his players.
Devan Downey and Zam Fredrick both said they hope that Odom's announcement will result in increased fan support, and reiterated that they will still play hard for their coach. Both said that as players, they are able to find sanctuary on the court, where they do not have to worry about coaching changes and fan reaction.
"Coach Odom is a great guy," Downey said. "It's sad that it's going to end like this, but we just have to take care (of things). What I'm going to tell my team is we have to take this aside. We have 14 more games to turn this around. We're going to let next year worry about next year."
"I understand what he said about [fan support], to just take the pressure off him and people pulling against him," said Fredrick. "It could help. I understand his point of view too, but I really don't know. We'll see Wednesday. Everybody has to do what they have to do for themselves. He said he did it for us and I believe him. I'm still going to listen to him and I support his decision. We'll just see how it goes. This is uncharted waters for me, but I'm going to do whatever I can to make it work."
Hyman attended the press conference, but declined to answer any questions from reporters. He made a brief opening statement thanking Odom for the work he has done at Carolina on and off the court.
"This is Dave's day," Hyman said. "For seven years, [Odom] has served as an exemplary ambassador for the men's basketball program at the University. [His] commitment to student athletes, the professional manner in which [he] has conducted himself both on and off the basketball court, and [his] steadfast leadership have brought honor and respect to [him] as a coach and to the University."
Odom has a record of 123-94 at Carolina, and 37-61 in the SEC. He has taken the Gamecocks to the NIT championship game three times, winning twice. He made one NCAA Tournament appearance, in 2004, and lost in the first round to Memphis. Odom also never finished better than 8-8 in SEC play.
Odom generated momentum and enthusiasm for the basketball program when he took the team to the NIT championship game in his first season, and then won the NIT in 2005. However, a repeat title in 2006 was not the progress many fans were looking for, and support began to wane. A 5 game losing streak at the start of SEC play in 2007 that included losses by 16, 24, 34, 38 points and set all-time records for futility drove fans away, and the Colonial Center was mostly empty for the remainder of the season. This season, attendance has continued to suffer, as Tennessee fans nearly equaled Gamecock fans in the SEC home opener. Odom cited the dwindling fan support as the reason he decided to announce his retirement now. He noted that the players responded much better to the atmosphere in road games against Vanderbilt and Arkansas
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