LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES -- Mike McGee, saying he was looking for new challenge, said yesterday that he was stepping down as athletic director at Southern California to take the same job at South Carolina.
No timetable has been set for when McGee will leave the job he has held since 1984, but it is expected to be around the beginning of the year. No replacement has been named and a search committee, headed by former USC quarterback Pat Haden, has been formed.
"South Carolina is a situation where I feel I might be more useful," McGee said. "Not that this is a maintenance job [at USC], but one of the things I loved about being a coach was the creative opportunity it presented. South Carolina fits that description and will be the challenge I need personally."
In addition, the South Carolina job will be a homecoming of sorts for McGee. He attended high school in North Carolina and graduated and coached at Duke in Durham, N.C.
"I have large amounts of family back there and I have roots there," he said. "I haven't had a lot of time to spend with my family back there, so that's part of it. But the biggest reason is the challenge. That gets you going."
McGee inherits a program at South Carolina in much the same shape as the one he came to at USC nine years ago. The football program has had its share of controversy, most recently a player revolt after the team's 0-5 start this season.
McGee had been rumored as a candidate for the South Carolina job for two weeks, but he had denied that, saying that he was serving only as a consultant and was recommending names to the school president. (According to South Carolina school officials, McGee received $20,000 for his work as a consultant, beginning on Nov. 15.)
McGee said that once USC assured itself of having a winning season in football, he stopped being a consultant for South Carolina and became a candidate. McGee said that if the Trojans had finished below .500, he would not have left.
"I would not leave the university in the lurch," he said. "When we were 3-8, if we'd had another losing season, there would have been a lot of decisions that would have had to be made."
McGee, who had to be let out of his contract at USC by school president Steven Sample, has signed a four-year deal at South Carolina worth $120,000 a year, plus an additional $15,000 from athletic department funds. He also will receive an $80,000 relocation loan from a South Carolina booster club.
"He has a lot to be proud of in his eight years here," said Sample in a statement. "He turned around a program that was challenged with unbalanced budgets and NCAA violations. . . . Mike worked hard to create an ethical, financially sound program that enabled young athletes to be successful in the classroom and on the field."
When McGee came to USC from Cincinnati in 1984, he came to a school that had the threat of the NCAA death penalty hanging over it after a series of football violations in the early 1980s. The Trojans stayed out of trouble and McGee avoided sanctions against the basketball program in the wake of illegal payments being made to Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble by removing Stan Morrison as coach.
Fund-raising was up during McGee's tenure and its graduation rate also rose.
Haden said the search had only just begun and he hadn't even had time to assemble committee members, let alone job candidates.
"I have no guidelines, no number of candidates Dr. Sample wants to consider," Haden said. "I'm hoping to get more guidance because I really want to understand what Dr. Sample has in mind. It's his choice, it's what he wants."
Haden, who said he is not interested in the job, has an idea of what he's looking for.
"In my estimation, we're looking for someone who is credible, who has integrity and is concerned about the student-athlete as an individual and has their interests at heart," he said. "Someone who understands the tradition of USC would help considerably."
McGee said he would provide USC with a list of people to be considered for the job. Among those already in the athletic department, the only candidates would be senior associate athletic director Don Winston and associate athletic director Mike Garrett.
Garrett, the former Heisman Trophy winner, said he would be very interested in the job.
"Obviously," Garrett said. "I was born and raised here. It would be my dream job to be athletic director."
Winston, who was out of town with the USC golf team, was unavailable for comment. Winston is the department's chief fund-raiser.
Until progress is made by the search committee, speculation will be the order of the day for McGee's replacement. One intriguing possibility would be Sam Jankovich, the former Miami athletic director, who now is with the New England Patriots.