LEXINGTON, Ky. — When Darrin Horn’s career hit a road bump after he was fired as men’s basketball coach at South Carolina this spring, he had myriad options on where to live.
He could have stayed in Columbia, keeping his children in familiar schools.
Horn could have moved with his family — wife Carla, daughter Caroline, 11, and son Walker, 9 — to someplace new for a fresh start.
Instead, Horn came home to Lexington.
This basketball season, for the first time since he was starring on the Tates Creek basketball team that made an enchanted run to the 1991 Kentucky high school state championship game, Horn will be living here.
“I haven’t lived at home, really, since I graduated from Tates Creek,” Horn said last week. “When I was playing at Western (Kentucky), I always went to summer school. So I never had the chance to come home for more than a week or two.”
South Carolina gave Horn the pink slip in March after the coach compiled a 10-21 record, 2-14 in the SEC, in his fourth season.
For someone who has been a striving achiever since his days playing at Tates Creek — Horn was a Division I head coach at Western by age 30; he had coached a team to the NCAA tournament round of 16 at 35 — the experience had to be jarring.
“You know what, I’m doing great,” Horn said. “Everyone talks about how hard it is, getting fired. Well, it doesn’t change who I am, what I’m about or who loves me.”
At the time South Carolina dismissed Horn (60-63 with the Gamecocks), published reports said the school had to pay its deposed coach a $2.4 million contract buyout.
Presumably, that gives one the freedom to take some time off to recharge. Which is what Horn plans to do this year in Lexington.
“He looks better than I’ve seen him in a long time,” Greg Horn, a Lexington minister, says of his younger brother. “From the outside, I don’t know that we realize how much of a grind these coaches are under.”
When October and the official start of college basketball practice rolls around, Darrin Horn expects to feel separation pangs.
So starting in November, Horn has agreed to work as a color analyst for college basketball broadcasts on ESPN3, the cable sports network’s Internet platform. “They said if it goes well, we may do a little more,” Horn said.
Afforded the novelty of free time, Horn thinks he might try to coach his son in youth basketball this winter. He’s excited that his entire extended family — parents Ed and Lois; brothers Greg and Mike, sister Missy and all his nieces and nephews — are in Lexington. That means the Horns should have a chance to all be together this Christmas.
“My kids are having a chance to go to school with some of their cousins,” Horn says. “That’s a pretty nice thing.”
Still, Horn plans for this year to be a sabbatical from coaching basketball, not a bridge to a different career. “I’m looking at it as an opportunity, a chance to learn and grow,” he said.
Early this summer, John Calipari allowed Horn to observe the Dominican Republic National team practice. At the invitation of a friend in the Indiana Pacers organization, Horn spent four days at the Orlando Summer League observing.
A former Tom Crean assistant at Marquette, Horn worked as a coach at the fantasy camp put on by Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade, whom Horn coached at the Milwaukee school.
Last week, Crean invited Horn to Bloomington to observe an Indiana preseason workout.
Like John Pelphrey after Arkansas, Horn has to hope for a second chance as a college head man. At age 39, time is on his side.
Those who know college basketball realize that South Carolina is not an easy job. The school has not won an NCAA tournament game since 1973. The two coaches who preceded Horn, Eddie Fogler and Dave Odom, are darned good basketball men who could not solve the Carolina riddle.
Horn couldn’t either, though there were some highlights for him at South Carolina including sharing the SEC East crown in 2009 and upsetting No. 1 Kentucky in 2010.
In being around “basketball people” this summer, Horn said he is encouraged that people remember his impressive stint as coach at WKU — 111-48 in five seasons, ending with the run to the 2008 NCAA tourney round of 16.
“I think when I get another job, I’ll be better because of what I’ve gone through,” Horn said. “A better coach and a better person.”
Until then, when Horn needed a safe landing after career adversity, he knew where to come.
He came home.