Former Southern Miss star returns as AD
Published: Thursday, September 13, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 13, 2012 01:09
In 1976, Jeff Hammond was a leader on the field for the Golden Eagle football team as quarterback. Today, Hammond serves as a leader for Southern Miss as athletic director.
“I got a pair of degrees from this incredible school, and I was fortunate enough to play football and be the quarterback and team captain,” Hammond said. “But the people here — the coaches, staff and faculty — shaped me and shaped who I am. The opportunity to come back like that is once in a millenium so I seized it.”
When Hammond left Southern Miss in 1978, he began his military career, rising through the ranks and eventually seizing the title of a major general. With 28,000 soldiers to command, Hammond and his wife dedicated their lives to caring for soldiers and their families, but his passion always remained at Southern Miss.
“We put our heart into loving soldiers and families, but after 32 years, we thought that was the time that if we were going to do something new and different then that was the time to do it while we were still young and energized,” Hammond said.
Hammond said he and Diane, his wife and fellow Southern Miss graduate, were standing on their front porch in Fort Hood, Texas one day when they noticed moving vans moving soldiers’ widows away.
“It was just so sad, and we just wanted to be happy again. We knew there was a shining light here — a black and gold light that brings people home,” Hammond said. “We wanted to come back to seek happiness make a difference in this program. We wanted to come home to Southern Mississippi, where the best times of my life happened.”
In 2010, Hammond got a job with the athletic department and packed his bags for the move back to Hattiesburg, never imagining that he would soon hold the top position in Southern Miss athletics.
“I never planned to be the athletic director,” Hammond said. “Circumstances developed, and I was, as a leader, asked to step forward, so I stepped forward because I like a challenge, because I love the university, and I love the people.”
For Hammond, the focus of this centennial season will be creating a culture and overseeing a growth in revenue in the athletic department.
“I want the athletics department to be part of the university experience for faculty, staff and students, I want this to be a part of their lives,” Hammond said. “I want to create a sustainable business model within the department more in lines with the business — revenue, expenses, profit, loss — that allows us to eventually not be a drain on the university but to be self-sustaining in our own right.”
For David Hosemann, a Vicksburg, Miss., native who played fullback at USM with Hammond, having someone in the AD position who cares about the university is vital to the growth of the program.
“He was the guy who put in extra workouts at night in the weightroom, as an 18-year-old he had the qualities of a leader and encouraged everyone to pull their weight,” Hosemann said. “At Southern Miss you’re expected to work hard and prosper, and he understands that. He’s in touch with the university, not just what we represented in the past, but where we want to go in the future.”
To Hammond, the fan base and sincere atmosphere sets Southern Miss apart from other schools.
“Most fan bases are loyal, but ours is loyalty-plus. These people aren’t afraid to step forward and voice their opinion or express their thoughts. I may not always like what I hear, but their willingness to do that gives them the title of loyalty-plus,” Hammond said. “You can come here and imagine. You have small classes, professors will know you by name, staff members will take the time to help you, and you can dually pursue your dreams and your goals here.”
In 10 years, Hammond said he envisions Southern Miss athletics being a self-sustainable program that supports the whole student, not just the sports side.
“It’s our job over the next ten years, in regards to becoming self-sustaining, to lift up our season ticket sales in all sports. We have to continue to expand our business base,” Hammond said. “We love our athletes to do all these extra things, but at the end of the day, they came here to get a degree. They came here to learn about themselves socially. They came here to be a leader. That is what we are going to do.”
To Hosemann, Hammond’s work ethic and love for Southern Miss has shone through since he first stepped onto the football field more than 35 years ago.
“He’s concerned with the Southern Miss family, he wants us to be proud of Southern Miss,” Hosemann said. “He’ll carry the same momentum to this job that he did on the football field, and he’s always been about setting goals and achieving them.”
According to Hammond, the university’s main priority is the students, and he fully intends to focus on that.
“The biggest goals are to graduate our student athletes, teach them leadership and to teach them social responsibility so they will be men and women of character and they will always have the moral courage to do the right thing,” Hammond said.
He also plans to continue the streak of success that Southern Miss has seen in years past in his athletic department.
“We have a history of winning here, we succeed, and we have done a lot of neat things here,” Hammond said. “We don’t have a separate mission from the university. Our mission is the mission of this university.”
“The biggest goals are to graduate our student athletes, teach them leadership and to teach them social responsibility so they will be men and women of character, and they will always have the moral courage to do the right thing,” Hammond said.