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How To Turn USM Football Around in Hattiesburg

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Sports | Posted on 03-01-2008


The University of Southern Mississippi (USM Golden Eagles) located in Hattiesburg, Ms recently hired a new coach, Larry Fedora.  It seems Fedora is moving things forward by getting five new assistants hired as reported by the Hattiesburg American.  This is great news.  I’m glad to see Fedora is on the ball and moving the pile forward.  To Fedora and the new assistants I say get out there guys and recruit some of this awesome Mississippi talent that other big name schools are going after like Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, LSU, etc.  Don’t back down, stick to your guns and reel them into the state’s best, most versatile and well rounded University.  Don’t think that recruiting is going to magically turn everything around though.  Our program isn’t the prettiest in the country.  It has lack luster attendance, games on weird nights (Sundays, Wednesdays) and zero enthusiasm around the entire town on game day.  There are tons of other things that need to happen to turn this program into what it can be.  Here’s my advice and words of wisdom for Mr. Fedora and those in command at USM.

1.  Find Us a New Conference

While recruiting must happen, we need to get out of Conference USA and into a better more competitive conference.  I can’t take Conference USA any longer and really never could.  For those that don’t know anything about Conference USA welcome to the majority of the US population that follows college football.  Conference USA is one of the bottom dweller conferences that spreads out teams all over the USA which means that fans can’t travel to away games as easily as with other conferences that are grouped by region.  Here’s the latest picture taken from the Conference USA web site to show you all the teams in the conference and their locations.


Can you imagine getting fans to these away games?  No.  And it doesn’t happen much at all.  Even if we have a home game, we can’t count on ticket sales from other teams to help fill the stadium.   We may get a few hundred fans traveling to away games and that is about it.  Traveling to away games is one issue but the other thing is who wants to come see Southern Miss play SMU?  Answer.  No one.  There are no major programs in this conference (including ours) except for UCF.  UCF has been ranked nationally this past year and is one of the top 10 schools as far as enrollment goes in the nation.  We have the potential to be a major power house given the right conditions because of the talent in the state and our location.

To those that say we’d get killed outside of Conf USA I’d say we’d do OK but no doubt we’d win less games starting out.  And you know what?  I’m ok with that.  I’d rather play bigger named teams on a more well known national scale than play the teams we are playing today which garner no attention.   I’ll take a 3 and 8 season playing top ranked teams rather than an 8 and 3 season playing “anybody anywhere anytime”. 

Think about it.  Let’s say USM was in, I don’t know the SEC conference (which will never happen because Ole Miss and MS State will be sure to keep us out fearing another loss if they had to play us).  Think about how great it would be to see Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, MSU, Tennessee, Florida, etc coming to The Rock.  Are you kidding me?  We’d all be scalping tickets on Ebay!  That creates demand and brings me to my next point.

2.  Create Demand Around the Program

Demand is one thing this entire program is missing.  For anything that is marketed you have to entice demand around it.  Football at USM is no different.  Today our athletic department thinks they can create demand by giving away tickets, or thinking inside the good old boy box by providing incentives incentives incentives.  The message handing out incentives sends to everyone is trying to get people to do something they don’t really want to do.  The auto industry has done this for years by giving incentives to purchase a car.  Yet it is funny that the cars that are in high demand have NO incentives at all.  Why is that?  Simple, supply and demand.  The bottom line is if there was a demand for tickets, you surely wouldn’t be giving them away. 

Demand isn’t created by giving tickets away nor other incentives (buy three season tickets and get the forth one for free).  If you want people to go to the game give them a reason to go.  Make it an event they don’t want to miss.  Create a demand for tickets.  Create a demand for season tickets.  Create a demand for tailgate parking spots.   This is why some colleges sell out every home game and have tickets scalped online.  It is a simple supply and demand philosophy.  It is created by creating demand for people who wouldn’t otherwise go to a game.  Make them WANT to go to the game.  Make them WANT to buy season tickets in fear they won’t be able to get tickets otherwise.  Create demand, and you’ll create a successful program.

We have roughly 100,000 people in the H’burg area.  More than Mississippi State and Ole Miss combined I think.  It is sad we can’t fill our own stadium.  Why?  Well, first off State and Ole Miss play great teams with a lot of tradition.  Sure they get their butts kicked a lot (see MSU’s record for last year), but they are competing at a higher level.  Look at MSU this year, a total turn around season in a tough conference.  It can happen folks.  So why is it that a town of 100,000 people cannot fill a stadium that holds 40,000 people?  Demand.  There isn’t any around the program and the Athletic Director, Coach Fedora and his staff needs to step up and start creating it.  How?  By following my advice in step one, get us out of Conference USA and into a better conference.   

3.  Play Football on Saturday Like Everyone Else

The other thing that needs to happen is to stop for the love of football, playing games at weird stupid times other than Saturday.  We are NEVER EVER NEVER EVER going to create demand and fill a stadium on a Wednesday night and certainly not on a Sunday.  For those not paying attention those are church nights in the South for one thing.  While I understand that we’ll play anybody anywhere anytime, I also know that working class people that would like to go to the games can’t go during a week night.

