Drive Time: Greg and Darrin Horn are Lexington’s newest sports radio voices
By Kenny Colston
During August’s Big Blue Bahamas basketball trip, freshman point guard Tyler Ulis captured the attention of the Big Blue Nation with his aggressive defense, smooth passing and general floor leadership.
For some, it was time for the 5-foot-9 Ulis to rotate into the starting lineup for the University of Kentucky, either in combination with incumbent sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison or by placing the “not-hitting-a-three-pointer-in-your-eye-at-the- buzzer” twin on the bench.
But the latest voice in Lexington sports radio, Darrin Horn, had a different perspective.
“Everybody’s pretty happy about Tyler Ulis, right Greg, you hear that all over town?” Darrin Horn said to his SportsTalk co-host and brother. ”Oh man we can’t keep him off the floor, got to get him out there. Look I think Tyler Ulis played real well… but I can promise you this, he is not Andrew Harrison. Andrew Harrison is 6-foot-6 and can get the ball in the paint and get fouled and finished and can make shots any time he wants to.”
“If you don’t believe me, ask all the teams in the NCAA tournament that tried to prevent him from doing that last year.”
It’s safe to say Darrin Horn doesn’t sound like anyone else on the radio in Lexington.
It’s been almost three years since Darrin has been a basketball coach.
Depending on whom you ask, Darrin was either the scapegoat for a University of South Carolina program that has false hopes of Southeastern Conference success, or a promising young head coach who never reached his full potential.
His brother, Greg, believes the former.
“Darrin tried to do it the right way,” Greg said. “One hundred percent graduation rate, four or five guys he put in the NBA. It was a tough job, it just didn’t work at South Carolina.”
Since collecting a pink slip, the younger Horn has become a college basketball analyst with ESPN. And his role is expected to increase this coming season with the launch of the SEC Network.
“I don’t have my schedule yet, but a huge portion [of it] will be the SEC,” Darrin says.
With the departure of longtime SEC analyst Jimmy Dykes, it’s not unthinkable that Horn could slide into the role of main SEC basketball talking head. And it’s a role he’s considered.
“[If I would] get some of those games, that would be great,” Darrin says. “I think I could be a good voice for the SEC. I coached there, I have relationships with the coaches there.”
So between speaking engagements, coaching clinics, and ESPN appearances, Darrin helps out oldest brother Greg with a new sports radio show on 1250 AM WLRT. The dynamics are different from the usual local sports talk, something the brothers openly admit.
“We’re not a typical sports station,” Darrin said. “But we’re a show where, if you’re driving home, having dinner with the family, we think we can provide something enticing and informative for folks.”
WLRT’s banner identifies itself as a Christian station. Other than the nightly sports from 5 to 6 pm, everything else is a nationally syndicated show. The sports show didn’t begin until July, when Greg Horn kicked things off.
“I don’t even think of it as a Christian station,” Greg, a former executive minister at Lexington’s NorthEast Christian Church, says, explaining, “There’s no pastors on it or anything.”
At least, not talking religion. Greg keeps it to strictly sports as the station’s sports director and marketing guru. The show runs Monday through Friday with Greg as the main host. Darrin comes on every Wednesday and will be on more often once basketball season starts. Tim Smith and Anthony Combs also help with the show, usually on Mondays and Thursdays, respectively.
While the set-up may be atypical, it’s full of potential, Greg said. With the Dave Ramsey show as a lead-in and only one other sports show airing at the same time, the duo have picked one of the few open places to slide into the oversaturated Kentucky sports market.
“We’re the only program besides Chris Cross,” Greg said. “So it’s a great niche. From 5 to 6 is one of the most popular times. Dave Ramsey is the third biggest syndicated show in the nation, it’s a great lead-in.”
The brothers may only go head-to-head with one show currently, but the market is littered with sports information, like Kentucky Sports Radio, Big Blue Insider with Dick Gabriel, and dozens of blogs, podcasts, and websites. Everyone in Lexington has an opinion about sports, professionals and amateurs alike.
The difference, the duo hopes, is Darrin’s experience.
A standout at Tates Creek High School, taking them to the Boys Sweet 16 final in 1991, and at Western Kentucky University, Darrin quickly moved through the coaching ranks after graduation, eventually ending with four seasons as the Gamecocks head coach at South Carolina.
He was an assistant on the 2003 Dwayne Wade-led Marquette squad that knocked out Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. He led WKU to a conference title and multiple NCAA tournament appearances as a head coach, and still boasts a winning percentage above .600, even with a couple of rocky seasons at South Carolina.
So while others can watch a game and provide their viewpoint, even if it’s informed, they don’t have the experience of actually sitting in the head coach’s seat during the game, like Darrin has.
Darrin said those experiences aren’t necessarily “a leg up,” but can provide a different perspective not currently available.
