South­ern Miss pres­i­dent won’t rush hunt for new ath­letic di­rec­tor

The Sun Herald - - Front Page - BY PA­TRICK MAGEE [email protected]­her­ald.com Pa­trick Magee: 228-896-2333, @Pa­trick­_Magee.

South­ern Miss is seek­ing its third ath­letic di­rec­tor since 2013, and USM pres­i­dent Rod­ney Ben­nett ad­mits he isn’t thrilled to be go­ing through the process yet again.

Ben­nett sent an email to mem­bers of the USM Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion on Wed­nes­day that laid out his plans to find a new AD and named the man who will serve in the role on an in­terim ba­sis — Jeff Mitchell, who has been the deputy di­rec­tor of ath­let­ics since Au­gust.

Jon Gil­bert stepped down as the USM ath­letic di­rec­tor on Sun­day and he was an­nounced on Mon­day as the new man in charge of the East Carolina ath­letic depart­ment.

Gil­bert had been the AD at South­ern Miss since Jan­uary 2017 af­ter pre­vi­ously serv­ing as a deputy AD at Ten­nessee. He re­placed Bill McGil­lis, who was hired in July of 2013 and re­signed in De­cem­ber of 2016 to take the same job at the Univer­sity of San Diego.

To make sit­u­a­tion even more dif­fi­cult for USM fans, the foot­ball team was de­nied a bowl bid on Sun­day de­spite be­ing el­i­gi­ble with a record of 6-5.

Ben­nett ac­knowl­edged the con­cerns of boost­ers in the email:

“Like you, I am con­cerned that we are search­ing for a new ath­let­ics di­rec­tor for the third time in re­cent years. I am com­mit­ted to a thor­ough se­lec­tion process that will re­sult in a Di­rec­tor of Ath­let­ics who will bring sta­bil­ity to the depart­ment, as well as consistent and sus­tained suc­cess for many years.

Like you, I am dis­ap­pointed that bowl and tele­vi­sion ex­ec­u­tives did not select our foot­ball pro­gram for par­tic­i­pa­tion in a bowl game this year. I do not agree with their de­ci­sion, but I am now fo­cused on how to help our foot­ball pro­gram be­come in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive next sea­son.

And like you, I am not sat­is­fied with our cur­rent place in the land­scape of col­lege ath­let­ics. I be­lieve strongly we should be as­pi­ra­tional about our place both within Con­fer­ence USA and in the NCAA.”

Ben­nett said that he plans to take his time in choos­ing the next ath­letic di­rec­tor.

“The se­lec­tion process for our next Di­rec­tor of Ath­let­ics will not be quick,” he said. “The com­plex­ity of our chal­lenges will ne­ces­si­tate a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the hir­ing process, one that re­quires pa­tience, the en­gage­ment of our stake­hold­ers, and a thor­ough re­view of our depart­ment. The process must in­clude an in­ten­tional re­view to eval­u­ate how we got here — how we got to this place of search­ing for our third Di­rec­tor of Ath­let­ics in re­cent years, how we got to this place of not be­ing se­lected for post­sea­son bowl com­pe­ti­tion, how we got to this place of un­rest with our place­ment within the NCAA, how we got to this place of con­tin­ued un­cer­tainty with our fi­nan­cial sus­tain­abil­ity within the depart­ment — and to de­ter­mine what can be done to ad­dress these sys­temic chal­lenges.”

Mitchell was hired as Gil­bert’s No. 2 in Au­gust af­ter serv­ing as the se­nior as­so­ciate ath­letic di­rec­tor ex­ter­nal op­er­a­tions at Santa Clara Univer­sity in Cal­i­for­nia. He grew up in Mag­no­lia, Mis­sis­sippi, and at­tended Mill­saps Col­lege in Jack­son.

Also, Brian Mor­ri­son has been named the in­terim deputy di­rec­tor of ath­let­ics.

Ben­nett said that he plans to visit sev­eral cities to hear from USM stake­hold­ers about what have to say about the ath­letic depart­ment. He listed Hat­ties­burg, Gulf­port, Jack­son, Hous­ton, Nashville, Birm­ing­ham and Mo­bile to be among the likely lo­ca­tions. The dates of those vis­its have yet to be de­ter­mined.

PA­TRICK MAGEE Sun Her­ald file

In Jan­uary 2017, South­ern Miss pres­i­dent Rod­ney Ben­nett, left, ac­com­pa­nies Jon Gil­bert, who was be­ing in­tro­duced then as ath­letic di­rec­tor. Gil­bert stepped down Sun­day, and Ben­nett has laid out his plan to find Gil­bert’s re­place­ment.

Jeff Mitchell

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