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Released August 29, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - There's no arguing the success of The University of Southern Mississippi's Jeff Bower, now in his 12th season as head coach at his alma mater.

In the more than a decade that he's guided the Golden Eagles' football fortunes, Bower has won 80 games and strung together nine straight winning seasons and several bowl appearances, along with three Conference USA championships.

But it's not just winning football games and conference championships that matter to Bower. Winning a positive future for his players as model citizens by being not only a coach, but also being a mentor and positive role model, is Bower's ultimate goal at Southern Miss.

One might think the kind of success Bower has had could come only through a "my way or the highway" approach to coaching, but his players will tell you differently. To them, the former Golden Eagles quarterback is a coach who cares about them as people and values their input in making the program successful.

"He's a player's coach," said Rod Davis of Gulfport, a senior linebacker for the Golden Eagles. "He's not one of these dictator types. He listens to our suggestions and he leads us by his passion for the game."

In Bower, Davis sees someone who doesn't just think about Davis as an All-American linebacker, but as Rod Davis, the person. "He cares for us on and off the field," he said.

Senior defensive back Etric Pruitt says Bower's coaching abilities give Pruitt the confidence and positive attitude he needs to be his best on the field. "He's one of the most inspiring leaders I've been around," Pruitt said. "He does things the right way."

That leadership has translated not only into winning seasons and bowl games, but an improved devotion to the preparation side of the game by Southern Miss players to make all that success possible. Bower says he's been pleased with the commitment of those who participated in the team's voluntary summer conditioning program this year. "They've been very dedicated," he said.

Just as dedicated, too, is Bower to his role as a counselor or parent figure to his players, and always as a positive role model. "It's important for coaches to know their players, know their personal side, and have a genuine concern for them as a person and a student," he said. "That's important."

Placing a high priority on adherence to team rules is important to Bower, not only for the sake of maintaining order and team discipline but also as a way to help his players develop as people.

"We all make mistakes, and that's part of the growing up process," he said. "But we have to teach our players to be accountable and responsible. I just don't think we see enough of that anymore in our society."

Former Southern Miss football player Joe Bryant, who is active in the Eagle Club and M-Club organizations, praised the job Bower has done, not only in terms of growth and success of the program, but also in his focus on teaching the values of good citizenship to his players. Both were teammates at Southern Miss in the early 1970s.

"I met him the first day he got here," said Bryant, who played offensive guard for the Golden Eagles. "He's always been driven and very dedicated - that's just his personality, and he realizes that the success of the football team is the success of these young men's futures."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM