Golden Eagles to start post-Fedora era in paradise

Published 11:39 am Thursday, December 8, 2011

The departure of Larry Fedora from Southern Miss was not unexpected.

When Southern Miss athletic director Richard Giannini fired long-time coach and loyal soldier Jeff Bower in 2007 to hire Fedora, the word was that program, despite its success, had grown stale. A new hand was needed to mend the tiller and steer Southern Miss to new horizons.

They turned away from a coach, Bower, who passed on opportunities to go elsewhere and who was loyal to USM to the core. His replacement, Fedora, saw the job as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

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Is that wrong? If you were given a chance to work at the highest level of your profession — in his case, a job at a team in a BCS conference — and get a monster raise at the same time, wouldn’t you take that opportunity?

Of course you would.

Fedora had to leave. The old adage “strike while the iron is hot” is never more true than when it comes to coaching. Fedora’s stock would never get higher than after leading the Golden Eagles to an 11-2 record and a Conference-USA championship. He’d been with USM for four years and made the Golden Eagles better, filling the stands at M.M. Roberts Stadium and recruiting at a high level. Of course, he couldn’t beat UAB, but that’s a different matter.

Now Giannini has to make another hire. But it’s not like the job is a bad one. USM is one of the best mid-major football jobs out there. When your program has 18 straight winning seasons and goes to a bowl game 13 of the last 14 years, that’s a great program with an excellent tradition.

As for Fedora’s former team, the Golden Eagles earned the right as C-USA champions for more than a snub by the Liberty Bowl, where C-USA’s champion traditionally plays. The Liberty Bowl passed on one of the most dynamic teams (13th out of 120 teams in total offense) in Division I-A for Cincinnati and Vanderbilt. Seriously? Drag racing with a Toyota Prius would be more fun.

The options were not good. Birmingham for the BBVA Compass Bowl? Been there, done that. With all of the aforementioned struggles against UAB, Legion Field is not exactly a primo destination, especially in winter. A lot of empty seats are available in that aging relic, which looks like the only renovation that would work for it is a wrecking ball and some TNT.

New Orleans Bowl, forget about it. Been there. Done that. Bought the T-shirt. Four times over. With the lower bowl half-filled in the cavernous Superdome, it’s a tomb.

The Ticket City Bowl in Dallas would’ve been intriguing. Penn State, a Big Ten team, would present a formidable challenge. But the Golden Eagles’ great season would’ve been overshadowed by the continuing sexual abuse scandal that kept a 9-3 Penn State out of a better bowl in the run-up to the game.

Hawaii is literally an ocean and several time zones away from Hattiesburg. It isn’t cheap to visit by any means. The Christmas Eve date isn’t the best.

But it’s Hawaii, folks. If that’s the best scenario out of several unsavory selections, that’s not bad at all. The best team in Mississippi and in Conference USA deserves an appropriate reward.

And a trip to Hawaii is definitely that.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at swilson@vicksburgpost.com.