Just when Southern Miss fans began feeling somewhat content, a little unease crept in before the end of 2016.
On Saturday, the USM football team finished an up-and-down season on a bright note with a 28-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the New Orleans Bowl to finish with a record of 7-6.
As former USM head coach Jeff Bower pointed out earlier this week, “It's a lot better to be 7-6 than 6-7.”
That bit of good news was overshadowed this week by the Monday announcement that athletic director Bill McGillis is stepping down in January to take on a similar position at the University of San Diego.
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McGillis brought stability to a USM athletic department that was dealing with plenty of drama following the retirement of Richard Giannini as athletic director in 2011. McGillis' tenure was not always easy sailing, but many of the problems were inherited from previous administrations.
He didn't hire Donnie Tyndall as the men's basketball coach and Doc Sadler didn't know what he was walking into when McGillis hired him as Tyndall's replacement in 2014.
Sadler is in one of the worst situations in Division I basketball at the moment due to NCAA sanctions implemented for rules violations committed under Tyndall from 2012-14.
USM is playing with just 10 scholarship players this season and that number is down to nine considering senior point guard Khari Price, the team's best player, is still sitting out following offseason knee surgery. When sophomore center Tim Rowe missed the Jackson State and Florida State games, USM was limited to eight scholarship players.
Sadler has yet to play with a full deck at USM and he will have to work his way around a three-scholarship reduction over the next two seasons.
While USM president Rodney Bennett will be quizzing AD candidates over the next few weeks, the interviewees will have their own questions and most of them will deal with the men's basketball program.
McGillis proposed a $40 million renovation of Reed Green Coliseum in 2015, but that appears to be a long way from becoming a reality.
Finding the money
The coliseum project may seem like a moonshot for whoever takes on the AD role at USM, but it has to be addressed. USM can't expect to consistently compete in an antiquated facility that looks like it's stuck in 1976.
As much as USM fans would like to think the next athletic director will have much impact on conference affiliation, he or she won't. The school is still at the mercy of realignment elsewhere.
All you can do is win on the field and hope for the best.
Where the next AD can make the biggest impact is in the fundraising realm. There's still plenty of room to make up in terms of Eagle Club donations and money needed for projects like the coliseum.
In an era when big TV contracts are driving college athletics, Conference USA programs are receiving a small pittance in TV cash compared other conferences.
There will be in-house candidates who understand the challenge ahead like associate athletic directors Daniel Feig and Kent Hegenauer, but there will be plenty others pursuing the job.
A fresh set of eyes may be what's needed.