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How the SEC Destroyed Southern Miss — and Could Kill Football

How the SEC Destroyed Southern Miss — and Could Kill Football

Southern Miss beat Georgia in 1996. (Via)

Ask the old-timers, and they’ll tell you about the wins over top ten TCU and Houston teams, or about the long-ago 58-14 mollywhopping of Florida State, but their faces really light up when they start talking about beating Alabama, or Ole Miss, or Mississippi State, or LSU, or Auburn. So then you know what matters to old Southern Miss fans, and you understand why a university so used to winning in the shadow of the Southeastern Conference could think it was a good idea to hire a twice-failed aging dinosaur of an assistant: SEC people said it was a good idea.

The Ellis Johnson post-mortem is stunning not just because he inherited a 12-2, top 20 program and immediately went 0-12 with it, but also because that winless 2012 result was the program’s first losing season of any sort in two decades, and only its sixth in the seventy-five years since the arrival of Reed Green, its first great head coach. When Southern Miss went 1-11 in 2013, after firing Johnson and replacing him with Todd Monken, it completed its first back to back losing seasons since 1933 and 1934; the one win was its lowest two-season victory total in all 101 of its years. To open this year, Southern Miss lost, 49-0, to Mississippi State, against whom the Golden Eagles have an all-time winning record; it was the first time State had pitched a shutout in the rivalry since the first edition of the game in 1935, when Southern Miss was called State Teachers College.

The football program at the University of Southern Mississippi is at death’s door for the only time in its history, with only faint signs of potential resuscitation visible to people like me, who care enough to look. The story of how it got to this point is a cautionary tale not just for those who love the historically resource-strapped yet successful program, but also for those who love American football, despite all its flaws. Football’s greatest threat is the existential crisis posed by sub-concussive brain injuries, but the kind of thinking that pushed my alma mater into a bizarre dystopia is hastening the onset of a concurrent apocalypse that nobody sees coming.

Basically, the SEC is going to kill football.

In 1953, Southern Miss beat Alabama for the first time. (Via the Southern Miss libraries.)

“He does everything,” New England Patriots safety Devin McCourty said of his teammate Jamie Collins, after the Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts during the playoffs in January of 2014. Collins had just devastated the Colts’ offense, sacking Andrew Luck, pressuring him several times, making half a dozen tackles, and all but ending any hope the Colts had with a fourth quarter interception. McCourty continued: “He’s one of those freakish athletes that can do what we do as defensive backs as a linebacker.”

As the 2013 NFL Draft approached, Bill Belichick traveled to Hattiesburg, gave a speech at the local convention center, and visited campus to meet Collins. Then Belichick made Collins his first draft pick, taking him in the second round. Now, Collins seems poisted for NFL stardom. According to Ellis Johnson, though, Jamie Collins was a sign of a problem at Southern Miss, one Johnson said “shocked” him when he arrived in Hattiesburg — a talent decline relative to the Southern Miss team he’d briefly served as defensive coordinator in the 1980s. Collins, Johnson reportedly told an alumni group, was the best player on the Golden Eagles’ 2012 roster, but he wouldn’t be a starter on the South Carolina squad Johnson had just left.

Back in the ‘80s, Johnson told after taking a job with Auburn as Gus Malzahn’s defensive coordinator, things were different: “We probably had a dozen players on our football team that were big-time SEC players,” he said. “I should have realized how different it was.”

But so Jamie Collins was not a big-time SEC player, according to Johnson, the long-time SEC coordinator. Since Johnson supposedly meant that Collins would not have started at defensive end for South Carolina, he might have technically been correct: The Gamecocks had Jadeveon Clowney at that spot, after all. But the pigeonholing of Collins as a defensive end was one of the first obvious mistakes Johnson made; previously, Southern Miss co-coordinators Dan Disch and David Duggans had put Collins in a hybrid role as both a pass rusher and pass defender, similar to the way Belichick would deploy him against the Colts. They built Collins’s position around his NFL-caliber talents rather than forcing him to adhere to standards for which he was only a partial fit. 1 This move was a result of a kind of stubbornness few observers even considered when Johnson was hired — a stubbornness that judged the talents of even future NFL stars by how they’d fit into the regimented roles at big SEC programs.

Ellis Johnson didn’t talk about winning at Southern Miss in the leadup to his only season; Johnson talked about winning “the right way,” with big, overpowering physical specimens beating their opponents one on one, man on man — a physical impossibility, in other words. Embedded in the refrain was Johnson’s disdain for modern forms of football, a game that has always been defined by evolution.

The players, having just finished nineteenth in the 2011 BCS standings while operating Larry Fedora’s hyper-modern spread offense and a multiple defense that produced a record number of non-offensive touchdowns, weren’t stupid.

“I don’t think everybody as a team really bought into the new coaching staff,” former Southern Miss star Tracy Lampley said after the season. Lampley had been a weapon for three years, but Johnson had wasted his talents. “That’s just being honest.”

“At first everybody was all for it,” Joe Duhon, an all-conference offensive lineman who was a senior under Johnson in 2012, said once he was safely graduated. “Then, after a while, everybody was like, ‘It’s not right!’” Duhon, by the way, was a very good student at Southern Miss, a soft-spoken, friendly guy from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who played good football and made friends. But when recounting the Ellis Johnson experience, Duhon developed a sudden case of who gives a shit: “It’s not the ‘80s,” he snapped. “You can’t win doing old school right now, unless you’re Alabama.”

Duhon said, “We tried to win every game with a shitty game plan.”

And, as a lasting gift to Todd Monken and the coaches who had to apply a tourniquet to the program: the catastrophic strength and conditioning program Johnson installed under a S&C coach who had been out of the sport since — you guessed it — the ‘80s. The result was a roster that seemed made of high school kids. “It was horrible,” Duhon said. “The players felt the strength conditioning was horrible, and we knew it. . . . We just had no conditioning.” By the middle of the 2012 season, stories were spreading around Hattiesburg about people recognizing players at off-campus gyms.

