It’s a college football season quite unlike any one previously seen.
Conference-only schedules. Fewer games. COVID-19 postponements.
There’s still a coaching carousel.
It’s spinning on a couple different levels – most notably at FBS resident University of Southern Mississippi and at FCS program and 2019 quarterfinalist Austin Peay, which already is deep into the interview process.
There’s also potential movement afoot in the lower levels of the NCAA football universe and the NAIA, as well.
At Southern Miss, the Golden Eagles basically have been on the coaching clock since Sept. 6, the Sunday morning three days after the team’s opening loss to South Alabama and when Jay Hopson’s departure from atop the program became evident with his absence from a coaching staff meeting that morning.
Offensive coordinator Scotty Walden was promoted to the interim head coaching post, and he’s a candidate to keep the job beyond the end of this season. Walden got his first win last Saturday when Southern Miss won at North Texas.
As of now, Southern Miss is not conducting this process via search firm. Athletics director Jeremy McClain has indicated to industry insiders the school does not plan to begin the in-depth portion of the search until November when the Eagles are scheduled to play their final four games against Western Kentucky, North Alabama, UTSA and UAB.
In addition to the 30-year-old Walden, some other names to monitor for the USM spot include Alabama running backs coach Charles Huff, Ole Miss’s Chris Partridge and former Golden Eagles staffer Buster Faulkner, who’s in an quality control position this season at Georgia. Former USM player Ty Nix also has remained a potential candidate.
Money remains a key factor in the process for Southern Miss, which has taken some financial hits in recent years and had Hopson as the lowest-paid head coach in Conference USA last season.
A pair of rising coaching star, Tulane OC Will Hall and Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding, “were of real interest” to USM early in the process, but USM’s monetary struggles and an uncertain coaching carousel – due to millions in lost revenues, shortened seasons and more variables equal more or less coaching moves – could leave many up-and-coming coaches standing pat.
If USM sweetens its financial package for the position, it could potentially elicit interest from former head coaches now serving in lesser roles in various programs; Mike MacIntyre, just a few years removed from Pac-12 Coach of the Year honors; former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones, new title this year of special assistant to Nick Saban; and even Hugh Freeze, who’s resuscitated his career with a strong one-plus season start at Liberty University all were mentioned this week to FootballScoop.com.
At the FCS level, where Austin Peay has posted its head coaching position online and started interviews earlier this week, the Governors need new leadership after the abrupt resignation in July of Mark Hudspeth and Marquase Lovings’ three-game run as interim coach for the program’s abbreviated fall schedule. Due to COVID-19 concerns, the Ohio Valley Conference shifted its 2020 schedule to a spring slate.
Per sources, Austin Peay has retained a search firm, believed to be Todd Turner’s Collegiate Sports Associates, for its hiring process. The school posted the head coaching job position online Oct. 2.
Names mentioned to FootballScoop linked to the AP job, in addition to Lovings, included Memphis’ Pete Lembo, Chattanooga’s Lorenzo Ward and Western Kentucky’s Clayton White. Two college coaches also said that Liberty’s Maurice Harris, who previously recruited Nashville and the Tennessee Midstate area, also was believed to be in the mix.
In other news, as everyone awaits to see just how much fallout permeates college athletics from the COVID-19 pandemic and its cratering of many school’s revenue streams, sources in athletics administration tell FootballScoop.com that longtime NCAA Division III member Emory & Henry College in Southwest Virginia has discussed moving UP from D-III to NCAA Division II residency and joining the South Atlantic Conference, where natural rivals such as Carson-Newman University, Catawba, Mars Hill and Tusculum, among others, already are residents. Emory & Henry leadership already has had multiple talks with NCAA D-II athletics directors to explore the potential move.
And more movement could trickle further down to those levels and beyond. Louisiana College has made plans to switch from NCAA D-III competition to the NAIA level effective July 1, 2021.
As one expert mentioned to a source, due to the expected COVID-19 fallout, “The NCAA may have to look to reconfigure Division II into a Private School Division and a Public School Division.” The thought there, as it was explained, is that the impending loss of revenues and budget cuts could be so severe as to create an even larger chasm between the haves and have-nots.