Southern Miss

Southern Miss has a new athletic director and he’s ‘thrilled to be coming home’

Southern Miss has landed a rising star in athletic administration as its new athletic director, and he’s a familiar face to Golden Eagle fans.

USM president Rodney Bennett announced in a Thursday statement that he has chosen Troy athletic director Jeremy McClain to fill the same role for the Golden Eagles.

Bennett plans to introduce McClain as athletic director in an event at 5:30 p.m. on Monday in the Trent Lott National Center on the USM campus in Hattiesburg.

McClain served as the deputy director of athletics at Southern Miss for three years before being hired to take over the Troy athletic department in September of 2015. He was the athletic director at Delta State for five years prior to his arrival at USM.

McClain’s hiring is pending College Board approval, but that should be a simple formality. He is expected to start his new job at USM no later than July 1.

McClain replaces Jon Gilbert, who was hired in December as the athletic director at East Carolina.

Bennett’s statement described the process that led to the hiring of McClain, which began with a series of listening sessions with USM boosters and alumni.

“Following those sessions, it was clear to me that the ideal candidate would be key to ensuring the success of student-athletes in the classroom and in competition; the ideal candidate would be familiar with how the University of Southern Mississippi operates; the ideal candidate would possess a deep understanding of higher education in Mississippi; the ideal candidate would have senior-level administrative experience; the ideal candidate would have an understanding of, and commitment to, growing the financial sustainability of the department; and the ideal candidate’s tenure would be of a length that leaves a lasting and positive effect on Southern Miss Athletics,” Bennett said in the statement. “Jeremy McClain is uniquely qualified to lead our Department of Athletics to the successes we all envision. We know Jeremy. Jeremy knows us. Jeremy McClain is a “Southern Miss guy,” who shares the values and ambitions of the University of Southern Mississippi.”

The move should be a mostly popular one for the USM fan base. McClain was mentioned by many fans as a favored candidate to become school’s new athletic director when Gilbert left in December.

“As we look forward, we are thrilled to be coming home to Southern Miss,” McClain said in a statement. “We all have great memories of Hattiesburg and the great people of the Pine Belt. I want to thank Dr. Bennett for the opportunity to lead the athletic department and in turn make a difference for the institution. I look forward to hitting the ground running soon and getting to work helping our student-athletes, coaches, and staff take this program to new heights.”

During McClain’s 3 1/2 years on the job at Troy, the Trojans experienced a resurgence on the field and in the fund-raising area.

He oversaw the construction of a $24 million north end zone football facility that included a new locker room, training facilities and meeting rooms. The stadium addition also included 402 club seats.

The Troy football program reached a new level of success on the FBS level, winning at least 10 games the last three years under Neal Brown, who was hired in January as the new West Virginia coach.

A week after Brown left for WVU, McClain hired former Auburn and USM offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to take over the football program.

“My family and I want to thank the Troy community for their amazing support and love over the past four years,” McClain said in a statement. “We are thankful to so many for making our time here so special. I need to especially thank, (Troy president Jack Hawkins), the Board of Trustees, and our athletic staff for their support of, and commitment to, my family and Troy Athletics. Their ability to come together and pursue a common goal has helped this athletic department raise the bar forever. We will miss you all, and Troy will forever be a part of us.”

McClain, who is a native of Houlka, Mississippi, should get a bump in pay with the move to USM. His base pay was $210,000 when he was hired by Troy in 2015. Gilbert made $350,000 at USM.

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.