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Released August 19, 2003

NEW OFFENSIVE LINE COACH 'HUNGRY'
FOR GOLDEN EAGLE SUCCESS

By Christopher Mapp

HATTIESBURG - Unlike the TV villain who shares his nickname, Mitch Rodrigue gets tons of respect from the cast of characters he coaches.

"We call him Boss Hog," says Jim Hicks, center for The University of Southern Mississippi football team.

Is it because the Golden Eagles' offensive line coach likes to scarf down barbeque ribs like the rascally raconteur on the old show "Dukes of Hazzard?"

No, says Hicks, smiling: "We're the hogs, and he's the boss."

Welcome to life on the trough. That's where Rodrigue finds himself after three seasons spent working with tight ends, some of whom look positively svelte next to their beefy counterparts on the front line.

For Rodrigue, who's played and coached offensive line most of his career, the move is a perfect fit. In fact - to continue the metaphor - he's happier than, well, a pig in slop.

"This is where I'm most at home," says Rodrigue, 38, who in addition to tight ends also coached running backs at Southern Miss in 1999.

The "O-Line" is where Rodrigue is most accustomed, and after losing three seniors to last year's NFL draft - Torrin Tucker, Jeremy Bridges and Jason Jiminez - it's where he's going to have the biggest challenge. Perhaps better than anyone, Rodrigue knows all the offensive firepower in the world won't amount to much if the backfield is getting hammered.

"The play of the offensive line is critical to our success," Rodrigue says. "The quarterback - no matter how good he is - can't complete a pass if we're not blocking for him."

Southern Miss might not have the experience at offensive line right now, but Rodrique says it has the talent. And every day on the practice field, in the weight room and in his office, he's instilling in them the same attitude with which he played at Nicholls State. There he helped the Colonels win the 1984 Gulf Star Conference title and reach the second round of the Division 1-AA playoffs in 1986.

A self-described "emotional coach" on the field, Rodrigue says: "You can't coach this position and not get real enthusiastic about their success. Other positions can kind of lie back and wait, but the offensive line needs to be hands-on."

Married to wife, Deidi, and the father of three children - Maci, Madden (not named after the famous football coach, he insists) and Mallori - Rodrigue is currently in his second stint at Southern Miss. His first was between 1989-90, when he served as a graduate assistant under former head coach Curley Hallman. From there, Rodrigue went back to his alma mater, where he coached for several seasons, helping the Colonels develop the top passing game in the Southland Conference. An all-district performer out of Thibodaux High School in Louisiana, he played one season at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Hicks says, "The fact that he's been there before and done it makes it easy to trust him. It's hard to be a believer in someone's system if they've never been there before."

Developing new talent isn't the only challenge - Rodrigue is also teaching a new system. Gone are the terms, the plays and even the snap count from last season. However, Rodrigue thinks that can be used to his advantage because teaching "old hogs" new tricks is never easy.

"Any time there is a change of coaches, it's a tough transition, especially on the offensive line. But it can be a plus with a bunch of new guys because they aren't having to relearn any new terminology," Rodrigue says.

When he first came to Southern Miss in 1999 as running backs coach, Rodrigue tasted success early. That year the Golden Eagles won the Liberty Bowl, which features Conference USA's champion. It's also the last time they won it, and Rodrigue is hungry again.

"I came in with a lot of the freshmen who are seniors this year, like Rod Davis, and I feel like we're on a mission together. We've got a real good shot at success because this team has so much chemistry, and that's crucial if you're going to reach such high goals," he says.

This December, the Boss would love nothing more than to take his Hogs back to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl. After all, it's the town that made barbeque ribs famous.

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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM

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