The players were buying personal memberships, and working out on their own.

Southern Miss icon P. W. “Bear” Underwood was proud of playing the SEC — regardless of the result. (Via).

During the quietest part of the off-season, Nick Saban, architect of the Process and occasional god-emperor of the SEC, threw his support behind a rule that would penalize offenses that snapped the ball with more than 29 seconds left on the play clock. Joined publicly by Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and privately by others, Saban disingenuously cited player safety concerns, which were refuted by research, as his reason for seeking an end to up-tempo football.

The real reason? “Is this what we want football to be?” Saban said in 2012. “I don’t think anybody really ever thought we’d go no-huddle and the coach could control the game from the sidelines and call the plays based on how the defense was lined up. That’s a real advantage for the offense.”

No shit, Nick — that’s the point. I don’t think anybody ever really thought we’d start throwing the ball forward, but that eventually happened in the early 1900s, in about the sport’s fourth decade. I don’t think anybody ever really thought we’d have coaches call the plays from the sideline at all, but at some point over the past forty years that too became the way of things. Football evolves, but in Saban and his ilk we’re dealing with strict interpretationists of a mythical text they made up in their heads. They want to seal the sport in a time capsule at the moment most opportune for them.

Saban, at least, sounds smart, and although he relies on phony statistics, at least his appeals to player safety feel kind of like something you could get behind, if they were true, which they’re not. Bielema just sounds like a lunatic. The game he wants to preserve, he says — presumably from the deviants who are ruining it, in their attempts to seek a competitive advantage with whatever talents they have — is “normal American football.”

Normal American football — the same thing Ellis Johnson called “the right way.”

After he lost his eighth game, Ellis Johnson’s radio call-in show received a call from aging former Southern Miss coach P. W. Underwood, who is beloved in Hattiesburg because he played for Southern Miss and coached at Southern Miss, even though he was the only Southern Miss head coach between 1930 and 2012 to end his career with a losing record.2 I won’t repeat all the details of Underwood’s phone call, because they came from a place of passion for the university I love, and because I, too, as a Southern Miss fan and alum, feel good feelings about him. The point is Underwood spoke badly of the coaching style of Larry Fedora, decrying his offense and his teams’ lack of discipline, while praising Ellis Johnson for doing things, of course, the right way.

To Underwood, as to Johnson, there was something noble in Southern Miss’s 2012 failure — something that made it a more notable accomplishment than winning 12 games and coming within an upset loss of a Sugar Bowl berth in 2011. In fact, after just about every one of the Golden Eagles’ 24 losses, as they continue to live their post-2012 dystopia, you can find a fan or two on the message boards lambasting Fedora for padding his win total in 2011 with a weak schedule — even though half those games were against bowl teams, and one of them was a road game against an ACC conference team that finished with eight wins. When these fans say “weak schedule” what they really mean is the schedule didn’t include any road games against the SEC’s elite: it’s better to lose on the road at Alabama than to sweep both games of a home and home series with Virginia.

Running back Sammy Winder pretty much flew during “The Leap,” which beat Ole Miss in 1980. (Via).

Every time a coach in the NFL implements something on offense that looks kind of funny, a bunch of people run to their columns to make jokes about “college offense.” When they do so, these people are being stupid.

The NFL is dominated by a sort of big tent offense — just about every team uses it, or a version of it, though every team uses it differently. But that offense is not stagnant. It’s constantly refreshed, as the evolution of the game at its lower levels filters up through the ranks into the NFL, a league of copycats.

Former University of Nevada head coach Chris Ault, for example, is credited with the creation of what’s called the Pistol offense. The Pistol is, basically, just a minor adjustment of the placement of quarterback and halfback in a shotgun formation, but Ault used it to great success between his return to Nevada in 2004 and his ultimate retirement in 2012; he won eight games per year, including a 13-1 record in 2010.3 The Pistol was Ault’s competitive advantage; it allowed him to take advantage of his players’ talents so that they could compete with better-funded programs.

Last season, the champions of both NFL conferences regularly used the Pistol formation. Like nearly everything else in the NFL offense, it started as a dismissible college gimmick. Now it’s a mainstay.

In August 2012, Chris B. Brown, writing for Grantland, discussed the concept of “packaged” plays, another college idea that entered the NFL while bad sportswriters didn’t notice. Brown writes a lot about Oklahoma State’s packaged concepts, and in so doing he discusses the offense of OSU’s then-coordinator Todd Monken, the man still trying to figure out how to fix what Ellis Johnson broke.


The rise of no-huddle offense means that these package plays will no doubt become more popular at every level, but the difference between this trend and other offensive evolutions is in how packaged plays represent a complete rethinking of the nature of the play. The Tecmo Bowl model has been the dominant model since long before Tecmo Bowl, but this new approach is an opportunity to take the old, trusted tactics and adapt them for the modern game. And, as Grabowski points out, we’ve only just begun: “The only limits to packaging plays seems to be a coach’s creativity in finding different ways to make a single defender wrong, every time.”

So in other words everything that Nick Saban, Bret Bielema, and Ellis Johnson hope to stamp out with complaints, lies, and changes to the rule book. Everything that evolves. Everything they can’t control. Everything that isn’t normal and American enough.

Everything that isn’t “right.”

Seems fitting that a man who already has a statue would argue against evolution. (Via).

With their massive TV contracts, the Power 5 athletic programs have bloated their budgets to stupid amounts. They are in the process of using their own massive waste and their own parasitic relationships with American universities to justify corrective measures that address problems that only exist because of said: the injustice of not giving the players most responsible for those revenues a cut of the money they generate, for example. This is an inequity the big programs created, and now they can use corrective half-measures as a shell covering the rot at their core.

The other problems are not even being discussed: the increasing lack of open competition in college football; the continuing attempts by rich athletic programs to end the fluidity between the ranks that has, over the decades, made formerly small programs like Florida State into legendary ones; and so on. The Power 5 programs ensure that football coaches are the highest-paid taxpayer-funded employees in nearly every American state, but rather than discuss sane salary caps and sensible budget limits that would correct this national embarrassment and give smaller universities something resembling, if still much less than, equality of opportunity, they vote themselves increased autonomy as a step towards the creation of some eventual hermetically-sealed, ideologically-stagnant new league.

