Southern Miss

Southern Miss president issues statement on football coach after Art Briles controversy

Following a tumultuous week for Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson, USM president Rodney Bennett released a statement on Monday that expressed support for the fourth-year head coach.

This comes after Bennett and Hopson appeared to be at odds last week after the president decided to rule against the hiring of Art Briles as the team’s offensive coordinator. Briles was fired as head coach at Baylor in 2016 as the result of an investigation into sexual assaults committed by some of his football players.

Hopson released a statement Wednesday that said he disagreed with Bennett’s decision and described Briles “as a man who does love the Lord and deserves a second chance.”

Bennett said in his Monday statement that he and Hopson spoke on multiple occasions last week and that the two had a meeting over the weekend to discuss the future of the football program.

“Coach Hopson assured me of his commitment to overseeing a program that upholds the values of The University of Southern Mississippi,” the statement reads. “I know Coach Hopson to be a man of high ethics and integrity, and I assured him of the University’s dedication to continuing a winning tradition.”

Hopson’s decision to interview Briles brought increased national scrutiny into the USM coach’s previous decisions to give second chances to athletes who have trouble pasts. This includes The Athletic’s Thursday report about USM’s recruiting efforts to bring in Charles West, a junior college running back from Texas who was previously accused of raping two women at knife-point in 2015.

West and prosecutors eventually agreed to plea deals that allowed him to enter probation that won’t lead to a conviction as long as he avoids trouble for four years. The football player faces up to 20 years in prison if he violates terms of his probation.

West signed a grant-in-aid with USM, but was declined admission to the school after the discovery of his 2015 arrest by athletic department staff members, according to a USM spokesman.

The Athletic report said Hopson and his staff failed to inform athletic department officials of the previous allegations against West.

Hopson has yet to respond to a Sun Herald request for comment on The Athletic’s report.

Bennett appeared to address the matter in his statement.

“Our conversation included many topics, including the events of the past week,” Bennett said. “As a matter of practice, Coach Hopson seeks approval from and works in good faith with athletic administration on prospective student athletes who have special or unique circumstances for admission to the University, which is consistent with University protocol in student-athlete recruitment. Additionally, Coach Hopson notified the University of his desire to meet with Art Briles, which is his right to do so as a head football coach and is in line with normal University processes. After an intentional and thorough review of Mr. Briles, candidacy, I expressed my reservations, and ultimately that review led to the decision that Mr. Briles was not a viable candidate.”

A report by on Wednesday said that Hopson failed inform USM officials of his plan to interview Briles on Feb. 4.

Bennett wraps up his statement by expressing his interest in moving on from a difficult week in Hattiesburg.

“I consider the matter closed, and I am looking forward to working with Coach Hopson on our mutual priorities and shared goals for the Southern Miss football program and how it contributes to our vision for The University of Southern Mississippi.”

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.