Will Hall addressed media and fans at a press conference at Reed Green Coliseum Monday.

Will Hall aced his introductory press conference at Southern Miss Monday morning, his first appearance as the 22nd head football coach in the school’s history.

Hall exuded enthusiasm and optimism, saying he wanted to make Southern Miss the premier Group of Five football school in the nation — and he did it with a decidedly Mississippi twang.

“We were Boise State before Boise State — we’re fixin’ to get it done,” the 40-year-old Hall said at one point.

He said a lot more, but perhaps just as importantly was something that wasn’t said. After the press conference, Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain confirmed that Hall’s contract calls for a salary of $800,000 and an assistants’ salary pool of $2.1 million. That represents an upgrade of nearly $1 million in football salaries and will put Southern Miss in the upper half of Conference USA.

Rick Cleveland

That’s a huge deal, especially when one considers the increased financial commitment comes during this COVID-19 period when universities across the country are cutting back athletic resources.

“There are no excuses,” Hall said. “We have the resources here to be special. We’ve got to band together because we’re a little frayed right now. I’ve got a vision. I’ve got a detailed plan. We’ve got to grab this rope and pull together.”

Southern Miss athletic director Jeremy McClain presents Will Hall a personalized jersey

Presently, “frayed” is an understatement where Southern Miss football is concerned. The Golden Eagles limp into Thursday night’s season finale against Florida Atlantic with a 2-7 record. Incredibly, the team has been through three head coaches, three starting quarterbacks, several player defections, and umpteen schedule changes in three months time. Albert Einstein once said that adversity introduces a man to himself. This Southern Miss football team is ready to meet someone else.

Will Hall appears more than willing to fill that void. Of the many subjects Hall broached Monday morning, one of the most interesting was that he had had an extended conversation with former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower the night before. Hall talked about getting back to the blueprint that led to the Golden Eagles’ success when Bower was dominating Conference USA and his teams were winning while playing, as the adage went, “anyone, anywhere, any time.”

He talked about meeting Bower at age 15 when he accompanied his father, high school coaching legend Bobby Hall, to dinner with Bower at Tico’s.

“I was in hog heaven, listening to Coach Bower and my dad talk football for hours. We shut the place down that night, it was unbelievable. I ate it up,” Will Hall said.

Bower’s USM blueprint for success included an emphasis on recruiting high school players from south Mississippi, southern Louisiana, lower Alabama and the Florida panhandle. Bower seldom got the five-star and four-star recruits, but he and his staff proved expert at projecting what lightly recruited 17-year-old boys might look like and play like as 20-year-old men after two or three years in the weight room and at the training table. Bower could look at a two-star running back like Michael Boley or a high school basketball star like Adalius Thomas and see future NFL linebacking stars.

Hall said he intends for Southern Miss to get back to that. “There are too many good football players right here,” he said. In recent seasons, Hall has poached many of those Mississippi boys for both Memphis and Tulane.

For his part, Bower Monday afternoon said he was mightily impressed with Hall from what he has seen from afar and from their in-person conversation Sunday night.

Jeff Bower

“I like his resume. I like what he’s done and that he’s won wherever he’s been,” Bower said. “I like his offensive and defensive philosophies. I like his pedigree. His dad was a helluva coach, a winner. I like that he’s a coach’s son. He’s been around the game all his life. He understands it, knows what it takes. I am really impressed with him. I’ve got to hand it to Jeremy. I think he did a helluva job with this hire.”

Again, all this comes at a most unusual time. Hall was speaking Monday, three days before the team he inherits plays its final game of the season. Yes, Hall said, he will be in Hattiesburg for practices and the game this week. He said he intends to stay out of the way, but does plan to watch and get a firsthand look at what he has coming back. Meanwhile, he’s hiring a staff, recruiting (on the phone), shaking hands, meeting folks, enlisting support. In these strange times, he even has to recruit the players he already has.

Indeed, Hall has his hands full, but it surely seemed Monday he would not have it any other way.

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 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.