It’ll be a league of only the rich, of stock programs using the same obsolete thinking for year after stagnant year. It’ll be an even more conservative version of the NFL, only with less talent; a feeder system; a minor league kept profitable only by the brand loyalty that results from the use of university names, logos, colors, and stadiums.

Ellis Johnson will love it.


On Saturday, a crowd of about 36,000 will fill M. M. Roberts Stadium in Hattiesburg — something close to a sellout, despite Southern Miss’s 1-24 record in the past 25 games. They’ll show up for two reasons: First, the game is against FCS opponent Alcorn State, the first lower-tier team Southern Miss has faced since the onset of dystopia, so we Golden Eagles, despite our shattered confidence, think we’ll probably get to watch our first win at home since November of 2011; second, Alcorn State is a Mississippi team, and Mississippi football teams always produce big crowds when they play other Mississippi football teams.

Together, we’ll watch the sun set behind the copper dome of the Administration Building, and then we’ll listen to the Pride of Mississippi, and then we’ll put our finger on the faint pulse of an ailing patient. Will there be a sign of returning life? That’s all we’re asking for. Just a sign.

The week after, we travel to Tuscaloosa to meet Nick Saban, at Alabama.


Bradley Warshauer
As a kid: Once read a newspaper so intently over a candle that I did not notice its ignition.
  • Matt Maddox

    This is a very great write. I agree with a lot of it. I found it comical when Saban was concerned with an up tempo offense and “player safety”. However, I don’t believe the SEC is killing college football. I believe the combination of writers, networks, and money hungry individuals are killing college football.
    How can Southern Miss or Mississippi State compete with a program like Alabama, USC, or Ohio State? Sports’ writers drool over these schools, networks throw money at them, and boosters and recruitment at these schools are not even in the same stratosphere as Southern and State. ( I hate Ole Miss so not important) Anything these high profile programs deem the “right way” will be almost immediately be accepted.
    My favorite college team can’t compete much either(University of Notre Dame). Despite the horrible academic scandal going on right now; they (the university) refuse to lower the academic standard for athletes. They are consistently ranked #1 or #2 in graduating players with high academic achievement ( researched). The only SEC team ranked is Vandy!
    Now I’m no where near the level of coach, as Nick. But as a high school offensive line coach and huge fan of the spread ( very very hyper active pro style west coast); He better get used to it! Cause this game is all about evolving. One of the main reasons I love it! Continual chest match!!
    *probably a lot of typos and jargon, but I’m a football coach not a writer leave that to you guys.. Love this site
    and by the way… Who Dat?!!!!! Sunday can’t get here fast enough

    • Birdy

      Florida has a good academic standing. Not Vanderbilt level, but solid. The rest….not so much. But yeah, the SEC is not to blame. Not even close. Nice piece though.

      • TFB

        OOOhhhhhh Ya might want to do just a TAD bit of research on that point.

        I think you might be surprised at the academic level of MOST SEC schools not located in MS….. (Ole Miss and State, not surprisingly, bring up the rear in MOST categories among SEC schools, including academics………)

  • Tim

    You wrote a very nice article, Bradley. Thanks for that…

    However, it appears some at have failed to grasp your main point. Either that or I’m missing the point myself. For those of us truly interested in discussing it, please state your conclusion in a short, concise, 5th-grade-comprehension-level paragraph in this comment section.

    Tim from Madison

  • Chris Bedenbaugh

    Lol you still haven’t said why the SEC has destroyed USM or is going to “destroy college football.” This is just another example of the “we’re poor little Southern Miss” thinking that has ruined the program. Not the SEC.

    You say: “The other problems are not even being discussed: the increasing lack of open competition in college football; the continuing attempts by rich athletic programs to end the fluidity between the ranks that has, over the decades, made formerly small programs like Florida State into legendary ones;”

    But what about the programs like Louisville who just beat the shit out of Miami on national television Monday night? Louisville, who might I remind you, USM used to beat on a regular basis. What about Central Florida? Cincinatti? TCU? Those teams have all been to BCS Bowls. ALL teams that Southern Miss used to beat. That is a dead argument.

    This article is exactly what is wrong with Southern Miss football right now. As a student at Southern, I am tired of people Blaming the big boys for something that has nothing to do with them. Nobody is telling Southern to compete with the SEC. Go win C-USA. Go get the athletes that you let slip away to the likes of EMCC, and win your conference. Quit making excuses and go win football games. Its that simple.

    If you just have to blame anything for ruining mid-major college football…. Blame the thing that all these college football fans have said they wanted, and I have continually lobbied against it.. Blame the playoff.

    • AL

      Louisville, who has the 18th highest athletic budget and doesn’t reside in the heart of SEC country and a Miami team who is on the downslope. Great points. Yawn.

      Central Florida, who had a season similar to our 12-2 season in 2011, with the 61st highest athletic budget. Cincy at 51st. Southern Miss is 108th.

      This is all the product of being located in SEC country. The SEC way of thinking is what got us where we are. We WERE recruiting the people to dominate our conference and to pull some upsets. We WERE having success with players that the SEC were ignoring or didn’t want.

      But then the SEC way of thinking led to hiring an aging coach who would “stay for a while” instead of jumping ship when offered more money. He wanted to recruit SEC style players and play SEC style football. That’s not how Southern Miss has had the success we have had. Now we’re trying to recover from it.

      The article clearly states it is our fault. It’s the fault of some of our fans, alum, and higher ups trying to think of our school and our program in an SEC frame of mind.

