The late, especially great Boo Ferriss was the man who introduced me to Jeremy McClain, just hired Thursday as athletic director at Southern Miss.
McClain was an All American pitcher for Delta State and getting batters out as few have before or since. This was in the late ’90s, long after Ferriss had retired from coaching and become DSU’s No. 1 fan.
“You need to see this Jeremy McClain pitch,” Ferriss told me. “He doesn’t overpower you. He moves the ball around, in and out, up and down. Changes speeds. Little of this, little of that. Throws strikes. He pitches smart. Got a lot of Greg Maddux in him.”
McClain laughed Friday morning when I repeated Ferriss’ description of him. Said McClain, “Well, if you don’t have any talent you have to figure out something.”
McClain figured out a lot. He was 45-9 over four Delta State seasons, 15-0 as a senior – a little of this, a little of that and a whole lot of winning. He ranks No. 2 all-time in NCAA Division II in career victories. If McClain directs USM athletics as well as he pitched college baseball, Golden Eagle fans will have much to cheer in the coming years. Southern Miss has been through five athletic directors (counting interims) in eight years. Some stability is badly needed. This is one time, seems to me, they got it right.
A Houlka native, McClain knows Mississippi. He knows Southern Miss having served as deputy athletic director for three years before becoming the athletic director at Troy in 2015. More importantly, he knows how to do a lot with a little. He has been doing that his entire career in athletic administration, first as athletic director at Delta State, then at USM and for the last nearly four years at Troy.
“None of the places I’ve worked have been flush with resources,” McClain said. “You have to be innovative. You have to find new revenue sources and optimize what you have. You have to outwork people. That’s what we’ll do.”
At Troy, McClain completed a $24 million football stadium renovation that included new locker room facilities, new training facilities, a new meeting room and a new club seating area. The Troy football program won 31 games over the past three seasons. Neal Brown, the head coach for all that winning, left Troy for West Virginia. McClain hired former USM offensive coordinator Chip Lindsay to succeed Brown.
McClain had a track record on hiring football coaches before that. He chaired the search committee that hired Todd Monken as head coach at Southern Miss. Monken took a program that was winless the year before he got there and won nine games three seasons later.
“I know what the challenges are at Southern Miss but I also know the winning tradition we have,” McClain said. “I can’t wait to get started.”
It should not be difficult to prioritize tasks. No. 1: Raise money. No. 2: Raise more money. No. 3: Raise more money still.
Yes, McClain said, he will rely on lessons he learned from Boo Ferriss and Mike Kinnison at Delta State.
“Coach Ferriss was the best I’ve ever seen at dealing with people,” McClain said. “He made everyone he encountered feel special. He just had that knack. He made you want to be a better person. I know I can’t be like him but we should all strive to be more like he was.”
“I learned work ethic and attention to detail from Mike,” McClain said. “Nobody outworks Mike Kinnison or one of his teams. No detail is too small.”
The task ahead will be difficult at cash-strapped Southern Miss. McClain has the background – and people skills learned from the best – to succeed.