November 28, 2014  

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University President Rodney Bennett's Statement on Southern Miss Athletics

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University of Southern Mississippi President Dr. Rodney Bennett announced today that Jeff Hammond's contract as athletic director would not be renewed beyond its expiration date of June 30.

Below is Dr. Bennett's statement regarding the decision.

Intercollegiate athletics has provided an outlet for students pursuing their degree requirements since its establishment.  It has also provided students with the opportunity to play their sport at the highest amateur levels while continuing their education.  There are more than 300 Division I athletics programs across the country, both public and private, and The University of Southern Mississippi is proud to be among that group.  Coaches at USM are among the finest and most dedicated of any program, and our student athletes continuously put in the time and effort to maximize their highest athletic ability while balancing academics.  As an institution, we are grateful for both.

The University of Southern Mississippi Athletics Department and its programs are at a critical juncture in determining our future within the current conference and with regard to future conference placement.  Many components, including facilities, budgets, private giving, student-athlete well-being, and placement within the NCAA  determine the success of athletics programs.  Division I athletics is a complex enterprise that requires one to establish and maintain relationships not only on campus or in the local community, but also throughout the NCAA system and beyond.

Our current athletics director, General Jeff Hammond, has served our country through his military career with honor and distinction.  I personally like General Hammond and respect him as a USM alum.

However, I have decided to not renew his contract beyond its ending date of June 30, 2013.  It is important to me to hire my own executive staff in certain high profile areas and assemble my own leadership team.  Nonetheless, there is a place for General Hammond in my administration, and I have extended an opportunity for him to continue to serve USM in other areas.  I am hopeful that he will accept my offer.  I want to thank General Hammond for his service to the athletics department and the university and for his efforts to lead our athletics program.

I believe that the selection of a new athletics director who has national leadership experience and reputation within NCAA athletics will best position us for the future.  To facilitate the selection of our new athletics director, I have secured the services of Bob Beaudine, President and CEO of Eastman & Beaudine, the premier athletics administrative search firm in the country.  I have also secured the services of Vince Dooley, former University of Georgia head football coach and 1980 NCAA National Championship winner, who served as former long-term University of Georgia athletics director and also coached Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker along with many other student athletes who went on to be successful in professional athletics.  Coach Dooley will review the athletics director job description and our current athletics program and advise me on his recommendations of how we can continue to position ourselves to be competitive in conference placement.  In working with Mr. Beaudine and Coach Dooley, my goal is to have a new athletics director selected and on the ground here in Hattiesburg no later than August 31st of this year.

While I have not pre-determined who our next athletics director will be, because of my contacts in athletics, I know of several highly qualified individuals from around the country who I hope and suspect will apply.  There will be a national search, and I am confident that highly qualified, experienced candidates will be excited about this opportunity at USM.  In the coming weeks, I will identify a group who, along with Coach Dooley, will review and make recommendations on the athletics director job description.  I will then select a small group to assist me with interviewing the top candidates.

Effective July 1 and until the new athletics director arrives on campus, Mr. Jeremy McClain will serve as the interim athletics director.  As you know, Mr. McClain is currently the deputy director of athletics.  He will not be a candidate for the position on a permanent basis.

I am excited about our future.  Our best days as a university and as an athletics department are ahead of us.  I am looking forward to building a world-class academic community, a world-class arts community, and a world-class athletics community – and I hope that each of you will join me in supporting these initiatives.