      • Chris Bedenbaugh

        Quit making excuses. Hawaii and Boise State have had 1 loss or undefeated seasons. Nevada too. Hell, NORTH DAKOTA STATE would beat the shit out of Southern right now. I guess that’s the SEC’s fault too. Arkansas State and Western Kentucky have soared past Southern. Both in the heart of SEC country. South Alabama has passed Southern by. La Tech and Louisiana Laffayette have gone right over Southern’s heads. Both in an SEC heavy state. Again, STOP MAKING EXCUSES.

        The SEC had NOTHING to do with the hiring committee at Southern Miss hiring Ellis Johnson. Nothing.

        • AL

          Hawaii’s one loss season doesn’t count. We could have went undefeated in 2011 with a schedule like that.

          I’d hardly say Arky State and WKU have passed us by, nor has South Alabama, nor has LA tech. They’ve been better than us for what, two season? Yeah, let me tell ya, that’s just soaring right past us there.

          Quit refusing to see stuff that’s right in front of your face. It was SEC logic and SEC thinking that got us Ellis Johnson, which led to our current predicament. For some reason you, and others, seem not to be able to get that through your skull.

          Even SEC fans understand this better than you. This is from an LSU fan, which speaks volumes:

          “This article is 100% right – from a smaller school perspective. The greed of the SEC and the other elite conferences will end up destroying college football as we have known it. It will be good for the SEC but bad for everyone else. From his view, I get what he is saying.

          Plus, the writer did blame their horrible coach, Ellis Johnson. Everyone can’t be Alabama and Saban’s opposition to the HUNH is a joke.

          The article is written from a smaller college perspective and there are valid concerns here. Of course, SEC fans won’t like it because it messes with their dominance. But, in every other sport, mid-major programs can field competitive teams. Not in college football, however, where all of the power is being collected at the top schools.

          That will ultimately be bad for the game. If you don’t have schools like Southern Miss and Troy and Memphis able to be at least somewhat competitive, then interest is lost in those programs. There actually is more to college football than who wins the national championship.”

          TL;DR: Even usually-illogical SEC fans see the logic in this article, and you don’t.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            What SEC thinking hired Ellis Johnson? You still haven’t explained. The thinking that hired Kevin Sumlin? Steve Spurrier? James Franklin? Gus Malzahn? Urban Meyer? All run prolific offenses.

            You do know there are more SEC schools than Alabama an LSU right?

            And YOU sir are the one that can’t see what’s right in front of your face if you can’t see ULL, La Tech, WKU and Arky State are way ahead of Southern. Hell you see it on the field every Saturday. They have passed Southern by. Do I like it? No. Do I see it? Absolutely. Southern lost to FIU last year to put it all in perspective.

            But you keep living in denial. That’s what fans do and I understand.

          • AL

            No, what Southern Miss “fans” (like yourself) tend to do is block out logic in favor of what you see as the truth.

            Are they better than us this year in particular, possibly. Are they better than us long term and in terms of even recent history, as in past 5 years? Hardly.

            Those SEC coaches you pointed out? All outliers. The SEC as a whole is built off of an archaic offensive style, whether you want to see that or not.

            Let’s see if an Ole Miss fan can prove it to you better than the LSU fan did:

            “What a lot of people don’t know.

            When Bower was fired, it created a divide between the alumni groups. The new school guys were pushing hard and got Bower out. They had convinced the old school group that with the right coach, USM could pull a Boise State.

            Fedora comes in, promising BCS Games. The AD at the time was all behind Fedora. The AD was also using some creative accounting methods to fund what Fedora wanted. While Fedora had outstanding success over his 4 years at Southern, he never got to a BCS game.

            That 2011 year happended and Fedora built a big enough year to get his name on the Big 5 radar. Everyone knew he was gone. For some reason, the old school alumni group became upset that Fedora was leaving, go figure, and combined that with a resentment from feeling swindled into firing Bower.

            The Old School guys were determined to regain control of the Athletic Dept. They forced the AD under Fedora to retire and said AD let out a big frick you, by accepting a lesser bowl in Hawaii over a higher paying and more affordable bowl in Dallas.

            Now Old School guys got their new “Old School” AD Hammond in. Got their new “Old School” coach in Johnson in. And in one final frick You from the previous AD, Hammond uncovered a mountain of Debt (<1mil).

            Then Ellis Johnson went 0-12.

            I'm afraid Southern will never have the resources to recover from both a very bad football team and a mountain of debt. It was a combination of a lot of things but Ellis Johnson was hands down, the worst hire in college football history."

            That proves my point. An SEC way of thinking (long term coaches focus on having bigger players than the other guy that will over power the other guy) killed USM football.

            As of now, an LSU fan and an Ole Miss fan have better captured this point than you. How are you still missing this?

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            Lol do you know who Ole Miss fans head coaches is? Hugh Freeze. Yet another young offensive mind. Nice try though.

          • AL

            How is that a nice try? How does that prove anything? How is it even relevant to this discussion?!

            You asked how the SEC or it’s way of thinking destroyed Southern Miss. The Ole Miss fan PROVED THAT TO YOU since I obviously didn’t get through to you.

            At this point, I’m just assuming you’re trolling.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            Because you keep saying the SEC way of thinking is what has caused all this and I am providing to you examples of SEC head coaches that are not the line of thinking you are referring to, but somehow you keep missing that.

            Look, Southern hired Johnson because they wanted another Jeff Bower. Period. Not because of some SEC conspiracy. If you want to make excuses and blame the SEC, go ahead.

          • AL

            And it is a traditional SEC way of thinking that got Johnson hired. I’m not blaming the SEC so much as blaming the way of thinking they have traditionally spread in the South. The coaches you have pointed out in the SEC are outliers in the Coaching line and to deny that is denying reality. It took the success of two (Sumlin and Meyer) recently to change that. But when your “God like” head coach Saban wants to end the no-huddle offense and other high profile coaches from the conference agree with him…it speaks volumes.

            If there were something to be missed, I might have missed it. Sadly, you have provided nothing to be missed in the first place.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            I have provided nothing but FACTS in my arguments and you have relied on other peoples comments to build yours. You post a comment from an Ole Miss fan who not one time mentioned the SEC. You added your two cents to fit your false claims.

