So Much For Loyalty

Southern Miss turns back on Bower

Dec. 13, 2007

By Carter Blackburn

Special to CSTV.com

 



CARTER BLACKBURN

Carter Blackburn covers various sports for CSTV and writes frequently for CSTV.com.
E-mail here!

On Dec. 22, Southern Miss will play in the Papajohns.com Bowl against a very good Cincinnati team.  And when the game in Birmingham is over, one of college football's most consistent winners will be out of a job.  At the end of his 14th consecutive winning season, Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower resigned as coach of his alma mater amid grumbling from fans and boosters.

 

Picked to win Conference USA before the season, the Golden Eagles instead finished third in their division with a 7-5 (5-3 C-USA) record. In a season that featured three different starting quarterbacks because of a bevy of injuries and the emotional drain of defensive coordinator Jay Hopson's battle with testicular cancer, Bower's team rallied late in the season to earn its 10th bowl trip in 11 years. 


 

 

 

An effort that could have earned him conference coach of the year honors for the fourth time instead earned him this statement from Southern Miss athletics director Richard Giannini:

 

 "I said all along I was disappointed and people were disappointed in the season, and I don't change that statement," Giannini said.

 

Rather than supporting the coach who built Southern Miss's national reputation as a tough team that could knock off the likes of Alabama, Oklahoma State, LSU, Georgia and Auburn, Giannini chose the opinions of those Southern Miss boosters who feel the Golden Eagles should annually compete for a BCS invite like Boise State and Hawai'i, or better yet, position itself for a fictional invite to the Big East or SEC. Seriously, some of the folks writing the checks for facilities improvements think the Golden Eagles are ready for college football's upper echelon.

 

Instead of sticking with a consistent winner, Southern Miss is choosing to chase these delusions of grandeur.

 

Only Joe Paterno at Penn State, Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech have longer tenures at their schools than Bower's at Southern Miss. When several more lucrative job offers came his way, Bower turned them down to stay in Hattiesburg, only to put together more winning seasons despite bad facilities and a low spot in the recruiting pecking order. If Giannini and Southern Miss President Martha D. Saunders appreciated that as much as they said they did at Bower's resignation press conference, he would have been signed to a `stay as long as you like, coach' contract instead of the `you let us down, coach' message he got.

 

Familiarity sometimes breeds contempt. Bower's winning ways have been built on hard-nosed defense, solid special teams, and an offense that runs the football, controls the clock, and avoids turnovers. That system produces wins, but apparently boredom among casual fans itching for more fireworks on the field. Southern Miss's home attendance was slightly down this year, giving the nay-sayers added ammunition to jettison Bower in favor of a more exciting style of play.

 

Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora will take over the Golden Eagles now and his Cowboy offense put up nearly 500 yards of offense a game this season while juggling quarterbacks. Fedora is a good choice for Southern Miss or any program looking for a head coach, but it's always dangerous to follow a legend.

 

As the quarterback at Southern Miss who married a Golden Eagle cheerleader, coached Brett Favre as offensive coordinator and then guided the football program from I-AA to feared `mid-major,' Bower deserves his status as a legend in Hattiesburg. Even as he showed him the door, Giannini said of Bower, "he will go down in University of Southern Mississippi athletic history as one of our most outstanding coaches."

 

At his resignation press conference, Bower gracefully thanked the fans and supporters of his alma mater, but pledged, "there's a lot of fight left in Jeff Bower, and I am not done yet."

 

Bower's mantra has always been, "Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime!"  Now that Southern Miss has turned its back on him, any program anywhere in need of a football coach would be wise to take the time to talk to Bower. That is, if they are interested in a loyal, committed winner.

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