HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It took some time, but when the University of Southern Mississippi opens its spring football season a week from Tuesday, the Golden Eagles are expected to have its entire coaching staff in place.
USM coach Jay Hopson had to find replacements for all but one of his offensive assistants as well as a new cornerback’s coach.
Two empty slots were filled from within, with quality control coach Reed Stringer moving over to coach tight ends and defensive graduate Akeem Davis will coach USM’s cornerbacks.
“I feel good,” Hopson said last week. “We’ve got an outstanding coaching staff, and a lot of our football team is back, so I’m excited about these guys. We’ve got a lot of good players so I’m excited about these guys.”
USM’s offensive staff includes:
- Buster Faulkner, quarterbacks/offensive coordinator. Faulkner spent the past three years at Arkansas State University as offensive coordinator, including two years also coaching tight ends. He spent five years at Middle Tennessee State University, including four years as quarterbacks’ coach/offensive coordinator.
Faulkner also had assistant coaching stints at Murray State University and Valdosta State University
Faulkner replaces Shannon Dawson, who spent three years as USM’s quarterbacks’ coach/offensive coordinator. Dawson was hired as tight ends coach at the University of Houston in January.
- Christopher Buckner, running backs coach. Buckner spent the past season at Arkansas State as outside receivers’ coach. Other assistant coaching stops included two years at Western New Mexico University (offensive coordinator), two years as receivers/recruiting coordinator at North Carolina Central University, a year as receivers’ coach at Savannah State University and two years as graduate assistant at Jackson State University.
Buckner replaces Les Koenning, who spent year as USM running backs coach before moving to the Midwest to become quarterbacks’ coach/offensive coordinator at the University of Kansas.
- Reed Stringer, tight ends coach. Stringer, a Delta State University alumnus, spent last season on USM’s staff as a quality control coach. He spent the previous seven years as assistant head coach/tight ends coach at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette.
Stringer also spent seven seasons at Mississippi State University, becoming the youngest full-time coach in the Southeastern Conference when he was named tight ends coach at 25 years old. He also served as recruiting coordinator and special teams coordinator during his time in Starkville.
Stringer also spent a year on Dabo Sweeney’s staff at Clemson University.
Stringer replaces Brock Hays, who spent a season in Hattiesburg before leaving to coach running backs at Louisiana Tech University.
- Ryan Stanchek, offensive line coach. Stanchek spent the past five years at Alcorn State University, including two years with Hopson. Stanchek also had served as running game coordinator, then was named offensive coordinator for 2018.
Stanchek, who played at West Virginia University, spent a year as a graduate assistant at the University of Indiana and a year as quality control coach at Florida State University.
Stanchek replaces Erick Losey, who spent two seasons as offensive line coach.
- Scotty Walden, receivers/co-offensive coordinator. Walden, the lone returning assistant on offense, will enter his third season coaching USM’s receivers.
Prior to USM, Walden had been head coach at Division III East Texas Baptist University for a season and offensive coordinator at ETBU in the three years prior.
Hopson’s defensive staff is the flip side of the coin, with three of four assistants returning, including:
- Tim Billings, who will enter his fourth season with the program, including his second year as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties. During his first two seasons, Billings as assistant head coach/outside linebackers’ coach.
- Derek Nicholson, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers. Nicholson will enter his fourth season at USM. Nicolson had been with Hopson at Alcorn State, and also had assistant stints at the University of Louisville (outside linebacker/defensive ends) and University of Akron (linebackers).
- Chris Boone, defensive line. Boone enters his second season of a second stint with the Golden Eagles. He spent three years as Murray State as defensive coordinator/safeties coach. Boone also had assistant coaching stints at Samford University, Northwestern State University and Jacksonville State University.
- Akeem Davis, cornerbacks. Davis, a Laurel High School graduate who spent time with seven National Football League teams, will be in his first season as full-time coach after serving a defensive graduate assistant.
Davis replaces Eddie Hicks, a former Golden Eagle standout, who left Hattiesburg after one year to take a similar position at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.
“Just looking forward to get this thing going again,” Hopson said. “Ready to see what we’ve got.”
For a second spring, the Golden Eagles will be without their leading receiver from the previous season when spring drills commence.
Last spring, USM was without Korey Robertson, who had caught 76 passes for 1,106 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017 but had declared for the 2018 National Football League draft.
This year, USM will be without Quez Watkins, who had caught 72 passes for 889 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018 but did not meet his academic requirements to remain in school.
Watkins is taking classes at another institution, hoping to return to solid academic footing and be able to re-enroll at USM.
“It’s on him,” Hopson said of Watkins’ path to return. “If he does it, he does it. If he doesn’t, he doesn’t. We’ll just have to see how that goes.”