Southern Miss

Report: Southern Miss AD advised coach against hiring Art Briles before interview

Southern Miss interim athletic director Jeff Mitchell advised USM football coach Jay Hopson to not consider hiring Art Briles as his offensive coordinator prior to Hopson conducting an interview with the former Baylor head coach, a report by Stadium shows.

On Feb. 2, there was an email from Mitchell to Hopson where the interim AD explained why he could not support the hiring of Briles, according to the Stadium report.

Mitchell starts the email by acknowledging an in-person meeting between Mitchell and Hopson on the topic that took place the previous day.

“I want us to communicate openly and honestly even when we disagree,” Mitchell wrote. “Regarding the prospect of hiring Coach Briles as OC, I can’t get to a place to support it. The simple fact that he’s the subject of a current NCAA investigation and that we’re still on probation from our basketball infractions years ago leads me to firm conviction about this matter. This is the right thing to do, and it is in the best interests of the University. Please go in another direction for your OC hire. I will, of course, be glad to discuss more.”

On the morning of Feb. 4, Briles arrived on USM’s Hattiesburg campus to interview with Hopson.

The email was one of 80 obtained by Stadium that show fans and boosters sending emails to USM administration expressing both support for Briles and concern over the fact that Hopson was considering hiring him as offensive coordinator.

Baylor fired Briles in May of 2016 after the university commissioned a third-party law firm to investigate the school’s handling of misconduct within the athletic department, including allegations of violence against women. The investigation found that Baylor football coaches failed to report complaints against players.

There is an ongoing NCAA investigation into the conduct of the Baylor athletic department during Briles’ time there. The school has settled five Title IX lawsuits over allegations from former students.

On Feb. 6, Mitchell and Bennett released a joint statement that said that Briles was informed that he would not be joining the Southern Miss football staff.

Shortly after the release of the joint statement, Hopson sent out one of his own that expressed his disappointment in USM president Rodney Bennett’s decision.

“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.”

After USM administration indicated there would be no further statement on the Briles situation in its Feb. 6 statement, Bennett released a statement on Feb. 11 that indicated his support for Hopson after the two men met several times the week prior.

“Coach Hopson assured me of his commitment to overseeing a program that upholds the values of The University of Southern Mississippi,” Bennett said in his statement. “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.

Bennett said in his statement that Hopson informed him of his plans to interview Briles.

“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,” the statement said. “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.

“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.