USC’s winningest coaches: What made them winners

A look at some of USC’s winningest coaches in sports other than football

nwhite@thestate.comJanuary 19, 2013 

USC men's soccer coach Mark Berson

FILE PHOTO — the state

On the heels of South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier setting the school record for career wins (66) in football this past season, here is a look at USC’s winningest coaches in other sports.

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MARK BERSON

Sport: Men’s Soccer

USC years: 1978-present

Record: 444-193-63

NCAA tournaments: As the only head coach for the program’s 35 seasons, he has taken the Gamecocks to 20 tournaments. They advanced to the College Cup in 1988 and 1993.

What it takes: “I honestly feel like I haven’t worked a day since I came to South Carolina because I really and truly enjoy everything that I do. That would be a common thread you find in all coaches, particularly in ones that are successful and stay in coaching for a long time.”

Favorite moment: “I don’t have one favorite moment. My favorite moment is the next one when we kick off. … Going to the College Cup is a great highlight and, obviously, getting to the (1993 NCAA) championship game and walking onto the field is a great moment that I’ll always treasure.”

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JOYCE COMPTON

Sport: Softball

USC years: 1987-2010

Record: 951-486-3

NCAA tournaments: She took the Gamecocks to 13 tournaments in her 24 seasons, which included trips to the Women’s College World Series in 1989 and 1997. She remains the school’s winningest coach in all sports.

What it takes: “You’ve got to have the players to put on the field. That, to me, has always been the No. 1 key. If you’ve got the players, you’re going to have the opportunity to get the ‘W.’ That’s where my success came from — the players that you can recruit. Talent is the bottom line that wins the games.”

Favorite moment: “I’d say the whole ’97 season, with what that team was able to accomplish (63-5 record, 25-1 SEC mark, and WCWS appearance) to break the NCAA record (with 38 consecutive wins), is probably the one moment. It’s difficult because there are so many moments, but in a capsule, the ’97 season was very special.”

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KENT DEMARS

Sport: Men’s Tennis

USC years: 1985-2010

Record: 390-291

NCAA tournaments: Over the course of 26 seasons, DeMars took the Gamecocks to 18 NCAA tournaments. They made the national semifinals in 1989.

What it takes: “If you stick around long enough, I guess that helps. But the real pivotal time was when we moved into the SEC in the early ’90s. The level of excellence, just like in football now, is almost ridiculous. That’s the way it has been in tennis the last 50 years. When you can tell recruits that you play in the SEC, it automatically gets their attention, whether it’s international kids or local kids. That draws their respect.”

Favorite moment: “In 1989, when we tied for third and got the third-place national championship trophy, that was a really good result. We lost to Stanford in the semis after we had just beaten Georgia (in the quarterfinals). For those results, I got national coach of the year, which was certainly a personal goal that you would like at some time in your career.”

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ARLO ELKINS

Sport: Women’s Tennis

USC years: 1983-2012

Record: 438-291

NCAA tournaments: Elkins was coaching in his 29th season when he passed away last March. He led the Gamecocks to 19 NCAA tournaments, where they reached the Sweet 16 four times and the national quarterfinals once (2009).

How he did it: When Elkins first came onboard, he built the program into the best in the Metro Conference before the Gamecocks moved into the powerful SEC, where they later began a run of 17 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.

Biggest moments: His top winning-percentage squad came in 1995, when a 22-7 team (.759) reached the Sweet 16. In 15 of his seasons, USC appeared in the Top 25 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s season-ending poll.

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CURTIS FRYE

Sport: Track and Field (Men’s and Women’s)

USC years: 1997-present

NCAA tournaments: In his 16 seasons, Frye has guided the men’s team to nine Top 20 finishes in the national outdoor championships. He has led the women’s team to 10 Top 10 finishes in the national outdoor championships, including an NCAA championship in 2002.

What it takes: “When I got here, I told (athletics director) Mike McGee that I wanted a recruiting budget and the ability to travel and compete anywhere. I wanted to give us the advantage of being successful enough to win. And I wanted academic support that would give us a reputation of taking care of our kids when it comes to graduating.”