“What I’m able to do is bring the perspective of sitting on the sidelines in those arenas,” he said. “I can tell you what the coach is thinking, why something happened.”
This differing perspective is no more obvious than when it comes to discussions of the upcoming basketball season. Having just accomplished a 5-1 record playing against professional teams in the Bahamas, expectations are through the roof for the Cats. Expectations Darrin thinks are warranted. But while fans are asking how can teams score enough to keep up with Kentucky, Darrin asks a different question.
“I’m looking at Kentucky and I say, how are we going to score on these guys?” Darrin asks. “Cause if you can’t score, you can’t stop them.”
As for his take on this year’s squad, his point of view is more in line with other national pundits.
“There’s no question there’s an opportunity to be special,” Darrin says. “They’re a great basketball team with a chance to win a national championship, similar to that 2012 team. As a basketball fan, I’m excited about it.”
He thinks two schools will contend to possibly deny UK title No. 9: Arizona and Duke.
“You’ve got Sean Miller, Coach K, talent, they’re returning some guys,” Darrin said. “Both teams can offensively keep up and defensively give Kentucky challenges.”
In the SEC, Florida will be the closest contender to the Cats, once again, he says. And while the Bahamas trip may incite thoughts of undefeated runs, Horn threw cold water on the idea of an undefeated conference run.
“It’s really hard to do in a league like the SEC,” he says. “I understand if it was the Missouri Valley conference, but (in the SEC) you can’t go on the road, play bad, and expect to win.
“Let me put it this way, would I be surprised if it happened? No, but I don’t expect it to.”
Between his coaching experience and ESPN tenure, Darrin has the connections to break news, and reveal inside information on his show, to get an edge. But that’s not his goal right now, he said.
“I’m not looking to break scoops,” he said.
Instead, Darrin is excited to hone his broadcasting experience with his brother. Coaching is still the long-term goal, if a head coaching job with “the right fit” for his family comes up.
But if it doesn’t, a career transition to broadcasting for the rest of his life, a la Dick Vitale or Jay Bilas, is possible too.
“At 41, I never say never,” Darrin said. “What would factor into that is, is my family happy? That is as much of a factor in picking media over coaching. I don’t know that it’s an either/or decision.”
His family is happy to be back in Lexington, where “people see you as the guy for 39 of your 41 years, not the last two,” Darrin said, and moving just for the sake of moving doesn’t seem worth it.
“This is a great place to live, even without family,” he said.
That’s how a former rising young head coach has become an emerging ESPN personality, and the newest kid on the Lexington sports market block.
Of course, the Horn brothers don’t limit themselves to just basketball. After offering his take on Tyler Ulis and Andrew Harrison, Darrin broke down the loss of Ohio State University quarterback Braxton Miller.
The show allows him to deliver range he might not usually be afforded, with the comfort of his brother at the controls.
Darrin leans on Greg to anchor the stability of the show and Greg leans on his brother to bring in top analysts, coaches, and access for the program. They’ve already had ESPN personality and Young Jeezy enthusiast Jay Bilas on, as well as other local sports writers.
Without the Horns, WLRT might still be syndicated 24 hours a day, instead of 23.
“I only decided to do it if Darrin decided to do it with me,” Greg said.
Greg Horn has a broadcasting background, including a degree from UK in the topic and a long-ago internship at WKYT. He also briefly coached at WKU, but eventually got out of sports and spent decades in business, including sales, marketing, and owning a grocery store in Cynthiana.
And while Greg could have stayed in the ministry or in business, his turn at the mic is fueled by something he often heard while serving as a pastor.
“People always say they wish they had taken more chances,” he said. “And I don’t want to live with regret. So I’m doing it retro, I’m going back 25 years and doing what I did in college.”
The duo is taking a conservative approach. They aren’t obsessing about ratings; the goal isn’t necessary to be No. 1 overnight.
“My goal is to try to improve our program each week and be the best we can be, and I believe the results will take care of themselves,” Greg said.
For Darrin, the approach is even more workmanlike… maybe even “coach speak.”
“I think we have to show up everyday and do the best we can,” he said.
Regardless of approach, the key appeal for the brothers is doing the show with each other, and the key thing for listeners will be the insider’s view it offers on college athletics, including those Cats.
“That’s the best part about it,” Darrin says, “There’s no one who has been more supportive [than my brothers].”
“We’re thankful to be back, we love being here, and I’m excited about this opportunity.”
Darrin Horn played basketball at Tates Creek high school, and then for Western Kentucky University. He coached the Hilltoppers to the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16, and was an assistant coach on the 2003 Dwayne Wade-led Marquette squad that knocked out Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. He spent four years as head coach at South Carolina. Greg Horn was in the grocery business prior to serving as a former executive minister at Lexington’s NorthEast Christian Church.
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