            Literally half of the SEC run an up tempo spread offense. Auburn won a national championship in 2010 with a fella named Cam Newton at quarterback running an up tempo spread attack. Tebow, Manziel all won Heismans in the SEC. Times have changed. The SEC is adapting.

            Southern went backwards. It didn’t work. Period. Nothing the SEC did. Just bad vision on the athletic departments behalf.

            Now I’m sure you’ll want to continue this debate because in your mind, Southern is not responsible for their own troubles. My dad is the same way. So I won’t comment back even if you do. But Southern made their bed and now they must lye in it.

          • AL

            I am admitting Southern is responsible! I’m merely stating it is the SEC’s influence that caused the higher ups at USM to think it was a good idea. That’s essentially the entire premise of the article.

            Not quite sure half the SEC is running up tempo spreads, but believe what you will. It’s the fact that those who aren’t are trying to make it an illegal form of offense that is baffling. None of the SEC coaches who run the up tempo, by the way, have outwardly disagree with Mein Fuhrer Saban.

            It still doesn’t change the fact that Slive and the SEC have led the charge against excluding anyone that’s not a Power 5 conference from any kind of chance at post-season success. The other “Power 5” conferences have done nothing but fall in line. THAT will be the death of college athletics.

          • Danny

            You both are fags

          • AL

            Such a wonderfully thought out, eloquent reply. Kudos to you, sir. A scholar and a gentleman.

          • Skandor Fubar

            (1) Missouri, (2) Texas A&M, (3) Auburn, (4) Ole Miss, (5) South Carolina, (6) Mississippi State would make that list. Historically you also had Florida (Spurrier, Meyer), Kentucky (Mumme), and Arkansas (Petrino) with up-tempo offenses.

            Perhaps it is actually the Big Ten that is the death of college athletics? The fact is that the SEC is highly successful and an easy target. No SEC school that I know of decided to go to Hawaii instead of fighting to play Penn State in a bowl game in Texas, signed a 2-for-1 with South Alabama, hired an AD with zero experience based on his military background, and made blaming the fan base for failure the focal point of the marketing plan.

            College football will be fine. Southern Miss may not, and we have no one to blame but ourselves, or more appropriately, our poor leadership.

          • AL

            Had is a key word there. Love how SEC fans adopt A&M and Missouri so quickly when at first there was “no way they will compete” and they were treated like step children.

            6 teams out of what, 14? That’s not even half. The majority of the league still runs the tried and true.

            The AD hire and the coaching hire that destroyed USM football WERE OUR FAULT. I wish this wonderful blog allowed me a way to bold, highlight, flaming text that. I’ve said it about 20 times.

            The SEC way of thinking led our leadership to do that. That’s what the article says. It’s what I’ve said…..yet again.

          • Chris Mccurdy

            Johnson was a defense coach and Jeff Bower was an offense coach and his team won games and he took the team to bowl games and develop them into a winning program but the program went downhill too fast under Ellis and he destroyed the program. Monken is trying to turn the program around and I hope this year in 2015 we will see that. Bower always had a great defense and he had great players on all three phases of the game and he left the program a winner. Sure Larry Fordea was a great football coach and USM won a lot of games. He just used Southern Miss as a stepping stone to further his career and was not committed to being their head football coach for a lot of years. Johnson was the worst football hire for a head football coach Southern Miss every made and his team were in every game but we lost games that year we should have won and we went 0-12 and he was fired rightly so because he was left a winning program he turned it into a losing program. Then Monken came around and he is trying to turn the program around were we can have a winning season instead of lose all the time. I hope 2015 my alma mater has a winning season and we can go back to a bowl game and win it.

    • NR

      -Louisville is in a metro area of 1.25 million that is a major regional economic hub and has every cash cow program and lots of wealthy alumni. They were successful at the end of their time in C-USA but the success you reference was after they moved up.

      -UCF and Cincinnati both kind of make our case for us: They did nothing on the field to warrant getting an AAC/Big East invite. They were selected because they were in major TV markets. They found that success AFTER the jumped ship.

      Really…TCU is the only one of those you can point to as a program that had that kind of success as a mid-major. How did they do that? They had Gary Patterson.

      I don’t disagree with a lot of your other points. The author does not state how the SEC, specifically, is responsible for killing USM football. 2012 killed Southern Miss football, and the SEC had nothing to do with that..

      And I agree that we need to stop making excuses–whether they are valid or not.

    • War Damn Eagle

      Great Reply…

  • Thomas

    How Southern Miss destroyed their own football program for the foreseeable future, if not forever: Jeff Bower was Southern Miss football. Jeff Bower was offered other jobs for more money but remained loyal to his alma mater. Coach Bower’s daughter was a cheerleader at Southern Miss when the lynch mob demanded a pound of flesh. The AD, boosters, and some fans had decided that Jeff Bower and his boring offense was the reason for poor fan attendance. The “experts” just knew another coach could recruit better. They felt sure another coach would fill the stands and win more games. They were not satisfied with 14 straight winning seasons. Yes some of those seasons were 6-5. Unacceptable cried the detractors with pitchforks in hand.. Off with his head. Yes sadly Southern Miss in their infinite wisdom fired their former player and sitting Head Coach who was enjoying a 14 year winning streak That is what killed Southern Miss football. Southern Miss is reaping what it sewed. Karma is a bitch.

    • J. Williams

      I’m so sick of folks bringing up Bower. For God’s sake you have no idea what you’re talking about. Bower’s time was over. It was a slow death spiral. His heart wasn’t in it anymore and anyone could see it. Fedora came in and put the program on life support and damn near got this team in the Sugar Bowl. Then in true Southern Miss fashion we “to the top’d” it and screwed everything up and hired Eillis Johnson. Maybe the worst hire in the history of organized football. He lied to everyone involved and told Aunt Martha everything she wanted to hear.Firing Bower was not the problem…hiring Ellis Johnson was.

