Hopson gets a Hall of Fame approval from Jeff Bower

Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

HATTIESBURG— Clearly, Jeff Bower approved.

Bower, seated on the second row at a packed-house press conference-turned-pep rally, became emotional as Jay Hopson was introduced as the new head football coach at Southern Miss.

Bower stood and applauded and smiled through tearing eyes as Hopson approached the podium.

A few seconds into his opening remarks Hopson deflected credit to Bower.

“That standing ovation should be for Jeff Bower,” Hopson said. “He taught me so much…he’s an integral part of everything I know about coaching.”

Hopson served for six years under Bower, the winning-est coach in Southern Miss history and a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer.

Hopson coached defensive backs under Bower (2001-2003) and then returned in 2005 after a year at Ole Miss for another three-year run as the USM defensive coordinator.

Later, Hopson called Bower “a living role model for me.”

“As a head coach (Bower) was so organized, so structured,” Hopson said. “A lot of coaches talk about discipline but Coach was the ultimate disciplinarian. He believed in it. He lived it. He’s such a man of integrity. As much as anything he taught me how to battle adversity.”

For his part, Bower said he was not surprised to be attending a press conference to celebrate Jay Hopson’s hiring as USM’s coach.

“I’m happy, I am not surprised,” Bower said. “Jay was meant to be a head coach and he is a great fit here. He’s the genuine article. There’s nothing phony about Jay Hopson. There’s no phony in him. He will be committed to his players and he will do it the right way.”

Hopson, a Vicksburg native and former Ole Miss Rebel defensive back, becomes the 21st head coach at Southern Miss, succeeding Todd Monken who left to become the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Bucs.

McGillis said Hopson was chosen for three reasons:

  1. “the extraordinary way he lifted the Alcorn State program.”
  2. “his deep, deep Mississippi roots.”
  3. “He understands the black and gold. He has lived it.”

Hopson called his hiring at USM “the biggest honor of my life.”

“I hope to do you proud,” he said.

What Hopson brings to the USM table, besides the three attributes McGillis expressed, is virtually universal respect among Mississippi high school and junior college coaches. “J-hop,” they call him. They’ve known him at USM, at Ole Miss and at Alcorn.

Says Johnny Mims, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Coaches who has known Hopson since the day Hopson was born, “Southern Miss just hit a grand slam home run. Jay is a product of Mississippi high schools and exemplifies what Mississippi coaches stand for. They all know him and respect him. He’s one of them. There isn’t a road in Mississippi he hasn’t traveled or a school he hasn’t visited as a recruiter. He’s down-to-earth, and nobody will out-work him.”

Hopson made it clear he plans to build from the ground up by recruiting high school players.

“The foundation starts with Mississippi high school football players,” Hopson said. “Now we’re going to recruit junior colleges and we’re going to recruit the surrounding states but the foundation starts with Mississippi high schools. There’s no better football anywhere.”

3 thoughts on “Hopson gets a Hall of Fame approval from Jeff Bower”

  1. Great article. This should be a great hire for USM. Rick, you were writing for the Hattiesburg American when I attended USM. Keep up the good work.

  2. As a player parent, I’m excited for what Coach Hop will bring to USM. The fact that he has ties to Coach Bower? Well, that’s just an added bonus. I’m glad Devin will have an opportunity to be coached, in a way, by both men!

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