Days into the most unconventional season in college football history, there’s already an FBS head-coaching vacancy.
Literally minutes after losing to South Alabama in the season opener last Thursday night, Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson informed athletics director Jeremy McClain of his intention to resign. It was the 51st and final game for the Eagles’ fifth-year head coach who delivered three bowl appearances in four seasons but couldn’t match the nine-win success of his predecessor, Todd Monken.
With Hopson out, who might Southern Miss target as their next head coach?
Co-offensive coordinator Scotty Walden will have an 11-game audition for his first-ever head-coaching job. A Texas native who arrived at Southern Miss as Hopson’s 27-year-old receivers coach in 2017, Walden is a former Division-III and NAIA player with no previous FBS experience but has been lauded for an uptempo spread system.
Some bigger names to watch:
A Mississippi native and Southern Miss alum, Hugh Freeze’s on-field success is undeniable: Ten wins (including 8-0 in the Sun Belt) in one season at Arkansas State before leading Ole Miss to their second 10-win season since the 1970s and first top-three AP ranking since 1964. Off the field, his résumé is highlighted with NCAA violations and unsavory phone records, which led to his dismissal in July 2017. With a reported $2-million salary at Liberty, he’s making four times as much as Hopson (and presumably, far more than Southern Miss could afford during a financial crisis) and probably doesn’t need a Conference USA stepping-stone job if he’s looking for Power Five redemption.
Current Baylor offensive coordinator and former Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora could be in the mix (though, like Freeze, for non-financial reasons after reaping big buyout benefits from North Carolina after his 2018 dismissal), as could former Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, who coached the Ole Miss offense in 2019 and isn’t coaching in 2020. Also, former Missouri head coach Barry Odom, former Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke, and former Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre.
Two current assistants from Mississippi: Tulane offensive coordinator Will Hall has head-coaching experience, faring well at West Alabama and West Georgia before stints under Mike Norvell at Memphis and now Willie Fritz at Tulane, and Louisville defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, a former Delta State assistant who’s been on Scott Satterfield’s staffs at App State and Louisville.
Might McClain dip into the FCS ranks? Jacksonville State’s John Grass hasn’t coached outside of Alabama his entire career but the former high school coach has strong ties throughout the region and, until last year’s six-win dud, has done well with the Gamecocks. If Southern Miss wishes to zig as every other C-USA team zags, they could call Kennesaw State’s option guru Brian Bohannon, a Paul Johnson disciple who’s done remarkable work building the Owls’ program. And, it’d be a big jump from the MEAC to C-USA but Willie Simmons is a former Alcorn State assistant who’s done well at Florida A&M.
Other names to consider: Oklahoma assistant head coach Shane Beamer, Miami (FL) offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Jeff Lebb, and Miami Dolphins quarterbacks coach Robby Brown.
Andrew Doughty hosts the High Motor podcast and covers college football and college basketball for HERO Sports. A Kansas (B.S. Sport Management) and Memphis grad (M.A. Journalism), Andrew is also a Junior Writer for Sports Illustrated and has published work on SB Nation and Bleacher Report.