      • William

        Fedora played the AD like a drum. Got himself a nice cushy schedule for the final season he was under contract, and rode that to his payday at UNC. AND, padded an extra difficult season the next year to guarantee a Fedora “legacy”. And for all those “almost made the Sugar Bowl” commenters, let’s remember where we DID end up that year — the Hawaii Bowl, one of the lowest paying bowls, especially selected by Fedora and the AD. I don’t agree with the author’s basic premise. I don’t think it’s the SEC that’s killing USM — I think it’s ESPN. They want big market teams in big money conferences, and everyone else can pound sand.

        • Dale R

          Yes ESPN was happy as heck to show USM every other Thursday night when Bower was the coach. But “alumni wanted” a Saturday experience. USM should be good, they have always recruited well out of New Orleans and Mobile, but compete with the big boys of the SEC, that isn’t going to happen.

        • J. Williams

          I agree with the ESPN part, but blaming Fedora for anything is nonsense. 2012 was going to be a rebuilding year for who ever took over. If Southern Miss had hired Monken or Anderson we’d probably been 6-6 or better and we’d not be in the mess we are in now. The Ellis Johnson hire killed this program, maybe for good. He was hired because he was from the mighty SEC, had gray hair and promised he’d never leave. That’s all the old fools running things cared about.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            1st and foremost lets get 1 thing on the record. The SEC along with the Big 12, Big 10, ACC or whoever USM could whore itself out to for a paycheck, dating back to the 80’s has kept the Athletic Dept. afloat. See this weekend, 1.5 million to be Bama’s bitch.

            The 2 stooges that hired Eloss Johnson hired him because of his Andy Griffin charm and because they wanted another Bower. It had nothing to do with playing sec type football. Take off the homer shades and look at SEC football. Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss, Miss. State, Missouri, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Kentucky run up tempo, spread type offenses. Thats 8 out of the 14.

            USM problems started in the late 90’s when recruiting started declining and staff turnover every year. Early 2000’s, most other mid-majors started taking athletics serious and pumped 10’s of millions into programs and facilities. USM kept doing it’s norm. Crying poor pitiful me and rewarding ,7-5 in a crap conference to boot, with raises and contract extensions. While USM was basking in their yearly New Orleans Bowl trips, Troy and UAB to name 2 were expanding facilities and taking over our 25+ year strangle hold on the B’ham to Mobile recruits who Alabama and Auburn wanted, but told to walk on, instead we got them for decades. Now we don’t get them or the tweeners from the Florida panhandle. We are losing recruits to those as well as ULL, La. Tech, ULM, and others. Eloss Johnson was a joke and nobody wanted to play for him. It had nothing to do with the SEC. It had everything to do with he recruited like shit, he ran off damn good players left from Fedora, and he hired a staff full of his Thursday night poker buddies. Tommy West for Gods sake has been an abysmal failure everywhere he has coached. Memphis was paying him to not coach them . His Oc had to enter rehab 2 months before the season started and his replacement was a friggin high school coach the year before and he ran his high school playbook. The oline coach was a 4-a high school principal the year before and the strength coach was selling used cars when hired. He made them kick soccer balls for agility and if they wanted to lift weights, it was on their time. EJ was a friggin idiot and the misfits he hired were in over their head. That is not the SEC fault.

            USM is, has been, and always will be their own worst enemy. They are already 5-8 years behind on facilities and fall further behind each week. They are never proactive on any front. They cry poor, pitiful, me instead of finding a way to improve. They should have gone all in with everything they had to join the former Big East when Miami and Va. Tech bolted. Instead of trying, they continued on with the status qoe, buried their head deeper in the sand and let the opportunity pass. They didn’t want it and didn’t want out of their comfort zone.

            They have a good coach in place now. To bad he’s a 1 legged man in an ass kicking contest. He is handicapped with subpar facilities, limited recruiting budget and a top heavy athletic department full of good ole boys and followers who can’t think outside of the cubicle they sit in, much less outside the box.

            Put the blame squarely where it belongs and that is the dome, the athletic directors dating back to Roland Dale, and the fans for allowing it. Yes, I am an Eagle Club member and season ticket holder.

          • AL

            Hey buddy! I’m back!

            The “good old boy” way of doing things is such an SEC way of life. Hence the emphasis on that I think.

            For once, you and I agree on a few things, namely that Fedora was good and had good players.

            Also, you make “going all in” like those other schools sound so easy. It takes dollar signs and we don’t have those and didn’t then.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            It didn’t take money to join the Big East. In 03 when Va. Tech and Miami bolted, USM was top 3 in mid-major ranks and more importantly, the darling of ESPN. What it took was forward, progressive thinking, along with a set of balls, which other than Hammond, no AD dating back to Roland Dale had. The people in command were chicken shit and scared to get out of their comfort zone and frankly, they were happy being poor, pitiful, little old Southern Miss. They had job security being the bully of CUSA.

            What is even sorrier is listening to, reading crap from long term fans like me, I have been going to games since 76, saying the poor, pitiful me crap. Claiming the A.D. and his minions know best, etc. They sit back and accept the cheap Chinese junk sold them and don’t hold people accountable. The USM good old boy network is not SEC like, it’s small town Mississippi like from politics down to little league.

            As a H’burg resident for 40+ years, the athletic department has never and still isn’t doing a damn thing to make non-graduates, area newcomers and the every day Joe feel welcome, important or even wanted as a fan. These people have no reason to have a emotional, financial investment or have any loyalty to the program.

            The fans who continue to blindly follow the program and never ask questions, push for growth, and turn a blind eye to things are as big of a problem as the culture inside the athletic department.

          • AL

            Maybe not money in 03; but those two schools have things over USM, most specifically Miami has their academic status and metro-area. I also believe Louisville had something to do with us not getting a Big East invite.

            You and I do agree on more and more as this debate goes on haha. I’m all with you on incompetence of the ADs and the athletic department.

            Still disagree on SEC way of thinking. It’s not just MS. It’s all the states that encompass the SEC, but I digress.

