No announcement made on Johnson’s future
Eagles only winless Division I team in country
Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 00:11
After completing a winless season, questions swirled around the Southern Miss Athletic Center about the future of the football program and its leader Monday. The silence spoke volumes; as of Monday night Ellis Johnson will still be returning as the head coach of the Golden Eagles next season.
Athletic Director Jeff Hammond did not return a phone call, no official announcement was made and no players were available for questioning on Monday.
“I have no idea [whether I’ll be back next season],” Johnson said after Saturday’s 42-24 loss to Memphis. “I’m just more concerned about the overall improvement of the team. We never got better and better, and a lot of it was because of the quarterback situation and the injuries at all the positions. It was up and down, up and down. By the time you look at it, this is week 12 and we are no better than we were week two.”
The team did have a meeting for the players Monday afternoon, but, according to reports from members of the football team, that meeting had been scheduled before the loss to Memphis over the weekend.
Saturday’s game finished the first winless season for the Golden Eagles since 1925. It also cemented the worst differential in wins in Division-I football from last year to this season.
It takes a perfect storm of things to go wrong for a program to go from 12-2 with a conference championship victory to 0-12 with an 0-8 conference record. After losing the entire coaching staff, a four-year starter at quarterback and several defensive starters, Southern Miss struggled to replace all of the leaders and play makers. Four different quarterbacks started for the Eagles, and five different quarterbacks saw playing time. Injuries plagued the teams of starters and key contributors.
If he keeps his head coaching job, Johnson will return to Hattiesburg with his 17-40 career coaching record.
Despite the obstacles the team faced this season, Johnson focused on pulling the team together in an interview Saturday.
“There are obvious things that happened to this football team - and I say this mostly in defense of the players - there are things that this football team incurred that are overwhelming, smothering. The injury factor being the most obvious,” Johnson said. “It can be fixed, but everyone has to pull in the same direction.”
The Eagles have already fired strength and conditioning coach Steve Maples. Maples had been out of coaching the last 20 years before accepting the job here. Many fans have their eyes set on offensive coordinator Steve Buckley. Buckley, who was the head football coach at Petal High School last season, took over play-calling duties after current running backs coach Rickey Bustle was forced to step down due to illness.
This season, Buckley’s offense ranked No. 112 out of 120 teams in D-I football, scoring 19.7 points per game. The Eagles did find some success on the ground, but a lack of an aerial attack doomed Southern Miss on many occasions, as they averaged only 168 yards passing, which is good enough for No. 111 in the country.
“At the end of the day, it’s the head coach’s responsibility to find some way to overcome those obstacles and get that done,” Johnson said before the game against Memphis Saturday. “What I’m going to have to do is evaluate. We’re going to evaluate, and the first evaluation is going to start with me to make sure I didn’t drop the ball on something, whether it’s organization, Xs and Os, player motivation, whatever. We’ve got to find out what else we can do to fix that.”
Southern Miss finished the season as the only winless team in the country. Looking ahead, it could be a while before Southern Miss fans can taste victory again. The Eagles open up next season in some order with road games at Boise State, Arkansas, East Carolina and Marshall as well as a neutral site contest against Nebraska. The fact of the matter is, as of Monday night, Johnson is slated to remain the head football coach next season. The assistant coaches could be a different story. Either way, it could be a long road back to the top for Southern Miss.