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Hopson, USM President meet amid Briles controversy

Photo by News Mississippi

The search for a new offensive coordinator at Southern Miss continues, but so does the conversation surrounding a candidate that they decided not to hire. 

Last week, Southern Miss officials interviewed former Baylor head coach Art Briles for the OC vacancy, but what followed was a firestorm of negative backlash from the public. 

While Briles won a lot of games as the head coach of the Bears from 2008-2015, he was fired after it was revealed during an NCAA investigation that he did not properly report allegations of sexual assault against his players. After Briles completed his interview in Hattiesburg, Interim Athletic Director Jeff Mitchell released the following statement. 

“We have met with Art Briles regarding a position with the Southern Miss football program. Following that meeting, we informed him that he is not a candidate. The University will have no further comment on this matter.” – AD Jeff Mitchell 

That seemed to be the end of the Briles conversation at USM until head coach Jay Hopson decided to make a statement of his own in support of a second chance for the disgraced former coach. 

“Although I respect the decision of Dr. Rodney Bennett, I disagree with it,” Hopson said in his statement. “I am so grateful for the grace and forgiveness God gives me which allows me to inherit his kingdom, which I do not deserve. I have interviewed Art Briles for an assistant position at Southern Miss and I believe he is a man who deserves a second chance. He is a man that seemed sincere and humble in his interview and personally he committed no crime. He may not have acted in the proper protocol, but that would be my JOB at Southern Miss! He was interviewing for an assistant position, even though I believe he will be a head coach at a major program in the near future. However, I believe he is a man who does love the Lord and deserves a second chance. He has been banned from employment in college football for three years and has been punished. I understand both sides have opinions, this is just mine.” – Jay Hopson

This kind of public disagreement had some wondering what was next at USM. University President Rodney Bennett has now gotten involved, and it appears the controversy won’t lead to a change. Bennett says that he and Hopson met over the weekend and that they will continue to work together to move forward.

“University of Southern Mississippi head football coach Jay Hopson and I have spoken on multiple occasions in recent days and met face-to-face over the weekend to chart the most successful path forward for the Southern Miss football program. Coach Hopson assured me of his commitment to overseeing a program that upholds the values of The University of Southern Mississippi. I know Coach Hopson to be a man of high ethics and integrity, and I assured him of the University’s dedication to continuing our winning tradition.

“Our conversation included many topics, including the events of the past week. As a matter of practice, Coach Hopson seeks approval from and works in good faith with athletic administration on prospective student-athletes who have special or unique circumstances for admission to the University, which is consistent with University protocol in student-athlete recruitment. Additionally, Coach Hopson notified the University of his desire to meet with Art Briles, which is his right to do so as head football coach and is in line with normal University processes. After an intentional and thorough review of Mr. Briles’ candidacy, I expressed my reservations, and ultimately that review led to the decision that Mr. Briles was not a viable candidate.

I consider the matter closed, and I am looking forward to working with Coach Hopson on our mutual priorities and shared goals for the Southern Miss football program and how it contributes to our vision for The University of Southern Mississippi.” –  President Rodney Bennett

In conjunction with the Briles situation, a report from The Athletic has also detailed how Hopson attempted to bring a JUCO transfer player accused of sexual assault to USM. It is unclear if Hopson and Bennett discussed this matter. 

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