Bobby Cremins was the only coach who could have made South Carolina players and fans so happy. And he is the only coach who could have shocked and saddened them so.
Cremins spurned his alma mater Saturday and decided to quit a job he had had for only three days and return to Georgia Tech.
Cremins, who played at South Carolina from 1968-70, was welcomed with a festive news conference Wednesday that resembled a homecoming more than a coach's hiring.
This time, a simple handwritten statement to his agent, Richard Howell, outlined what Cremins said was his desire to live up to the values he had preached to his Georgia Tech players.
"I made a mistake and this is the most embarrassing moment of my life," said Cremins, who returned to Atlanta on Friday.
He said he was amazed at his reception in Columbia but spent the next two days thinking of his players at Georgia Tech.
"I felt I had broken my promise and had deserted them," Cremins said. "Everything I preached to them about, I went against."
Mike McGee, South Carolina athletic director, said he got a call from Cremins at 8:30 a.m. Friday, in which the coach said he was offered the chance to come back to Georgia Tech by Athletic Director Homer Rice.
McGee said he and Cremins met most of the morning. McGee also talked to Rice and asked that Cremins be given more time to decide about returning to Atlanta. Rice agreed to allow Cremins an extra 24 hours before deciding, McGee said.
"I was concerned Bobby had not slept over a period of several days, and that he was obviously in a good deal of distress," McGee said. "We tried to support him in every way possible."
Cremins went back to the basketball office at the Carolina Coliseum and met his wife, Carolyn. The two drove back to Atlanta on Friday night.
McGee said he got a call from Cremins at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and received a statement detailing Cremins' decision about two hours later.
McGee said he knew Cremins had talked with Georgia Tech several times, but Rice never called South Carolina's athletic department, McGee said.
"He had agreed to become our coach and I received no contact from Georgia Tech for permission to communicate with him," McGee said.
Cremins had agreed to a five-year contract worth $106,928 per season but had not signed the pact. McGee said the coach assured him before the welcoming news conference on Wednesday that he was certain of his decision and a signed deal would soon follow.
South Carolina President John Palms, speaking from a conference in St. Petersburg, Fla., said Cremins' choice was a personal matter and the university would not pursue action against him.
"The same reasons we wanted him--his good character and commitment to his players--was the reason he went back," Palms said.
The South Carolina players, who have endured an NCAA investigation, the resignation of Coach Steve Newton and a 9-18 season, were left wondering what else could go wrong.
"We're all feeling very down," point guard Carey Rich said. "It hurts worse than losing a game. Losing the chance to play for a premier coach such as Bobby Cremins really hurts."
Cremins, who Georgia Tech said was off on vacation with his family, was also hurting.
"The embarrassment I caused Dr. Palms, Mike McGee, Coach McGuire, the South Carolina players and fans, my South Carolina friends, will live with me forever," Cremins said.
McGee said he had spoken with Frank McGuire, Cremins' coach at South Carolina and the person whose legacy he hoped to restore. But it was not known if Cremins had talked to his old coach.
McGee, who took over South Carolina's athletic program in January after leaving USC, was left as stunned and surprised as everyone else. He vowed, however, to go after a top coach for the Gamecocks.