Favorite moment: Frye spoke of being able to motivate Terrence Trammell to titles in the 60-meter dash and 60-meter hurdles at both the 2000 SEC and NCAA indoor championships. “That was a special moment for me where you had to find the hot button,” he said. And he learned that his tough love as a coach paid off when Tiffani Ross-Williams let him know years later what he meant to her. “I just remember (her words) when I aggravate kids because I made them go to class or yelled and screamed or disagreed with whatever they were doing because they hadn’t bought in yet.”

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FRANK MCGUIRE

Sport: Men’s Basketball

USC years: 1964-1980

Record: 283-142

NCAA tournaments: In 16 seasons, McGuire, who died in 1994, guided the Gamecocks to seven postseason appearances, four in the NCAA tournament and three in the NIT.

How he did it: McGuire made the program relevant as an ACC power before it became an independent, as the Gamecocks made it to the NCAA tournament four consecutive seasons (1971-75). By luring talented players, such as John Roche and Kevin Joyce, from New York City — just as he had done at North Carolina — the Hall of Fame coach took the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights, including a preseason No. 1 ranking in 1969.

Biggest moments: His 1969-70 team was his best one, and although it finished 25-3 (14-0 in the ACC), it didn’t advance to the NCAA tournament because it lost the title game of the ACC tournament game in the days when only the tournament winner received a bid. His 1970-71 team gained a slight measure of revenge by winning the ACC tournament championship and an NCAA bid with a dramatic 52-51 win against North Carolina.

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JUNE RAINES

Sport: Baseball

USC years: 1977-1996

Record: 763-380-2

NCAA tournaments: In his 20 seasons, Raines took the Gamecocks to 11 tournaments (1977, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1993), and the team reached the College World Series four times, including the 1977 national championship game.

What it takes: “You’ve got to have the players. Fortunately, (assistant) coach Johnny Hunton did a heck of a job recruiting in my early years, and then we continued that on. Plus, you get a reputation of having a good program. It had been strong starting with Bobby Richardson, and fortunately, we continued it. Of course, Coach (Ray) Tanner took it to another level. When you’ve got that going for you — a good history of baseball — you can recruit good players, and that’s what we did.”

Favorite moment: “It’s hard to beat the first year, when you lose the national championship game by one (2-1 to Arizona State). We were beat up a little bit and playing guys who were hurt, but they gave us everything they had. It was an amazing run. Most people don’t realize it, but we played five games in the College World Series and only used three pitchers. They were all pretty good because they all pitched in the big leagues, plus we had Mookie (Wilson) in center.”

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SHELLEY SMITH

Sport: Women’s Soccer

USC years: 2001-present

Record: 138-89-32

NCAA tournaments: She recently finished her 12th season. She has guided the Gamecocks to five NCAA tournaments over the past six years. The 2009 team reached the round of 16.

What it takes: “It’s consistently hard work and year-around commitment. Obviously, we’ve invested in the team here as a coaching staff. You put in a lot of work to build a program and to keep it at a strong level. It takes lots of recruiting and bringing in good people as well as surrounding yourself with good people. We’ve had a tremendous support staff and consistent people in those positions, which has helped. People are the key to success.”

Favorite moment: “The first SEC championship (in the 2009 tournament) has to be the best because it was a culmination of so many years of hard work. I was excited for the players that were so special as a class of seniors in ’09 and the effort they put in to change the program over their four years to win that championship. I just remember it meaning so much to me because they earned it.”

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NANCY WILSON

Sport: Women’s Basketball

USC years: 1984-1997

Record: 231-149

NCAA tournaments: In her 13 seasons as the coach, she led the Gamecocks to five NCAA tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 in 1990.

What it takes: “The obvious first answer is the quality of players that you’re able to get to come in your program. The second answer would be the landscape of your sport, what’s going on in and around your sport during the time of your tenure. It certainly helped me that we were in the Metro Conference during part of my tenure. It would be awfully hard in the SEC to have the same number of wins. And my strongest years at South Carolina were when the state was rich in talent.”

Favorite moment: “I took my (1987-88) team to a tournament in Alaska, and while there it was my first team to beat a couple of ranked teams. When we came back, we were ranked in the Top 25 for the first time. Even though we had many other good times, that moment was very special.”

Compiled by Neil White

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