Dave Odom legacy has yet to be written

Basketball is sometimes described as poetry in motion - at times beautiful and lithe, other times brutal, blunt and powerful. With Dave Odom retiring as USC basketball coach at the end of the season, expect new rhyme and verse. Fans will hope for more wins, but don't expect a more moving exit for the next coach.

Dave Odom is retiring after this season with the Gamecocks because it is inevitable. One NCAA tournament win and only one SEC record of .500 or above was not enough success. But the Dave Odom legacy has yet to be written.

The appropriate prose would be from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities that "it was the best of times and it was the worst of times." A classy veteran coach steps aside for the good of the program and takes the pressure off the program to deal with anything but winning. But the classy coach is retiring without fulfilling the many goals of basketball fans and the program.

Odom is leaving, not because of what fans have said, but what has not been heard and felt at home games this season: enthusiasm. Unaffected by the loud but sparse criticism at the Colonial Center, Odom still has been thinking of his team and, as stressed by athletic director Eric Hyman, the whole university, as he has contemplated retirement since the spring of 2007.

"Those who love you most let you know in the quietest of ways, " said Odom slowly Friday morning to media, his players, supporters and USC staff. "I didn't feel that the arena was excited to see our team play. More than that, I didn't feel that the arena was excited to help our team play…… You come to be part of winning, not to see it." His wife, Lynn, supported Odom staying on as coach. After taking Lynn to away games at Vanderbilt and Arkansas to see the difference, she relented to his wishes. "It's not about me or us. It's about giving our players the best chance to embrace and feel that kind of atmosphere" that excited the players in their close loss to Vanderbilt and upset win at Arkansas.

"There is no passion like the passion for the Gamecocks," said Odom, who later alluded to the continued fan support for the football team during the last few games of the 1999, 0-11 season. "There is not. I just felt that the best way for our team to feel that (passion) was for me to remove any clouds that might impair the vision of those that love the Gamecocks. And let them know that their voice should be heard in a positive way."

So Odom removes himself from the spotlight in the middle of a season he says "has the greatest of opportunities" for his final Gamecock team. He hopes that the great Gamecock fans will no longer concentrate on him, but on the team. But he does not remove himself from the season of promise. He is still the Head Basketball Coach at the University of South Carolina.

Odom calls on Gamecock fans, who history tells us may pay more attention to the next coach than this season, to first support their team, starting with next Wednesday's game with Florida. Looking ahead, Odom says that combining the passion of the fans with the great effort his players owe the fans and the University – with no one having to speculate about him – can create "special memories" before his last game ends.

Odom's plans, his decision and his words indicate that the Gamecock faithful will most likely be recruiting the next USC basketball coach by their response to the team now that Odom's coaching future is no longer a distraction.

Few major college coaches would take themselves out of the limelight and tell people, in effect "Ignore me. I won't be here long. It's about the team."

Odom will work hard for the next two and a half months. He says he is up to all challenges. After April 1, he has no plans, so there is only the here and now of this, his 22nd season as a college head coach, and 43rd season as a college coach. He will coach until the end with vigor and fire, telling the media that none are allowed in Friday's practice because it will be "at a high level." Can he control his team and get strong performances? Odom said he will "kick their butts when they need it, and love them the rest of the time." He stresses he is up to the challenge of being a "lame duck" in "uncharted waters."

There are positives for Odom. He gets most of an SEC season for a swan song, a chance to be given publicly the warmth and affection expressed privately by the other schools he faces until the end of the season. There are positives for the program. Odom helps the school he says he loves by announcing his retirement plans now so that Hyman can search for a successor without rumors, and his players can play without hearing whispers concerning the future. Odom can help the next USC coach recruit by inviting underclass prospects to come to USC games and, again, use the fans as a recruiting tool. He wants the recruits to hear the "old" USC basketball fans, not those who showed up and shouted negatively, or those who did not come at all over the first part of this season. "I want them to hear the real Gamecock fans. And that…. is better than anything I can say to them (recruits)."

What Odom has done is unusual, and better than anything that can come out of this season, short of a trip to the NCAA Tournament. "I want this to be about these guys, and what they can accomplish. All I can tell you…is that this team and our program right now are sitting on a launching pad, waiting for the right ignition."

It's an odd ending, actually the "start" of an ending, to a well-respected basketball coach's career. It is thought provoking, like poetry is supposed to be, just like highlight films are supposed to be at the end of the season. Dave Odom used about an hour to say simply that his last game as Head Coach comes at the end of the season, and for the fans to forget about him and support the team – because this team can win; and both his team and his school deserve that, even if he has been part of the lack of such success. There is no ending yet, no touching moment or sad farewell, just feelings caught in the middle of the experience. Perhaps one of the most famous set of lines in history best frames what happens next. Robert Frost wrote a poem about walking alone in the woods on a snowy night and stopping to ponder a house: why it was there, which led him to question why he was there. He pondered the journey completed, and then the journey in front of him, saw himself in a much clearer light, and like Dave Odom, did not stand still. He moved on towards his destiny, struggling against what he faced that cold, lonely winter night, because he knew there were "miles to go before I sleep, miles to go before I sleep." Dave Odom will be coaching as much as he can before the last day of coaching comes. You can't help but pull for his and USC's success on the journey.

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