Jay Hopson has proven that he can win as a head coach at the FCS level at Alcorn State and now we'll find out if he can produce a consistent winner on the FBS level at Southern Miss.
Hopson seems a good fit at USM, but there are several areas to keep an eye on going forward as the Vicksburg native pieces together his program in Hattiesburg.
Here are five keys to Hopson succeeding at USM:
1. Hire the right staff: Ellis Johnson lasted only one season at USM largely due to putting together a poorly conceived staff all the way from the strength coach up to his offensive coordinator. Hopson likely had the best staff in the SWAC at Alcorn so that's an encouraging sign. Hopson's first two moves of retaining offensive coordinator John Wozniak and secondary coach Lytrel Pollard are a good start.
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2. Keep the offense moving: Replicating the offensive success that USM saw late under Todd Monken and Larry Fedora will be hard to achieve, but fans won't be happy unless the Golden Eagles can consistently put the ball in the end zone. The Eagles won't have a problem doing that in 2016 with Nick Mullens behind center. The real test starts in 2017.
3. Improve on defense: Fedora and Monken were both offense-first coaches. Hopson has a strong background on the defensive side of the ball and he will likely set a higher standard there. If USM can keep rolling on offense and improve on defense, it will be playing for conference titles.
4. Connect with fans: After Jeff Bower was forced out in 2007, USM fans eventually grew to embrace Fedora and Monken as head coach. That infatuation didn't last long, however, as Fedora left after four years to North Carolina and Monken made the leap to the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after three seasons. Hopson has signed a contract that appears to have him locked in for at least the next three years with a $2 million buyout and there's no reason to believe he's not in it for the long run. Hopson is saying all the right things early on, possibly energizing a group of fans that have become disenchanted with a lack of stability in the program.
5 Recruit the right players: This may be where Hopson is the best fit at USM. He knows what type of athletes succeed at USM and he has a great deal of credibility with high school coaches in the state.