Doc Sadler, far right, has instructions for Cortez Edwards, 1, and Tyree Griffin, 55, two of the seniors who led Southern Miss to 20 victories this past season.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Doc Sadler did a remarkable job in his five years at Southern Miss, especially when you consider the abysmal situation he inherited.

Brand new athletic director Jeremy McClain will have a difficult task hiring a better basketball coach than Sadler, who announced his resignation Thursday. Sadler is headed to Nebraska, where he presumably will serve as associate head coach for his good friend Fred Hoiberg.

Rick Cleveland

That move will leave more than a few people shaking their heads. Leave a head coaching job to become an assistant? You don’t see that often.

And that leads to this question: Why?

Number one, job security. Although Sadler wouldn’t say it publicly, close friends say he just didn’t feel he had the unqualified support of the USM administration. Number two, he loves Lincoln, Neb., where he has worked before. Number three, he has worked with Hoiberg before at Iowa State and they work well together. Finally, Hoiberg just signed a seven-year, $25 million contract. That’s job security.

For the record, Sadler’s teams won. In order: 9, 8, 9, 16 and 20 victories over his tenure. Hattiesburg native Tim Floyd, who has coached against Sadler in four of Sadler’s five seasons at Southern Miss, believes Sadler could have won Conference USA Coach of the Year any of the past four seasons.

Friday, after hearing the news, Floyd, formerly a coach of two NBA teams, capsulized the situation nicely.

Tim Floyd

“Doc should be very proud of what he accomplished at Southern Miss,” Floyd said. “In my opinion, over the past 30 years in college basketball, Doc Sadler at Southern Miss and Scott Drew at Baylor inherited the two worst situations a head coach could possibly inherit. Both did amazing jobs.

“Because of what happened before Doc got the job, his program was under NCAA investigation the first two years he had the job. Players left the program because of it. Other coaches used it against him in recruiting. Then there were scholarship limitations – that, plus the fact, Southern Miss had the lowest basketball budget in Conference USA. To finish second this past season in a league where the basketball traditions are richer and some of the budgets are double, Doc should feel incredibly good about the job he did.

“He found a style of play that allowed lesser talented teams to have an opportunity to win both at home and on the road. He should feel proud of the job he did. I know I would.”

I agree. And would add that Sadler always stayed on an even keel despite all the problems that he inherited. In fact, he kept a good humor about him. Once, during the 16-victory 2017-18 season when it became clear Sadler was turning the program around, I asked him if he could see some light at the end of the tunnel. (Yeah, I am not above using a well-placed cliché when it really, really fits.)

Responded the folksy Sadler, “Yeah, I can see a little light but I’m like Lou Holtz was. I can see some light, but, Dude, I hope that light’s not coming from another train.”

Bottom line: Sadler did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, many folks, including many Southern Miss fans and certainly the school’s administration, have never appreciated just how good a job he did.

So now, McClain is welcomed to Hattiesburg with the task of hiring a new basketball coach. Know this: He’s had a lot of practice at hiring coaches lately. At Troy, he has hired a new football coach and a new basketball coach in the last few months.

Yes, he said Thursday, he has a list of candidates.

“You always have a list in your back pocket, because you just never know,” McClain said. “And, of course, I have just been through the process at Troy. I have a list and I want to get this done quickly because those guys in the locker room deserve that much.”

These days in college athletics, particularly basketball, time is always a critical factor when making a hire. Relaxed transfer rules have made it that way. The new coach’s first job will be to re-recruit some talented, young players already on the roster. That’s not always easy.

McClain was at Southern Miss when Doc was hired. He knows what the situation was – and it was worse than bleak.

“Doc should be commended and I said that during the press conference earlier today,” McClain said. “He took what was a bad situation and has made it much better. He put us on solid footing to continue to build on the success of this past season.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Take our 2023 reader survey

Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.