          • Chris Bedenbaugh

            Here is how USM operates. 1998, we need everyone to move up a level in the Eagle Club to move forward. We bought in and went from $750.00 members to $1,500.00 members. For this nice increase our season tickets were moved from the 18-20 yard line midway up the lower deck to 3 yards deep in the end zone, row 3 where you couldn’t see half the field. When I called the ticket office to see about changing seats I was told not everyone can sit on the 50. I responded with I would have been happy keeping my same seats from the last 7 years and was quickly told I was not priority enough to keep those seats. I dropped my EC membership and my football, basketball and baseball season tickets right then. Fat ass Bill Mac himself called me in 99 to reup and I told him I would if he would admit they were wrong in how they did things in 98 and he refused. I asked him if he was aware that game day walkups could by better seats than season ticket/eagle club members and he said of course they can, it’s a reward for coming. Utter bs. In a program struggling to stay afloat, no walkup should ever get a better seat than a season ticket holder. I divorced USM for 10 years because of that thinking. I finally went back in 08.

            Point is, they treat non circle of champion members like shit to this day and wonder why they lack support. Until there is a culture change and a complete house cleaning in AD and EC, they will continue to struggle.

    • Brett Rushing

      There’s just so much wrong with this. If you really blame the firing of Bower for our problems, you obviously quit supporting the program and only supported the coach. Bower was complacent and stopped recruiting. 7-6 wasn’t bringing us anywhere. We had (and still have in many of us) of being a program that absolutely dominated C-USA. There’s no excuse for us to lose to these awful programs. And we were constantly doing it. I specifically remember a Wednesday night game(those ESPN money games) against a winless Rice squad. Rice thrashed us. A national embarrassment, all on the glory of ESPN. Bower’s last home game against Arkansas State was a blackout. All 12,000 fans in the stand were not happy as we struggled to beat them. Half the student section wore white in protest of the crap we had witnessed.

      Fedora was a great coach who won 12 games, something Bower never did. And if we don’t get upset by UAB, we’re in the Sugar Bowl. We were left with plenty of talent and in a great spot to keep winning. And we had people at the school, just like you Thomas, who would rather have someone who will stay with us for twenty years and never leave us, because we get offended when someone leaves us don’t we? This brought the hiring of Ellis Johnson, who completely destroyed our program, our talent, and our near future. Monken is having to rebuild from the destruction that Johnson brought.

      There’s a lot of reasons that we are where we are besides just Johnson. An AD with no vision is one of the biggest I can think of. But firing Bower was the right move. We gave him ways to stay and he refused to change anything.

      Oh and by the way, just wanted to make note about your comment in general. Your entire argument is based off of “he’s part of the family and we kicked him out.” Yes, Bower is a Southern Miss man. No one is arguing that. Could it have been handled better? Sure. But you’re playing a giant sympathy card. You say that a more exciting offense could fill the stands better. It did. You say that another coach could recruit better. He did. You say that another coach could fill the stands and win more games. He did. Fedora improved every year in the regular season, from 6 to 7 to 8 to 10 regular season wins. I really don’t understand what you’re arguing here. Everything you’re trying to slam the school for “saying”, actually happened.

      And 6-5 should be unacceptable. No one is happy with where we are now. But I wish people like you would just get over it. Bower is gone. He’s not coming back. If you wanna keep cheering Bower on, go out to the golf course. I hear he’s there a good bit. But continuing to argue that us firing him was a mistake is a waste of all of our time. It shows your ignorance to the situation.

      It’s really sad to me when our fans are fine with 7-6 seasons. You can be I suppose. It’s a winning season I guess. But when you’re playing who we’re playing….well to me that’s just unacceptable. 0-12 and 1-12 are unacceptable. We’ve got a long way to go to get back to where we were even in 2011. But I’ll say this. You can be complacent. I want greater than that. I want Championships. I want double digit wins every year. No excuses. That’s what I want. And if a coach averages 6 wins against our schedule, then we need to seek other options.

      With how college football is going nowadays, we don’t have an option. It’s either win or be relegated to 1-AA.

  • Ramar Trey Hamilton

    While I agree Ellis Johnson was a total jackass for trying to run a different scheme without the players for it, I would imagine that while being the DC for Malzahn has changed his thinking on the HUNH. At least publicly. For him to blame following up Fedora’s 12-2 final season with a 0-12 gem, on not having the talent of past USM teams is asinine. I hate it for USM too. Always enjoyed watching them compete…back when Curley was there, Bowers…

    • Bullfrog

      The problem with Southern Miss football is embodied in this guy’s ^^^^^^ avatar.

      Too many USM fans claim to be Bammer fans or LSU fans rather than USM fans. And don’t blame the current situation… it was like that when USM was good. USM students, fans and alumni, for the most part, do not have the same amount of pride in THEIR school as SEC programs do. They’d rather say they were LSU/Bama fans.

      There is no excuse for it, either.

      • TFB

        Do you think its different at other, Similar, schools – Like USA, UAb, Troy, ULL, ULM, La Tech, MTSU, Memphis, etc?
        No – its not.

        If you propose LIMITING USM admissions to “True Black and Gold Fans” – you will sure have a lot easier time parking on campus – because there will only be about 6,000 students there.

        • Bullfrog

          I don’t propose “limiting USM admissions” to true fans. I’m saying the students/alumni OF USM (NOT LSU/BAMA) need to be more proud and thus more active in their fanbase/athletic donor association. Ask yourself this…. why is it that you only consider less than half of the USM student body “True Black and Gold”? At MSU, even if the student was a Bama fan prior to attendance, most leave MSU with a sense of pride and remain lifelong MSU fans. I’d say the percentage is well on the upper end of the bell curve.

          THE PROBLEM, since you obviously missed the point, is that the students and alumni USM has couldn’t give less of a crap about USM athletics for the most part. Why? Because, even though they have physical and emotional and educational ties to USM, they’d rather cheer (or be “known as”) an LSU/Bama fan. Coincidentally, said USM alum/LSU fan doesn’t give money to USM athletic association and in turn, USM athletic association doesn’t have the ponies to hang around with the big boys.

