The University of Southern Mississippi athletic department confirmed Monday afternoon that Jay Hopson has stepped down as head coach of the Golden Eagles football team after four seasons at the helm. USM will now begin the quest to hire a new head football coach for the fifth time in 13 years since the departure of longtime head coach Jeff Bower. Scotty Walden, the team’s 30-year-old co-offensive coordinator, will be the interim head coach for the remainder of the 2020 season. 

Hopson did not appear at the Duff Athletic Center on Monday morning, leaving the staff and players uncertain of whether he would be directing Monday afternoon’s practice. At about 3 p.m., Hopson arrived at the facility to inform them of his decision to part ways with the program.

Hopson put together a 28-23 record with appearances in three bowl games during his four-year stint. The team had lost three consecutive games entering the 2020 season. In last Thursday’s season-opener at home against South Alabama, the Golden Eagles gave up more than 500 yards in a shocking 32-21 defeat in a nationally televised game they were favored to win by two touchdowns.

According to official reports, Hopson’s resignation was the result of a mutual agreement between Hopson and Athletics Director Jeremy McLain that it would be in the program’s best interest to move forward under new leadership.

“Coach Hopson came to me after last Thursday’s game to discuss what was on his heart and after much discussion over the weekend, he and I agreed that new leadership for our football program is needed,” McClain said in Monday’s press release.

“After heartfelt discussion with Jeremy, we have come to a mutual agreement for me to step down as head coach,” Hopson said in the release. “I truly believe it is in the best interest of the players, coaches and this entire program. I cannot thank (USM President) Dr. (Rodney) Bennett and our administration enough for the opportunity that they gave me. I wish Southern Miss nothing but the best, and I am thankful for all that they have done for me and my family.”

Hopson’s resignation was speculated to be partially due to reports of growing tension between himself and university administrators during recent years. After attempting to hire former Baylor head coach Art Briles as the offensive coordinator in February 2019, Hopson released a public statement claiming that he disagreed with President Bennett’s decision to remove Briles from the pool of candidates. Briles was dismissed from the search due to his involvement in an sexual-assault scandal that took place during his tenure at Baylor.

Soon after, as reported by The Athletic, Hopson’s staff was found to be recruiting a player who had been accused of raping two women at knifepoint without disclosing the accusations to university administration. The player was reportedly denied admission after news of his recruitment circled throughout the area on social media.

Hopson was hired by former USM Athletics Director Bill McGillis, who is now the AD at the University of San Diego. 

Walden will be considered for the position based on how he fares as the interim head coach. He is the former head coach at East Texas Baptist University, where, in 2016, he became the youngest head coach in NCAA history at age 26. ETBU finished 7-3 under Walden, whose offense led the nation in scoring with 49.9 points per game. His unit finished second in total offense (564.3 yards per game) and sixth in passing offense (365.3 yards per game) that season.

Walden was promoted to co-offensive coordinator at Southern Miss in February 2019 and stands in high regard throughout the region as a creative, up-and-coming coach. Walden has drawn comparisons to the likes of Kliff Kingsbury, the current head coach of the Arizona Cardinals who made a name for himself as a creative offensive play-caller at Texas Tech.

The Golden Eagles will return to action at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, against Conference USA-rival Louisiana Tech at M.M. Roberts Stadium.

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