HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After several conversations, including a “face-to-face” over the weekend, University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Rodney Bennett and head football coach Jay Hopson apparently see eye-to-eye on the future of the Golden Eagles’ program.
Last week’s interview with former Baylor football coach Art Briles kicked up some dust, with Hopson eyeing him as a potential candidate to fill the program’s vacant offensive coordinator slot. Bennett nixed the possibility, a decision that Hopson said he disagreed with.
In a statement released Monday morning, Bennett said he and Hopson have spoken “on multiple occasions in recent days … to chart the most successful path forward for the Southern Miss football program.”
Those conversations encompassed “many topics, including the events of the past week.”
Briles, who is considered one of the best offensive football coaches in the business, was forced out at Baylor in 2016 amid allegations of sexual assault by football players.
Bennett said that Hopson had followed university protocol in interviewing Briles, but ”(a)after an intentional and thorough review of Mr. Briles’ candidacy, I expressed my reservations, and ultimately that review led to the decision that Mr. Briles was not a viable candidate.”
Last week in a text to Open Watch, Briles said he was informed that he would not be hired because of an ongoing NCAA investigation into the sexual assault allegations.
Bennett’s statement said that Hopson had regularly followed the proper procedures in notifying the administration of “special or unique circumstances” in players recruitment, or in the case last week, a potential coaching candidate.
“As a matter of practice, Coach Hopson seeks approval from and works in good faith with athletic administration on prospective student-athletes who have special or unique circumstances for admission to the (u)niversity, which is consistent with (u)niversity protocol in student-athlete recruitment,” Bennett said. “Additionally, Coach Hopson notified the (u)niversity of his desire to meet with Art Briles, which is his right to do so as head football coach and is in line with normal (u)niversity procedures.”
Bennett’s statement expressed support for Hopson.
“Coach Hopson assured me of his commitment to overseeing a program that upholds the vaules of the University of Southern Mississippi,” Bennett said. “I know Coach Hopson to be a man of high ethics and integrity, and I assured him of the (u)niversity’s dedication to continuing our winning tradition.”
Hopson, who will be entering his fourth season at the helm, has posted a 21-17 record in his first three seasons, appearing in bowl games in 2016 and 2017. The Golden Eagles went 6-6 last season but did not receive a postseason berth.
Bennett’s statement said the administration’s attention will remain focused on the future.
“I consider the matter closed, and I am looking forward to working with Coach Hopson on our mutual priorities and shared goals for the Southern Miss football program and how it contributes to our vision for the University of Southern Mississippi.”