HATTIESBURG -- Coach Todd Monken, who turned the Southern Miss football program from the depths of college football into a winning team, resigned Sunday afternoon to become the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Monken, who took a Golden Eagles team that went 0-12 the year before he became head coach and three years later won the Conference USA West Division championship and went to a bowl, will be reunited at Tampa Bay with head coach Dirk Koetter. Monken was receivers coach in 2007-09 at Jacksonville when Koetter was the Jaguars' offensive coordinator.
"(Monken's wife) Terri, (son) Travis and I were very happy in Hattiesburg and weren't looking to leave, but a unique opportunity came our way, the opportunity to serve as an NFL offensive coordinator alongside Dirk
Koetter of the Tampa Bay Buccanneers," the emotional Monken said. "I've known Dirk for about 10 years and have the utmost respect for him as a coach and a man. After much reflection, we decided this was a position we couldn't pass up.
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"This has probably been the most difficult decision I've had to make in my career. But I'm at peace. It's the right decision for me and my family.
"(USM and Tampa Bay are) two great places. I can't be two places at once."
Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis said a small search committee has been formed and intends to have a new head coach "before next weekend."
The new coach will be the fourth head coach at USM in the past six years. Larry Fedora's final season was in 2011, Ellis Johnson went 0-12 in 2012 before being fired, and Monken came in 2013.
Monken's first team went 1-11 and his second was 3-9. But in 2015, as his players matured and with about 20 transfers from junior college or other four-year teams, the Golden Eagles finished the regular season with a 9-3 overall record and a 7-1 mark in Conference USA, good enough to win the West Division championship.
Southern Miss lost to Western Kentucky in the C-USA title game and fell to Washington in the Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl to finish 9-5.
Monken had no trouble pointing out what gave him the most pride at USM.
"It's about the players sticking with it, the players who stayed during incredibly difficult times," he said. "I'm proud of the guys that stuck through it and saw the fruits of their labor."
That accomplishment was not lost on McGillis, who said he was "disappointed" in Monken's departure but glad he was at Southern Miss.
"I want to thank him for pouring his heart and soul into our program," McGillis said. "Every day he's been on a mission to get it done and he's got it done. Just an amazing job, he has put us in a great position going forward.
"When you take on an opportunity, you want to leave it better than you found it. There's no doubt that's the case with Todd, so I'm grateful for the job he's done and the way he's put this back together."
Koetter was named the Bucs' head coach earlier this month after Lovie Smith was fired. He got in touch with Monken and asked him to join the Tampa Bay staff.
"It wasn't something that happened weeks ago," Monken said. "This came together over the weekend and just earlier today that we finalized it."
Monken called a Southern Miss team meeting for mid-afternoon Sunday and told his players.
"The guys were quiet, attentive, probably a little bit somber, and embraced coach on their way out of the room one by one," McGillis said.
After the meeting, players left the Duff Athletic Center, hanging around around outside and talking to each other.
"He did a lot for this program," senior quarterback Nick Mullens said. "He recruited me, he developed me, he made me the quarterback I am today. He made Southern Miss come back. He was the leader. He deserves all the credit for that."
Mullens said the atmosphere at Sunday's team meeting was unusual.
"I've never really experienced anything like that before," he said. "Guys were obviously down. It was kind of unexpected."
Mullens said he learned one big thing from Monken, who was named the Conference USA Coach of the Year this past season.
"Hard work pays off," he said.