Monday, February 1, 2016

Rick Cleveland muses on USM turmoil

Last weekend's surprising news — Todd Monken leaving Southern Miss to become offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bucs — immediately was followed by some harsh, bordering on nasty, criticism via social media.

Many fans felt jilted and used. They felt hurt. And they were angry.

The timing — 10 days before National Signing Day and amid what appears a successful recruiting season — is terrible. And then there's this factor: After three seasons of abject misery, USM had returned to its normal winning ways. Monken's move sparked a “here we go again” feeling.

But the facts are these: There was never going to be a good time. The timing is what it is, which is when Monken got the offer to move to the NFL and mentor last year's No. 1 draft choice, Jameis Winston, for a man he likes and respects, Dirk Koetter. Monken and Koetter have worked together before for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

If Monken's goal was to coach in the NFL, then this was the time to make the move.

Monken served USM well. He took a program that was winless and in disarray and built a winning team. He restocked the talent. He restored discipline, organization and work ethic. He surrounded himself with good people.

He made football fun again at USM. He faked kicks. He kicked onsides. He ran trick plays. And he had a knack for doing all that at the right times. In short, he did a splendid job.

He deserves thanks, not daggers.

Now then, USM's job — athletic director Bill McGillis's job, specifically — is to find the next Todd Monken. And do it fast.

Because of the looming recruiting deadline, McGillis must move with haste and said Sunday he plans to do just that and have a coach in place by the coming weekend.

Some Southern Miss folks have joked (I think): “Well, just go hire whomever is the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator.”

That's because Jeff Bower, Larry Fedora and Monken (three of the last four USM coaches) were all offensive coordinators at OSU before coming to Southern Miss. Mike Yurcich would be that guy and disregarding the Sugar Bowl, he's done a great job.

It seems to me, however, the timing of this hire demands someone familiar with USM and Mississippi — or at least familiarity with this USM coaching staff. This isn't a situation where the head coach has left for another college job and has taken most of his staff with him. Monken has left a good staff in place. They are the guys who have, for the most part, done this year's recruiting.

One possibility, Monken's former offensive coordinator, Chip Lindsey, has announced he's staying atArizona State. So, do you elevate defensive coordinator Dave Duggan, who has been a head coach before in NFL Europe?

What about Jay Hopson, the remarkably successful Alcorn State coach? Hopson worked for Bower at USM and already has the utmost respect of Mississippi high school and junior college coaches. He almost beat Monken and USM in 2014 in Hattiesburg.

Steve Campbell of Central Arkansas, who has guided Delta State and Mississippi Gulf Coast to national championships, deserves consideration. And there are others.

As Monken stated many times, the USM job has many pluses: a winning tradition and being in the middle of so much talent (Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana), chief among them.

The good news is that Monken leaves behind a much better situation than the one he inherited.
He deserves a huge thank-you for that.

Rick Cleveland ( is the historian for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and a syndicated columnist

Note: This column was supposed to be published last week. The regular one will run Wednesday. 


Anonymous said...

Very well put!

Anonymous said...

musings are about a weeks late.

Kingfish said...

Yeah, I know. I can schedule posts several days in advance. Did so here but for some reason, it didn't publish and I didn't catch it until this morning. Sorry.

PittPanther said...

There are only 20 or so (if that many) college football programs that are true "destination" jobs. The rest of us will have to get used to changing coaches every 3-5 years.
Either your team sucks and no one wants your coach, or you have a good season and then here come the big boys with their wallets open.

Anonymous said...

Lost in this conversation is Hopson leaving Alcorn for USM less than a week before national signing day. It was a slap in he face to Alcorn. There are times a coach needs to stay put for another year because it is the right thing to do. Hopson left Alcorn high and dry and scrambling to hold onto recruits. USM fans are now embracing a move from Hopson that they denounced from Monken. If there is such a thing as karma, I hope it's reflected in Hopson's win-loss record at USM. I would be delighted if he loses every game.

Anonymous said...

The RUMOR is that Monken left before Signing Day (after accepting the job, but planning to wait), because USM stiffed him on his bowl bonus.

Hut Hut said...

Monken should have announced three months ago back when his buddy at Tampa Bay agreed to hire him.

Anonymous said...

They should get their behinds in the stadium on game day.

It Is What It Is said...

There's never a 'good time' for a coach to leave (unless fired - and then Ole Miss keeps them on payroll). Just suck it up and move on. Quit whining. Putchur pads on and quit sniffin' jock straps!

Anonymous said...

Did you think Hop would turn down the opportunity to quadruple his salary and coach FBS ball?

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