HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - On Thursday afternoon, following what he described as a "whirl-wind" of a 48-hour period, Larry Fedora spoke publicly for the first time since winning the Conference USA championship the previous Saturday regarding his decision to become the next head coach at the University of North Carolina.
As it turns out, the whirl-wind wasn't quite over. The very day Fedora commented on his hiring, Southern Miss athletics Director Richard Giannini announced his intention to retire in early January. He did, however, say he intends to stay with the program as it searches for a new head football coach.
Though Giannini was not made available for comment, he did release this statement via the Southern Miss athletics website:
"Four years ago I turned 65 – the same year I hired Larry Fedora and the same year we completed the new south end-zone complex in Roberts Stadium. At that time, I promised Larry I would stay four more years and help the football program get back to winning C-USA Championships. With Larry leaving and the 2011 football team winning more games than any other team in history, and topping that with a conference championship, it is a perfect time for me to retire."
For the time being, Jeff Hammond, senior associate athletic director for advancement, will serve as athletics director on an interim basis until a new one is named. University of Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders also released a statement, saying the university will form a search committee and hopes to have a new athletics director "in place by Fall of 2012."
"I appreciate Richard's service to Southern Miss over the past 12 years, a time during which Golden Eagle student-athletes experienced great success on the playing fields and in the classrooms," read Saunders' statement.
"His leadership has Southern Miss athletics poised for continued success as it enters its second century."
Fedora, who also addressed his Southern Miss football team for the first time since his decision, shared that while it was a difficult decision to move on, it was made with the best interests of his family in mind.
"My family's ingrained in (the Hattiesburg) community. "They love this community, and it's going to be even harder for them. This was a difficult decision.
"This is a great place, with great fans."
At the same time, Fedora added he's very excited to be headed to Chapel Hill. "The University of North Carolina has a national brand, and I think they're hungry to win championships," he said.
Though Fedora is leaving Hattiesburg after four years, 33 wins and a conference title, he's not done as the golden eagles head coach just yet. Fedora will be on the sidelines when Southern Miss meets Nevada on Christmas Eve in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl, and while Fedora's players hoped he would still be wearing black and gold next season, they were appreciative of their head coach for wanting to finish the season.
"I was very excited to know he's still going to be here, and excited that he was going to take the flight with the team, and go to Hawaii, coach us on, and try to get our twelfth win and take us out in story-book fashion," shared redshirt-senior defensive back Cameron O'Neil.
Like most of the golden eagle faithful, some members of the football team saw the coaching change coming after a handful of high-profile head coaching opportunities opened up and started offering Fedora.
"It's part of the business, I guess, of the sport, and that's kind of what happens," said redshirt junior offensive lineman Austin Quattrochi. "We kind of figured Coach Fedora's a good coach and I figured it was time for him to move on."
Fedora will officially be introduced as North Carolina's head football coach at 1:00 pm eastern time on Friday, but he said a big reason for wanting to coach in the Golden Eagles' bowl game was to finish what has already become the winningest season in Southern Miss football history.
A win over Nevada in Hawaii would give the Golden Eagles 12 wins in 2011, but looking ahead, Fedora feels there are many more wins for Southern Miss with or without his services.
"I think we've got some really good talent sitting there in that room," he said referring to his team in the players' meeting room,
, "I think there's some depth in that room, I think there are multiple championships. Multiple conference championships in that room.
"I told them I think there's a BCS bowl sitting in that room. If they're willing to work as hard as they did this year, and do what they need to do to win a championship, they'll do it."