Former Alcorn State head coach Jay Hopson has been named the 21st head coach for the Golden Eagles in what will be his third stint in Hattiesburg.
The news broke on Twitter late Saturday night when athetic director Bill McGillis tweeted a picture of himself and Hopson together, captioning it, “We’ve got a football coach! #SMTTT.”
Hopson boasts a bevy of coaching experience, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. His first job was as defensive backs coach at Marshall from 1996-2000. His next stop occurred at Southern Miss under USM legend Jeff Bower.
Hopson returned to USM after taking the same position at Ole Miss, coming back as the defensive coordinator from 2005-2007. After the 2007 season, Hopson made stops in Michigan and Memphis before taking the head coaching gig at Alcorn State from 2012-2015.
Most fans on social media expressed their joy after the announcement after a silent signing process.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Arizona Sate offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and University of Alabama at Birmingham head coach Bill Clark were all names in the pool for the opening at Southern Miss. Fortunately for Hopson, McGillis was seeking a specific candidate.
“I want to find a head coach that can win in 2016, because we are going to have a championship football team,” McGillis said. “We would love to have a head coach who could be here for the next 18-20 years.”
The importance of Hopson’s return is simple: His name carries heavy weight in Mississippi.
In his 24 years of total coaching, Hopson spent 12 of those years in Mississippi. With stints between USM, Delta State, Ole Miss and Alcorn State, Hopson has the Mississippi ties and history for McGillis to believe that Hopson will stick around for the long run, building his legacy in the process.
With National Signing Day just three days away, Hopson must cover some ground with recruits. One prized recruit over the signing period was junior college receiver Marquez McNair, the late Steve McNair’s nephew. Although uncertain for the last few days, McNair confirmed his commitment to the Golden Eagles in an interview with the Hattiesburg American.
“Great hire,” McNair said. “Ready to get this thing back rolling.”
Another recruit, three-star defensive linemen Lorenzo Dantzler, confirmed his pledge on Twitter just 20 minutes after Hopson was named the next head coach.
“Mark my words,” Dantzler said. “Southern Miss will be the 2016 C-USA Champions #SMTTT.”
The common reservation among fans stems from the last defensive coordinator that Southern Miss hired – Ellis Johnson. Most fans remember the ride Johnson took USM on when he failed to win a single game in 2012. Although this year it may seem impossible to go winless after a 9-5 renaissance season, expectations exist for Hopson to take the team further than in Todd Monken’s tenure.
“You can’t have somebody that’s going to take us all the way and then we lose,” said Vincent McMurtery, senior entertainment production major. “Then we come back the next year and not even get [to the conference championship.]”
Hopson will face a few hurtles as he installs his new system at Southern Miss with a team laden with seniors at key positions. Nick Mullens, Dylan Bradley and D.J. Thompson all will return in 2016 to lead the Golden Eagles, but the question is: How big is the learning curve going to be? After Monken and Lindsey’s departures from Southern Miss, only one key offensive mind remains in offensive coordinator John Wozniak. Wozniak, however, has only coached one offensive game in his Southern Miss coaching career in the Heart of Dallas bowl when Southern Miss put up 31 points against the Pac- 12’s stingy defense.
Although Hopson has many obstacles to get over while he takes his first steps at Southern Miss, his team is talented enough to weaken the challenge he will face.