Southern Miss

Southern Miss administration, head coach at odds over decision to not hire Art Briles

Southern Miss officials have decided that it’s not worth taking a chance on former Baylor football coach Art Briles and USM head coach Jay Hopson is not happy about it.

USM put out a statement Wednesday morning saying that Briles has been informed that he is not a candidate to join the staff.

Briles interviewed with Hopson in Hattiesburg on Monday morning for a chance to become the team’s offensive coordinator.

Hopson released a statement Wednesday that says that it was the decision of USM president Rodney Bennett to not hire Briles, who was fired by Baylor in 2016 amid a probe into allegations of sexual assault by his players.

“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.”

Hopson was approached by the Sun Herald during a signing day event in Hattiesburg on Monday morning, but he said he preferred to speak only about his new signees.

However, Hopson added that he stands behind his response to the Briles decision.

“I believe it with all my heart,” the fourth-year head coach said. “I thought he was a heck of an offensive coordinator. I’ve defended a lot of offensive coordinators in my lifetime. And guess what, he was the best.”

A Wednesday morning report by indicated that Hopson failed to inform USM administration of his decision to interview Briles before it took place on Monday. The report says that Hopson and only football staffers arranged the interview.

Hopson declined to comment when he was asked about the report.

Interim USM athletic director Jeff Mitchell issued another statement Wednesday afternoon that did not address Hopson’s response.

“We stand by the earlier statement that Rodney Bennett and I released,” Mitchell said in the statement. “As today is national signing day, we celebrate the young men who are joining the football program. We look forward to them developing as student-athletes at the University of Southern Mississippi.”

An independent investigation found that football staff members who worked under Briles at Baylor failed to report allegations of sexual violence to the proper authorities.

Other findings in the report include:

When Baylor dismissed players for unspecified violations, the coaches helped those players transfer to other schools and created “dangerous environments” elsewhere.

The football staff worked hard to handle disciplinary matters within the program to “actively divert cases from the student conduct or criminal processes” in violation of Title IX rules.

The program did not do background checks or request records on any disciplinary actions for transfers from their previous school.

The NCAA conducted its own investigation and submitted a formal notice of allegations to Baylor in October, according a report by the Forth Worth Star-Telegram. The report says that Briles is among those who committed NCAA infractions.

However, former Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw told last week that he believes Briles will be “largely exonerated” and will be given a chance to again be a head coach.

In 2003, Houston hired Briles as its head coach and he instantly installed one of the nation’s most prolific offenses. The Cougars were 34-28 under his direction and made four bowl games.

Baylor hired Briles in 2008 and had a pair of 4-win campaigns before running off six consecutive winning seasons. His last five years at the Waco, Texas, school featured four seasons of at least 10 wins and two Big 12 championships.

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Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.