HATTIESBURG -- When Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis sat down with Jay Hopson for his first interview, it was clear that the Alcorn State head coach wanted to be the Golden Eagles' head coach.
McGillis and Hopson ended up talking three times during the abbreviated search to find Todd Monken's replacement and each talk further revealed Hopson's desire to be the USM head coach.
McGillis described the brief search as intense, but Hopson was a top candidate from the start.
"It's interesting that it kind of started with Jay and it circled back and ended with Jay," McGillis said. "The timing was so unusual. Searches are often intense. I would say this one was extra intense."
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When McGillis offered Hopson the job in a meeting at the Vicksburg Municipal Airport on Saturday, the second-year athletic director described it as "one of the better negotiations I've ever had."
"I'm like, 'Here's the deal, Jay,'" McGillis said. "I slid it across the table. I'm getting back on the airplane in about half an hour. If you need to call somebody, feel free, but I need your autograph and then I'm going to jump on that plane."
The deal that McGillis offered was a four-year contract that pays him an annual salary of $500,000 a year. If Hopson leaves for another job in the first three years of his contract, Southern Miss will be owed a large buyout of $2 million.
If Hopson leaves in the final year of his contract, USM will be owed $500,000.
"I asked him if he wanted to be my head football coach. He said he did," McGillis said. "I shared the document with him."
The answer from Hopson, 47, was reassuring to McGillis that he had a man committed to being the USM football coach for "years to come."
"He plans on coaching at Southern Miss for the rest of his career," McGillis said. "Hopefully, he will. He didn't hesitate for a second with what was almost an unprecedented buyout."
"Jay didn't bat an eye. He didn't say, 'Bill, could it be 1.5 or 1.0 or half a million?' He was comfortable with it. He called his agent while I was sitting at the table."
USM forwarded the contract to Hopson's agent, Mike Brown.
"It's a very fair contact," McGillis said. "It's right for him, right for us."
McGillis pointed to some incentives that had not been included in Monken's contract, which paid him a base salary of $700,000.
A victory over a school from a Power 5 conference will earn Hopson $15,000. Each week that USM is ranked in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff, Hopson will receive $10,000.
"We've got a solid base salary at $500,000 with a lot of upside based on performance incentives," McGillis said.
Hopson was paid $150,000 a year in his initial contract at Alcorn State, but was later awarded an extension and an unspecified raise.
"I wanted to get creative with compensation for great performance, not good performance," McGillis said. "That's why we structured the contract the way it is."
The timing was difficult and it was tough Hopson to leave behind an Alcorn State program that he rebuilt into a winner, but the opportunity at USM wasn't an offer he could turn down.
"It's always tough, but I've been in two unique situations," Hopson said. "The first situation was four years ago when I inherited (the Alcorn State team) in July. We started practice on Aug. 4 and had our first game Sept. 1.
"Coming in three days before signing day is tough, but one thing we have great in place is we only have 11 commitments. I'm excited about all of them and I'm looking forward to those young men being a part of the program. It's quick. It's hard, but it's not unbearable."