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View from the 'ville
Thursday, November 29, 2007

By Al Myatt

USM didn't learn from ECU's mistake

By Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

It's surprising that this week's column is a commentary on Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower. Make that former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower.

Former is actually the condition of Bower's job status that makes the situation surprising. Bower is coming off a 7-5 season in which his team received a bid to the Bowl. The Golden Eagles will play former Conference USA foe Cincinnati in Birmingham after going 5-3 in league play.

Southern Miss's record — overall and in the league — and its bowl destination is identical to East Carolina's last season when the Pirate Nation was signing the praises of Skip Holtz's rebuilding efforts.

USM's 2007 performance was accomplished with starting quarterback Jeremy Young out for four games.

The Golden Eagles' fan base and powers that be obviously had higher expectations after its program was picked to win C-USA in 2007. USM may be headed down that road to destruction that ECU traveled in 2002 when Steve Logan was forced out after going 4-8.

Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini reportedly said that he didn't try to talk Bower out of resigning when he met with the man who had guided the program for the past 17 seasons and produced a 119-82-1 record that included four C-USA championships.

Bower was a Southern Miss player and assistant coach before leading the program. Now that continuity is out the window in Hattiesburg.

What has Bower done for the program lately? Well, this will be the sixth straight bowl appearance for the Golden Eagles and tenth in the last 11 seasons. USM has won its last three bowl games and was the only C-USA bowl team to win its postseason encounter last season.

Southern Miss is guaranteed its 14th straight winning season under Bower, who will coach the bowl game in Birmingham while his replacement is sought. In 12 seasons in C-USA, the Golden Eagles have never had a losing record in the league.

His record was unmatched in C-USA and apparently unappreciated at his alma mater.

If anybody should be happy to see Bower go, it would be the Pirates. Bower represented an embodiment of domination against ECU — especially in Greenville, where his teams lost just once, back in 1994. His teams had won their last seven trips to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium. Not even Virginia Tech or West Virginia can match that record on the road against the Pirates.

Overall, Bower's teams were 12-5 against ECU.

Indeed, USM's loss may be ECU's gain in terms of the competitive balance of the series in the future.

His peers know that Bower is a quality coach. His program has had a motto of playing anybody, anywhere, anytime. Those dates have not been made with state schools Ole Miss and Mississippi State of late. Giannini expressed concern that only 17,707 showed up for the regular season finale at home when the drawing card was Arkansas State.

The Golden Eagles play an Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia Tech or Penn State on the road practically every season. Bower's compensation package was considerably less than his production level when compared to his fellow coaches.

According to the Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger, Bower, 54, will be paid about $500,000 ($275,000 base salary, plus incentives) through December, and then receive a $400,000 buyout — $275,000 in the next 60 days and $125,000 spread over the next two years.

Bower's base salary is lower than Holtz's.

There are 15 former Southern Miss players developed by Bower playing in the NFL, including Green Bay Packer quarterback Brett Favre.

Only three of his peers had coached at their present institutions longer — Penn State's Joe Paterno, Florida State's Bobby Bowden and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer.

"Jeff Bower has established real credibility at Southern Miss, and you don't do that overnight," Beamer said. "Year-in and year-out, they play great football and they win. To me, that's a real tribute to Jeff Bower. Anytime you're getting ready to play a Jeff Bower-prepared team, you had better strap on your chin strap tight, because there is a get-after-it session getting ready to start."

Paterno obviously developed a sense of respect for his counterpart at Southern Miss as well.

“His loyalty impresses me the most," said the Penn State coach, prior to Bower's resignation. "I know Jeff has had a couple of opportunities to leave and go other places, but that is his home. His commitment to Southern Mississippi is something that obviously I admire — having my background and my feelings of what college coaches should do.

"Also, he is just a heck of a coach. He is smart and is as sharp as can be, and his football teams play well for him. He is just a great guy. I always look forward to seeing him, but I do not look forward to playing against his teams. They do such a good job on defense and special teams. You have to be very, very precise against them. You can't be careless with them, because they will beat you up.

"They do so many things, and they move around real well. You look at them and you think they will make mistakes, but they don't. They run so well, and they are really tough.”

Bower may well find employment soon as the dominoes fall with head coaching positions in college football. Here in the area, Duke could do — and has done, for that matter — a lot worse than hire Bower. Giannini, incidentally, is a former sports information director at Duke.

For the Golden Eagles, their John Thompson may await. If Giannini doesn't deliver a successor that delivers better results, then he should be held accountable. Bower's performance at his alma mater will be difficult to surpass, especially in terms of sustained success.

Southern Miss may not realize how good they've had it until the next guy falls short. That's what happened at ECU. Logan, of course, is offensive coordinator at Boston College and is preparing to play Virginia Tech for the ACC championship. He enhanced his resume in NFL Europe before joining his former Pirate assistant, Jeff Jagodzinski, at BC.

There may be more to the Bower situation than meets the eye. Bower didn't insult Giannini's ancestry at an alumni function as far as I know. Strictly based on the numbers from this vantage point, Southern Miss has made a mistake.

"We want to take this opportunity to thank Jeff for his loyalty to the University of Southern Mississippi and for his coaching achievements over the last 17 years," Giannini said in a USM release. "We really wish him the best in the future and I know he will go down in University of Southern Mississippi athletic history as one of our most outstanding coaches. I am pleased Jeff will coach the team at the bowl.

"I hope that our fans will come out and support our team and Coach Bower when they play Cincinnati in Birmingham."

Cincinnati is ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press and comes into the postseason with a 9-3 record.

"I told our team when I spoke to them the other day the best gift they could give Coach Bower was a victory over a Big East team and former C-USA member," Giannini said.

At least the Southern Miss AD got that much right.

Send an e-mail message to Al Myatt.

Dig into Al Myatt's Bonesville archives.

11/29/2007 07:39:40 PM


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