2020 continues to be a rocky year for Southern Miss football. After three games as Interim Head Coach, Scotty Walden has left Southern Miss to become the Head Coach at Tennessee’s Austin Peay State University.
After former Head Coach Jay Hopson resigned one game into the season, Southern Miss named Walden Interim Head coach. Walden served in the position for a little less than two months, officially starting Sep. 7. It appears Walden was in talks for other jobs, however, as Austin Peay announced that Walden will take over as head coach for its program this week.
Assistant Head Coach Tim Billings will take over as the new Interim Head Coach for Southern Miss, making him the third Head Coach this season. Southern Miss Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain released a statement addressing the staff changes.
“We are excited for Scotty and his family as they begin this new journey and we wish them nothing but the best,” McClain said. “As we adjust, I have asked Tim Billings to take over the interim head coach role[,] and I have full confidence in his ability to successfully lead our team for the rest of the season.”
Billings took over head coaching duties in last week’s game against Liberty after Walden tested positive for COVID-19. Billings has been on Southern Miss’s staff since 2016 and has 42 years of experience in coaching across high school and college football.
“I’m here in a situation where I’m excited and proud to be the head coach of Southern Miss,” Billings said. “I love Southern Miss and I love Hattiesburg. My wife and I live here[,] and we may end up retiring here someday, but I know that I’m not going to be the next head coach here and that’s fine. I hope they pick a great football coach here for these young men. They need it. This is a great university and town. I’m just here to hopefully improve what we have here now and keep our tradition alive. We brought these young men in here to win football games and championships. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Quarterback Jack Abraham described how he first reacted to the news of Walden’s departure.
“Somebody sent me a link on Twitter over messages and stuff kind of fired out like that,” Abraham said. “I know they didn’t mean for it to happen like that[,] but it’s been really unfortunate. […] I know they didn’t mean for that to happen.”
The team privately held a meeting where coaches, including Walden, spoke to players about the team’s future.
“They were really hurt and disappointed early,” Billings said. “Then Walden spoke and told them the situation […] and then each one of our full-time coaches walked up there together and made a statement about how they were here for these kids and showed them the passion they had for this program, this university and this team. By the time they got through speaking, our kids were fired up and excited about the future.”
Abraham says he believes the team responded well to the unexpected news.
“I thought the meeting was very positive overall,” Abraham said. “Coach got out there and said what he had to say[,] and I think everybody took it well. Everybody responded well and we had a really good practice, very energized, and I thought the way we handled it today was very mature and I was very happy about that.”
Billings says he will try to keep things as stable as possible for Southern Miss, now that it has faced three head coaching changes, several postponements and COVID-related issues in the 2020 football season.
“I’m the only guy that’s left here that’s been here the whole time[,] and I think that gives them some continuity and stability,” Billings said. “I’m just going to be myself. They know who I am and I’m gonna try to keep the program the way it’s been. I’m going to try to have as [little] change as possible. They don’t need any more change than they’ve gone through.”
Southern Miss will play next in The Rock on Oct. 31 against Rice University.