USM football coaching change "not on the table" - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

USM football coaching change "not on the table"

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Before anyone starts thinking a head-coaching change is coming soon, that's not the case according to both Southern Miss Athletics Director Jeff Hammond and university Interim President Aubrey Lucus. Hammond, addressing an increasingly angry and anxious fan base, took to Facebook earlier this week, stating, "I am well aware losing negatively impacts, players, coaches, friends, fans, students faculty, staff local community and more. I respectfully ask for your continued support for our team, both coaches and players.

He also added, "We are evaluating all aspects of our football program. To sustain our current direction is unacceptable. We will get our program back." He elaborated on his Facebook comments on Thursday, saying he wasn't condemning anyone. Rather, 0-7 would be unacceptable at any program.

Lucus, meanwhile, says any firings or buy out options are not on the table.

It's hard to imagine so many Golden Eagle fans would be clamoring for a coaching change before the 2012 campaign even ended.

In 2011 Larry Fedora lead the Golden Eagles to their best season in school history; 12 and 2, a Conference USA championship win over Houston, and a win in the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl. With five weeks to go in 2012, Ellis Johnson's Golden Eagles are one of only two teams in the country without a win.

Which begs the question...what happened??

Rewind to Dec. 8 of 2011.

Before the team left for Hawaii, Fedora ended speculation by announcing he was leaving Hattiesburg to become the head coach at the University of North Carolina. The very same day, reports were confirmed that Richard Giannini, the school's 12-year athletics director, would step down. From that point, Hammond, then associate athletics director, assumed Gianini's role on an interim basis.

Two weeks later, the university announced they found their man. On Dec. 20, President Martha Saunders introduced Johnson as the top choice to become head football coach.

Fast forward four months later, Saunders announced she was stepping down after five years. In June, Lucas removed interim from Hammond's title, and signed him to a one-year contract.

Now in 2012, and sitting an 0-7, many Southern Miss fans are taking to social media and other outlets demanding a coaching change be made. If that were to happen, it would come at no small cost. Ten days prior to the season-opener at Nebraska Johnson signed his 4-year contract, which states to buy him out would cost the university $700,000 a year. In total, it would cost Southern Miss $2.1 million to buy Johnson out after the conclusion of the 2012 season.

Still, on Facebook, fans have started the "Fire Ellis Johnson" page, which 1,156 users now "like." On Twitter, you'll find a hashtag of the same name, and even a website has been created. While Johnson hopes for more fan support, he's not worrying about things he can't control.

"As a coach, you want your fan base to be supportive, you want them to be excited, you want them to be behind the football team," he said the Monday after his team fell to Marshall 59-24 on Homecoming weekend, "There's only so much you can do to control that.

"What we have to do is play well, and the ones that want to see a good football team will come back."

With over 39 years of coaching experience under his belt, Johnson also said this season is not new territory for him. "This is the ninth time I've done this; come into a program with a total new staff and new system," he said, "So this thing is not some strange journey for me, and I've been through two of them that were heck of a lot worse than this." 

0-7 may be unfamiliar territory for fans, but it's not uncharted. In 1976, Bobby Collins began his career 0-9, and starting in 1991 Jeff Bower lost seven games in two of his first three seasons. If winning heals all wounds, fans are hoping the healing process starts soon, considering the streak of 18 straight winning seasons and 10 straight bowl games is now over.


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