Southern Miss football: Top 5 coaching candidates

With the departures of both Jay Hopson and Scotty Walden, Golden Eagle fans everywhere are simultaneously fantasizing about one name – Hugh Freeze.

Of course, they are. It’s natural. You’re coming off your second breakup in a short span of two months, you’re sitting at 2-7 going into the final portion of what seems to be a lost season, and you witnessed first-hand what Hugh Freeze can do as a college football coach after his Flames took down the Golden Eagles on October 24th. On top of all of that, Freeze graduated from Southern Miss in 1992.

But is it possible for Southern Miss, a group five team that typically hovers around .500 year in and year out, to land Hugh Freeze, arguably one of the best coaches in all of college football?

According to former USM player turned analyst Luke Johnson of The Eagle Hour, there is absolutely no chance that Hugh Freeze becomes the next head coach of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.

“Every week that Liberty gets another win…it’s more leverage for Hugh Freeze,” Johnson said following Walden’s departure. “It looks, at this point, that that’s not even a remote option for Southern Miss going forward.”

Well, say that proves to be the case and Johnson is correct in his notion that Freeze is out of the picture, here are the top five, realistic candidates to become Southern Miss’ next head football coach.

Will Hall, Tulane offensive coordinator

Will Hall would be a natural fit for the Golden Eagles. Think about it. He’s a Mississippi native, who played college football in Mississippi, but hasn’t been offered a good enough chance to make his return to the Magnolia State. This is it. This is that chance, but will the two sides be able to come to an agreement? Johnson thinks that the recently expanded coaching budget, revealed by athletics director Jeremy McClain back in October, provides Southern Miss the chance to land Hall.

“I think Will Hall would have not been available had we not got the news…that the head coach salary and the assistant salary will be bumped up,” Johnson said.

Hall has spent the last three seasons with three different programs – Tulane, Memphis, and Louisiana – however, the results of his run-heavy offense haven’t been much different. In 2019, Tulane finished their season with one of the best offenses in program history, totaling 5,841 yards and 61 touchdowns. In 2018, Memphis rushed for a school-record 3,311 yards and 42 touchdowns, while in 2017, Louisiana Lafayette rushed for 2,204 yards and 27 touchdowns. Do you see what I’m getting at? Hall’s offense combined with the likes of Frank Gore, Jr. and Darius Maberry could result in the Conference USA’s most explosive rushing attack.

Rhett Lashlee, Miami offensive coordinator

I firmly believe that Rhett Lashlee will be a Division I head coach this time next year. Not only do the Miami Hurricanes sit at 7-1 on the season, with their only loss coming to a more than likely playoff-bound Clemson, but they’re averaging 503.6 and over 45 points per game.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn recently stated that Lashlee has done “the best coaching job in the country up to this point (in the season),” which is an all but guarantee that the former Auburn assistant will make the next step up the coaching ladder.

Much like Hall, Lashlee’s offense can be considered run-heavy as the SMU Mustangs rushed for a program-record 35 touchdowns under Lashlee in 2019. No matter which way they go, if Southern Miss can secure either Hall or Lashlee as their next head coach, the running back corps will undoubtedly prosper in 2021.

Derrick Nix, Ole Miss wide receivers coach

I can’t think of another coach that has been hired by four (!) different coaching staffs at the same college or university. Derrick Nix has done just that at the University of Mississippi. From 2008-2019, Nix served as the running backs coach at Ole Miss. Under new head coach Lane Kiffin, Nix has made the transition to wide receivers coach and has done a hell of a job. Rebel wideouts have brought in 67.32 percent of all targets, good enough for second-best in the SEC. On top of that, Nix has proven to be one of the nation’s top recruiters as 247Sports ranked him as the No. 21 recruiter across college football.

Nix becoming the head coach at Southern Miss wouldn’t be out of the ordinary as OleMissSports.com touts him as “one of the best-known players to ever wear a Southern Miss uniform. From 1998-2002, Nix managed 3,993 yards and 32 touchdowns for the Golden Eagles.

Kane Wommack, Indiana defensive coordinator

Another Southern Miss alumnus, Kane Wommack would be a sensical hire for the Golden Eagles. Wommack, who played fullback and helped lead USM to three straight bowl appearances from 2007-2009, would be a perfect defensive mind for a team currently allowing 32.4 points per game. In his first season as the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator, Wommack’s unit finished top-50 nationally in scoring, total (352.2), rush (138.5) and pass defense (213.7) for the first time since 1993.

According to Johnson, a reunion between Wommack and former Southern Miss quarterback and current Seahawks assistant Austin Davis would be the ideal coaching duo for the Golden Eagles.

“If Kane Wommack came in and you have somebody like Austin Davis to be defensive coordinator, that would be unbelievable at Southern Miss,” Johnson said.

Jamie Chadwell, Coastal Carolina head coach

What a lot of people don’t realize is that Jamie Chadwell is only being paid $300K to be at Coastal Carolina, who can plausibly be considered college football’s biggest surprise this year. Southern Miss was paying Hopson, in what was a sparse coaching budget, a mere $500K. But as we know, McClain is willing to pay the next Southern Miss head coach up to one million dollars.

Chadwell, who is a two-time FCS Coach of the Year finalist and former Delta State head coach, could be looking to make a return to the Mississippi, and if Southern Miss is going to pay a pretty penny for a new coach, he may just be the best option as he’s clearly capable of turning around a sub-par team–just look at Coastal Carolina, who currently sits at 8-0 after going 3-9 the year before Chadwell was hired.