HATTIESBURG -- Jay Hopson became emotional Monday when he offered his first message of thanks at Southern Miss.
It was directed at the man who served as his boss during his total of six years as an assistant at USM, former head coach Jeff Bower.
"The standing ovation doesn't belong to me. It should belong to coach Bower," Hopson said. "I'll never be able to repay you not only for the things on the field, but the off the field lessons you gave me. It was an integral part of everything I did at Alcorn and who I am as a football coach. I love you and I appreciate everything."
Hopson, who spent the last four years as head coach at Alcorn State, was introduced to fans and media Monday at the Trent Lott Center as the 21st head football coach in the history of the Southern Miss football program.
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Hopson, who was hired on Saturday, talked Monday about his plans for the USM football program.
The one message that he repeated was his hope to build a "consistent winner" at USM much like Bower did in his 18 years at USM from 1990-2007.
"I promise to you that I'll do everything in my power to build a consistent winner, year in and year out," Hopson told the packed room.
Southern Miss had a string of 18 consecutive winning seasons come to an end in 2012, but Hopson takes over a program coming off a 9-5 campaign that included a C-USA West title and a bowl bid.
Hopson earned the USM job by rebuilding the Alcorn State program into a winner with a record of 32-17 and two SWAC championships.
Hopson, a Vicksburg native and Ole Miss graduate, signed a four-year contract that will pay him a base salary of $500,000. If Hopson leaves USM for another school at any point over the next 36 months of his contact, USM will be owed a large buyout of $2 million.
USM athletic director Bill McGillis, who hired a head coach than a week after Todd Monken stepped down on Jan. 24, touted Hopson's deep Mississippi ties.
"I think we've hired one of the great coaches in the country," McGillis said. "Most importantly, I think he's the right head coach for Southern Miss. I think he's the right match. We look forward to many, many years of success."
Hopson said that he wouldn't decide whether to retain the seven remaining holdovers from Monken's staff until Thursday, the day after National Signing Day.
USM defensive coordinator David Duggan, who also interviewed for the head coaching job, will be among the assistants he will talk with after the staff met as a whole with Hopson Sunday night.
"Coaching for 25 years, I've been in just about any situation you can go through," Hopson said. "I understand what they're going through, what their families are going through.
"I'll set up interviews. I'm a guy that looks at things in depth. I'm not just going to walk in and say here we go. I'm going to talk to the coaches and I'm going to do my due diligence, but I'm also going to talk to other coaches. What I like to say is I'm rehiring. I'm hiring. I'm not firing. I've got to hire nine full-time coaches to be on the field. I am going to be in the hiring phase, but I'm going to talk to a number of candidates."
Hopson will also be tasked with keeping together a group of 11 players who have verbally committed to sign with the Golden Eagles on on Wednesday. Six more signed with USM in December.
Hopson has been working on the new class of recruits since Sunday and he's done his best relay the right message.
"The biggest thing is talking to them about the university, who I am as football coach and what our philosophy is, what we're going to do," Hopson said. "I've talked to so many young men that are excited to be Golden Eagles. That's what we're excited about."