No easy fixes at Southern Miss…

I watched Southern Miss play FIU Saturday and lose its 17th straight game. During and afterward, people kept asking: What is wrong? How can this have happened to such a proud program?

So, what’s wrong?

Just about everything. In general, there is a lack of team speed. Some of the best players are hurt, and there are not enough quality players, not nearly enough playmakers. FIU, supposedly the worst team in the nation, won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. And still USM had a chance to win the game with a last play field goal, which was (a) kicked low and (b) blocked.

This will not be an easy fix. You don’t fix this many problems overnight. Right now, USM would be an underdog against every team on its schedule. The Golden Eagles open next season at Starkville. Currently, that’s a total mismatch.

Todd Monken and his staff face an extremely difficult task, one that starts with getting better players and with re-installing the toughness and grit Southern Miss has played with for as long I can remember, dating back to the days of Pie Vann. I don’t see that trademark toughness now.

Even during USM’s best years, fan support has been a concern. That becomes a bigger issue now.

Not quite six years ago, Southern Miss told veteran football coach and Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Jeff Bower his services would no longer be needed.

Interestingly, fan apathy and a divided fan base were cited as reasons for Bower’s forced resignation. In essence: You can’t fire the fans, so they fired the coach.

Under Bower, a USM grad and former star quarterback, the Golden Eagles had experienced 14 straight winning seasons and had gone to a bowl game in nine of the last 10. His players graduated at one of the highest rates in the country. There had been not even a hint of any NCAA improprieties.

At least one sports columnist was hopping mad at the time. My blog, written moments after learning of Bower’s fate, follows:

Southern Miss athletics is about to undergo the worst P.R. nightmare in history of P.R. nightmares, both nationally and locally.

They earned it.

I don’t know whether they’re going to say Jeff Bower resigned or whether he was fired — but I know for a fact that he wanted to continue at his alma mater.

Unbelievable: Fourteen consecutive winning seasons, bowls in nine of 10 years, one of the nation’s highest graduation rates, virtually a lifetime of service . . . I could go on and on.

I’ll be the first to say that USM underachieved this season, BUT after all these years, all that distinguished service, all those victories, you would think they’d give the guy one mulligan, one do-over.

I am appalled, simply appalled.

I still am. For most of Bower’s tenure, he played at least two “money” games a year, games that helped keep the program financially afloat. Still, he kept winning. He even won some of the money games. USM had to start playing those “human sacrifice” games again this year. The results have not even been close.

4 thoughts on “No easy fixes at Southern Miss…”

  1. I agree with everything you have said. USM was sold out by an AD and a minority fan base who decided to gamble with a kick fix. The success of Fedora was done largley with players recruited by Bower. Those that were not blind knew that Fedora would leave given the first opportunity and he really didn’t care about the USM family. This was proven when he decided to reward the team and his coaches with a bowl trip to Hawaii, the heck with the fan base. This was supported and backed by an AD who neglected other sports programs at USM trying to right a broken budget that he was in charge of.

    You would think that USM would learn from our past mistakes, but sadly we have once again thrown our own under the bus. Jeff Hammond had the drive, maybe not the experience, but he had a buy in to USM that our current AD doesn’t and never will. USM would be better off as a D2 program under the current situation.

  2. I agree too with your assessment of the program then and now. I enjoyed and appreciated all the Bower did and the national attention he exposed USM football to. The thing I surmise with the situation is that he was pulling in 7,8 win seasons in CUSA and the lowly bowls that come with them. With his tenure and the level of competition we were facing there should have been more 9, 10 win seasons for USM under Bower. With hindsight and the current status of the program yeah it looks like why move away from that, but it is what it is today.

  3. You couldn’t be more wrong. Bower’s teams since ’99 won exactly 1….ONE CUSA championship. Southern Miss has become a very average Team in a bottom feeding conference. He had this program in a downward spiral for various reasons and the only mistake USM made was not to replace him sooner. Fedora rescued the program, which was 10 scholarship players short when he took over, and put it only life support and gave it a fighting chance. Then came the blunder that USM may never recover from, they hired a washed up old coot that had never been a good head coach all because he promised to never leave and answered all of Aunt Martha’s question like a good ole southern gentleman. Ellis Johnson and his band of criminals KILLED the Southern Miss program and got paid 2 million to do it. He accomplished in one year what Ole Miss and State could never do. Had they hired Anderson or Monken then Southern Miss would have won 6 or 7 games last year and would be rebuilding under easier circumstances. Instead Southern Miss did what they usually do and made the worst possible decision and hired Ellis Johnson who took a program on life support and pulled the plug and shot it in the head on his way out the door.

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