It's surprising that this week's column is
a commentary on Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower. Make that former
Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower.
Former is actually the condition of Bower's job status that makes the
situation surprising. Bower is coming off a 7-5 season in which his team
received a bid to the Papajohns.com Bowl. The Golden Eagles will play
former Conference USA foe Cincinnati in Birmingham after going 5-3 in
Southern Miss's record overall and in
the league and its bowl destination is identical to East Carolina's
last season when the Pirate Nation was signing the praises of Skip
Holtz's rebuilding efforts.
USM's 2007 performance was accomplished
with starting quarterback Jeremy Young out for four games.
The Golden Eagles' fan base and powers
that be obviously had higher expectations after its program was picked
to win C-USA in 2007. USM may be headed down that road to destruction
that ECU traveled in 2002 when Steve Logan was forced out after going
Southern Miss athletic director Richard
Giannini reportedly said that he didn't try to talk Bower out of
resigning when he met with the man who had guided the program for the
past 17 seasons and produced a 119-82-1 record that included four C-USA
Bower was a Southern Miss player and
assistant coach before leading the program. Now that continuity is out
the window in Hattiesburg.
What has Bower done for the program
lately? Well, this will be the sixth straight bowl appearance for the
Golden Eagles and tenth in the last 11 seasons. USM has won its last
three bowl games and was the only C-USA bowl team to win its postseason
encounter last season.
Southern Miss is guaranteed its 14th
straight winning season under Bower, who will coach the bowl game in
Birmingham while his replacement is sought. In 12 seasons in C-USA, the
Golden Eagles have never had a losing record in the league.
His record was unmatched in C-USA and
apparently unappreciated at his alma mater.
If anybody should be happy to see Bower
go, it would be the Pirates. Bower represented an embodiment of
domination against ECU especially in Greenville, where his teams lost
just once, back in 1994. His teams had won their last seven trips to
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Not even Virginia Tech or West Virginia can match
that record on the road against the Pirates.
Overall, Bower's teams were 12-5
Indeed, USM's loss may be ECU's gain in
terms of the competitive balance of the series in the future.
His peers know that Bower is a quality
coach. His program has had a motto of playing anybody, anywhere,
anytime. Those dates have not been made with state schools Ole Miss and
Mississippi State of late. Giannini expressed concern that only 17,707
showed up for the regular season finale at home when the drawing card
was Arkansas State.
The Golden Eagles play an Alabama,
Florida, Tennessee, Virginia Tech or Penn State on the road practically
every season. Bower's compensation package was considerably less than
his production level when compared to his fellow coaches.
According to the Jackson (MS)
Clarion-Ledger, Bower, 54, will be paid about $500,000 ($275,000 base
salary, plus incentives) through December, and then receive a $400,000
buyout $275,000 in the next 60 days and $125,000 spread over the next
Bower's base salary is lower than
There are 15 former Southern Miss
players developed by Bower playing in the NFL, including Green Bay
Packer quarterback Brett Favre.
Only three of his peers had coached at
their present institutions longer Penn State's Joe Paterno, Florida
State's Bobby Bowden and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer.
"Jeff Bower has established real
credibility at Southern Miss, and you don't do that overnight," Beamer
said. "Year-in and year-out, they play great football and they win. To
me, that's a real tribute to Jeff Bower. Anytime you're getting ready to
play a Jeff Bower-prepared team, you had better strap on your chin strap
tight, because there is a get-after-it session getting ready to start."
Paterno obviously developed a sense of
respect for his counterpart at Southern Miss as well.
His loyalty impresses me the most,"
said the Penn State coach, prior to Bower's resignation. "I know Jeff
has had a couple of opportunities to leave and go other places, but that
is his home. His commitment to Southern Mississippi is something that
obviously I admire having my background and my feelings of what
college coaches should do.
"Also, he is just a heck of a coach. He
is smart and is as sharp as can be, and his football teams play well for
him. He is just a great guy. I always look forward to seeing him, but I
do not look forward to playing against his teams. They do such a good
job on defense and special teams. You have to be very, very precise
against them. You can't be careless with them, because they will beat
"They do so many things, and they move
around real well. You look at them and you think they will make
mistakes, but they don't. They run so well, and they are really tough.
Bower may well find employment soon as
the dominoes fall with head coaching positions in college football. Here
in the area, Duke could do and has done, for that matter a lot worse
than hire Bower. Giannini, incidentally, is a former sports information
director at Duke.
For the Golden Eagles, their John
Thompson may await. If Giannini doesn't deliver a successor that
delivers better results, then he should be held accountable. Bower's
performance at his alma mater will be difficult to surpass, especially
in terms of sustained success.
Southern Miss may not realize how good
they've had it until the next guy falls short. That's what happened at
ECU. Logan, of course, is offensive coordinator at Boston College and is
preparing to play Virginia Tech for the ACC championship. He enhanced
his resume in NFL Europe before joining his former Pirate assistant,
Jeff Jagodzinski, at BC.
There may be more to the Bower
situation than meets the eye. Bower didn't insult Giannini's ancestry at
an alumni function as far as I know. Strictly based on the numbers from
this vantage point, Southern Miss has made a mistake.
"We want to take this opportunity to
thank Jeff for his loyalty to the University of Southern Mississippi and
for his coaching achievements over the last 17 years," Giannini said in
a USM release. "We really wish him the best in the future and I know he
will go down in University of Southern Mississippi athletic history as
one of our most outstanding coaches. I am pleased Jeff will coach the
team at the bowl.
"I hope that our fans will come out and
support our team and Coach Bower when they play Cincinnati in
Cincinnati is ranked No. 20 by the
Associated Press and comes into the postseason with a 9-3 record.
"I told our team when I spoke to them
the other day the best gift they could give Coach Bower was a victory
over a Big East team and former C-USA member," Giannini said.
At least the Southern Miss AD got that