          It’s a vicious cycle. USM will move to that next tier because of their lack of fan/donor/alumni support and they won’t gain fan/donor/alumni support b/c they are, and will always be, a mid-major team.

          And, from what I’ve observed from the 15 or so folks that graduated HS with me that went to USM (while we sent ~60 to MSU and ~30 to OM), I can’t think of a SINGLE PERSON out of those 15 that I’d consider a “USM first” fan. They will ALWAYS claim LSU or Bama before USM. Actually, 14 of those 15 don’t give a rats rear about USM any more.

          The problem lies with administration of the school and the ath. department. Blame them for the lack of pride or support.

  • USM

    What hurt USM football was not going to the Big East. The dumb AD at the time was stubborn and had no vision. C-USA teams do not have a chance to compete with big conferences now and in 10 years will be nothing more than another Southland Conference.

  • TFB

    Already been covered, but I’ll say it again. What “Killed” USM football?
    GREED. – Plain and simple.

    Is Ellis Johnson a turd of a human being? OF COURSE HE IS!!! Could have told y’all that 15 years ago!!!! But he’s not to blame.

    Blame a greedy AD and University President who sold the family cow for a handful of “MAGIC BEANS” in the form of one Larry Fedora. A BLIND MAN could have told y’all that coaches like Fedora see schools like USM purely as STEPPING STONES.

    Now, instead of a “Tired” and “Boring” program that WON 59% of its games and went to Bowls More often than not (10 in 17 years, and NINE in his last TEN seasons!) – NOW you have a program that will FOREVER have to Gamble on “Up and Coming” coaches – every one of whom will LEAVE Hattiesburg the MINUTE he has even One HINT of success.

    Hope those beans were tasty!

    • AL

      LFed was magic beans? I thought it was a solid, exciting, cutting edge offense which, when added with a solid defensive system, led to the best season in the school’s history.

      Ellis Johnson is almost singled handedly to blame.

      • J. Williams

        I’m just amazed that people actually blame Fedora…..what alternate universe are they living in. Fedora saved this program or at least tried too. he got us on life support and all we had to do was just continue what he started, but foolish old woman with a grudge against Fedora didn’t want to hire anyone associated with him and decided to hire another old fool. The blame for what is taking place in Hattiesburg rest at the feet of Aunt Martha, Ellis Johnson and any fool on the selection committee that voted for him….PERIOD!!! The Bower boys need to get over it and quit hating Fedora just because he’s the guy that followed Bower.

  • USMRetiree

    I have lived in and around Hattiesburg all of my life. I remember The Southerners, I remember the General on horseback, I remember beating Ole Miss on their ‘good’ year (the year they beat Notre Dame), I remember beating Alabama at The Bear’s last home game(I was there). I remember beating State and Ole Miss year in and year out until they decided their schedule didn’t have room for USM. I remember attending an Ole Miss vs USM game at Ole Miss on one of the years Ole Miss won. As I was leaving the game I heard an Ole Miss student say “I don’t care if we win another game – We Beat USM”. I remember THE LEAP(I was there). I remember John Forcade on the 50 yard line kicking his hands and feet against the ground after 3 consecutive sacks(I was there). I remember attending a game at USM and the whole game was run run run punt. Late in the 4th quarter they pulled the quarterback and put in this new guy. On the first play from scrimmage he drops back and throws a 50 yard INCOMPLETE pass and receives a standing ovation. Enter Reggie Collier. USM always has and probably always will be a stepping stone for up and
    coming coaches, and not just in football. We don’t have the millions to
    keep a coach. But what is wrong with having them for a while. Bobby went to SMU, Curly went to LSU, Larry went to South Carolina. But what fun years while they were here. Until USM has a 100+ million dollar athletic budget coaches will come and go. They come an go from schools that have 100+ million dollar budgets.

    • AL

      You, sir, get it. Thank you.

  • Tim Parrish

    Wow! Butt-hurt much USM? Want some cheese with that whine?

    • AL


      • Tim Parrish

        The mating cry of the wannabe. All USM ever was or ever will be. How inflated can an ego get to think the SEC gives enough of a crap to try and “off” Mississippi Southern. It’s like a flea on an elephant’s rump.

        • AL

          If you had actually read the article, we stated that our admin, alum, and fans trying to think we should be the SEC offed us. Not the SEC.

          The SEC wouldn’t stoop to the lowly lows of offing a pittance like us. The SEC is trying to merely off anyone not in it, the ACC, the Big 10, the Big 12, or the PAC 12.

          • USMRetiree

            It makes be wonder when someone uses the term Mississippi Southern when referring to USM aka Southern Miss, how long it has been since that person has been on USM’s campus, or been in Hattiesburg, or even been in Mississippi.

  • War Damn Eagle

    Too long did NOT read…

  • jgv1 .

    Miami, Florida State, Louisville, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, Central Florida, and Boston College all played into the big time since 1980. Geography, location, luck, basketball, a great coach, and Doug Flutie made this happen.

    Over the years, USM outplayed everybody on this list except two. I blame Bush. Nah, it’s just bad luck. SEC could not have 3 Mississippi teams. No basketball for ACC. Not regional or basketball for 1990’s Big East. Southwest Conference imploded. 2010 Big East imploded.

    Southern Miss could always go to DII and probably dominate. Or, in a few years, D1 will not include the big 5 conferences. So the big little teams like USM, Memphis, SMU, Houston, and Cincinnati will become the power houses of the leftovers.

  • John Smith

    There’s always the college to fall back on. You know the reason you should be in college?

  • Timothy Brian Padden

    UAB and USM are the only two Conference USA programs to have been continuously in Conference USA since the merger between the Great Midwest Conference and Metropolitan Collegiate Athletic Conference created Conference USA.

  • Timothy Brian Padden

    I wonder what conference UAB will go to after they are kicked out of C-USA for dropping football.