With our coaching staff apparently giving up, it is now time. I said I would hold off until it was mathematically impossible for us to make a bowl game, and with our impending beatdown at the hands of Clemson, I feel pretty safe on this one.
I will repeat TVPack's refrain from the basketball search with some edits:
"I'm here to ask the important questions about various possible successors to TOB whose names are getting tossed about. The goal here is to do a superficially thorough review of a series of candidates. I only guarantee that it is more homework than Lee Fowler did in 2006. And by more homework, I mean hopefully not settling on the only BCS-level coach who showed serious interest in our job because he was about to get canned from his current job."
First in an occasional series, for football, today we focus on Larry Fedora, the head coach at Southern Mississippi. Fedora is 49 years old, a native of College Station, Texas, and known for his fast-paced offenses both at USM and Oklahoma State. Fedora is in his fourth year in Hattiesburg, with a 30-18 (18-11) record through this week and has the Eagles at the top of the Conference USA and in the top 25.
Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:
1. Has he coached teams that have won a conference title, made multiple bowl games, and/or consistently been highly ranked?
Sorta. The Eagles have had four straight winning seasons, going to three straight bowl games with a 1-2 record in those games. While those bowls have been less-than-impressive (two trips to the New Orleans Bowl and one trip to the Beef O'Brady's Bowl) the Eagles have been winning and building positive momentum. They have a great shot at winning the C-USA title this year and of getting to the Liberty Bowl as they sit atop the C-USA East standings.
2. Has he built a program from the ground up?
No. Long-time USM coach Jeff Bower posted a 119-83-1 (63-24) record at USM from1990 to 2007 before he was let go. Bower took the Eagles to 11 bowl games in his 17 seasons, including 6 straight bowls from 2001 to 2007 and won four C-USA titles. Bower posted winning records in every season but '91 and '93. So Fedora has, so far, mostly mirrored that success and looks to break through this year sitting at 8-1 with the chance at USM's first C-USA title since 2003.
3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?
As noted above, he has mostly mirrored the last few years that Bower had at USM. However, sitting at 8-1 (4-1) and ranked in the Top 25, this appears to be his breakout season.
4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?
Nope, this is Fedora's first HC job.
5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?
Yes. Fedora was the OC at Oklahoma State from 2005-2007, at Florida from 2002-2005, and WR/TE/RB coach at Baylor from 1991-1996. He also served as an assistant at Air Force and at MTSU between his stints at Baylor and Florida. It was Fedora's high-powered offense under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State that earned him the USM job.
6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?
Yes. Currently first in C-USA East and the most likely from that division to go to the C-USA title game.
7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?
Somewhat. Opponents this year are averaging only 19.7 points per game, and only 343 yards per game, which is good enough for 32nd in FBS. Fedora's D is not necessarily great at turning the ball over on D (only 16 turnovers all year) but they are great at red zone D with opponents only scoring 69% of the time and 7 of the 22 scores were FGs. This is good enough for 8th in the nation. The Eagles give up 35% of all third downs, which is also in the 30-range nationally. The D is also giving up only 4.7 yards per play, so that is pretty good (we are giving up 5.5 yards per play this year).
USM's DC is Dan Disch, who installed a 4-2-5 defense this season at USM which appears to have improved their D over the past few years under Fedora. Disch served at Illinois under Ron Zook which has had pretty good defense while in Champaign. Disch coached just about every position at Illinois.
This is by far the best D that USM has had since Fedora has been in at the helm.
8. Any indication that he can recruit ACC-level (or above) talent?
As an assistant? Absolutely. Look no further than the talent on Oklahoma State's offense to see the fruits of Fedora's labors when he was in Stillwater. Also, look at the talent on the team at USM this year, which has been good enough to get into the Top 25. Also, look at the talent that he recruited as OC at Florida, that talent that Urban Meyer would go on to win multiple titles with.
As far as rankings go (for what they are worth) USM has been in that 60-80 range that would you would expect from a Conference USA program. Fedora has made good use of his connections made at Oklahoma State and Florida to recruit well in the Southeast and Southwest.
9. Does his offense run more than five plays?
Uh, absolutely. USM's offense is dynamic, using multiple formations, and mixing the run and pass well. The Eagles are averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game and around 240 through the air. The Eagles are in the Top 25 in yards per game and average about 6 yards per play which is pretty good. The offense also punches it in when it matters, scoring on 91% of all possessions when they get inside the red zone and 22 of those 31 scores were TDs. The Eagles also convert on about 46% of third downs, which is good enough for 35th in the nation.
Southern Miss was held to less than 20 points in their first two games (a win over Louisiana Tech and a loss to Marshall) but haven't scored less than 27 points in a game since then and haven't lost either. While these numbers on offense has been a pretty standard things for USM under Fedora, this year's offense is clearly the most efficient during his time at USM. The only somewhat troubling statistic is 19 turnovers (93rd in the nation) with 8 picks and 11 fumbles. Not taking great care of the ball but it isn't hurting them too much.
10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?
Not that I can tell. Most of his experience has been west of the Mississippi other than at USM, Florida, and MTSU.
11. Any other random red flags or positives?
Not that I can find.
Would he be better than TOB?
Maybe. TOB had a somewhat similar record at BC to what Fedora has done at USM so far. Fedora has yet to break through yet or win a title. Winning one this year at CUSA would go a long way to pushing me in the direction of "yes".
Would he be better than Chuck?
Most likely. Chuck lived largely off of Philip Rivers and great defenses. It seems that while Fedora had the offenses to get them to winning records, that has not dropped off while he has brought his defense along. I think he would have a pretty good chance at it and he has the high-major assistant experience that Chuck had too so recruiting isn't as much of a concern.
Would he take the job if offered?
I would hope so but I don't know. Fedora makes $800,000 at USM (probably with some incentives) so I feel like we could offer him the money to get there. But it will be us against some other BCS level jobs if we make a run at Fedora and it could be dicey. This is especially true if a job opens in the Big XII or SEC is that is attractive. However, I cannot think of any Big XII job that is more attractive than ours that will open, and the only SEC job likely to open is Ole Miss, which is a pretty tough job. So if it is us against another ACC school, or Big East, and he is ready to make the move, you have to like our chances. I'd say a little better than 50%.
How would I feel if he were hired?
Ecstatic. He is dynamic, has a great offensive mind, has shown willingness has a HC to make changes to improve things (see his new Co-DC Disch). He has gotten a lot out of the talent he has and his program is showing signs of improvement after four years. He has recruiting ties across the SE. I think this would be as close to a great hire as we are probably going to get this time around.
How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?
First reaction might be "who?". But if USM keeps winning and wins a CUSA title, then he might have some name recognition. It would be hard not to be excited about hiring a successful non-BCS HC that has a dynamic offense which we have lacked this year so far, and for large stretches of the TOB and later Chuck years.