For those that made the decision this past year to do this I hope you get a wake up call and stop making bad decisions.  It is an extremely bad decision to move games to weird days of the week just to get us on TV (only to showcase us losing).  It doesn’t build demand around the program no matter what you think.  No one cares face it.   I mean think about it. If you have no idea or care about USM and are living in Washington state, would you rather watch the latest and newest sitcom or Southern Miss football?  Survey says…….sitcom.  Having the team play on weird days also disrupts their schedules.  In order to be consistent the schedule has to be consistent.  Players get into a routine and by scheduling games at weird times doesn’t give them the proper time to recuperate from the previous week nor prepare for the next week.  I would think that our administration would like to do any and everything in their power to give our team the best chance possible.  Playing on Sundays and Wednesdays is not it folks!

By the way, the ONLY reason these games got scheduled this past season on Sunday was because ESPN was starving for football on Sunday night to compete with NBC who got the contract this year with the NFL.  ESPN executives sat around and said… hmmmm, I wonder if we could get a college game to be played on Sunday night to fill our lack of football on Sunday night.  Maybe we can get some school that is desperate for air time.  OHHHH I know, USM, they’ll play anybody anywhere anytime!   And so it was, we had games on ESPN on a Sunday night.  Stupid Stupid Stupid.  I don’t want our college to be known as a chump but it appears that is what we’ve turned into.  This has to stop and we have to give our players and coaches time to prepare and get into a consistent routine.  Let someone else fill the void for ESPN and be the chump but not us.  We are better than that.  If you want to act like a first class organization, then start acting like and presenting the program as one first and foremost.  Other things will fall into place.

4.  Remove All Estranged Apparel From Local Stores

This will probably never happen but I’m going to put this on the list anyway.  If I was the college President, Athletic Director, Head Coach, or a football player I’d be extremely upset to walk into the mall or Target or Wal-Mart and see MSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, LSU and other college apparel in our town.  It isn’t a problem that it is here, the problem is there is more of it than USM!  The last time I checked the school was in Hattiesburg and why we allow vendors to showcase other schools apparel is beyond me.  These vendors should be called on the carpet about this not only from the school but also by the fans and alumni.  I lived in Ann Arbor, MI for 8 years and I can tell you I would have a hard time finding a Michigan State t-shirt in that town.  I am sure Baton Rouge, LA is just as passionate about their LSU apparel.

5.  Work on the Logo and Make it Consistent

Ok, I know we are called the “Golden Eagles” but lets face it, there is no one logo that is associated with USM.  Here is what I mean.   Below is a screen shot of several schools and their respectful logos.

Southern Miss



First and foremost notice that Michigan and Alabama use letters.  Other colleges do this as well like LSU which just uses the letters LSU throughout it’s material.  While their mascot is a tiger, the name is more important.  At Southern Miss we use all sorts of things.  A dome, a mean looking eagle, the words “Southern Miss” but never once do you see something simple and elegant with just three letters “U S M”.  Personally I’ll take that logo over any of the others any day of the week.  Here is what I mean.  Take a look at the following three logos produced by the college.




Each and everyone is completely different.  Night and day even.  Yet if I review Alabama or Michigan logos they unmistakably always use their lettering.  At either school you get the letter and your choice of two colors.  That’s it.  At Southern Miss we don’t have something as simple and elegant.  This is a shame because it does directly affect apparel sales.  If it is ugly, not cool, wordy, people don’t want to buy it.  Ultimately when it comes down to a logo remember that people will have to eventually wear it.  Here are a few ideas I wouldn’t mind wearing.


Or how about just plain lettering:


It contains less words, easier to produce and easier to read.  Do we really need the whole entire name and mascot on every logo?  Less is more people!

I understand why the dome is used (because we try to be an educational institution) but that I’m sorry to say it doesn’t sale.  The more people that wear your logo translates into more free advertising.  Understand that.  Personally I don’t associate myself with a bird but I do associate myself with USM.  Like a famous person said once, the name on the front of the jersey means a hell of a lot more than the name on the back.  The same thing goes for the logo I think and that is why I prefer the “USM” to the “Southern Miss”.  At the end of the day I just want consistency and one message, and one logo. 

6.  Create Tradition

When one thinks of USM what’s the first thing you think of besides Brett Favre or Ray Guy?  The answer is not much.  We have a huge lack of tradition at our school.  I watched the Kansas / Virginia Tech game last night and I saw the Kansas bird logo more times than I want to count.  It was on everything, plastered everywhere.  Virginia Tech even had a lunch pale that was given out to players to symbolize the working class people of Virginia.  Fans were shown with lunch pales in the stands.  Hoakie nation was everywhere.  What do we have?  Nothing really that comes to mind that sticks out.  Even locally in our own state when one thinks of MSU they think cow bells.  At Ole Miss they have a great tradition of tail gating at the Grove and the walk which the football team walks through the grove with tons of fans cheering them on.  They also have their Hotty Totty saying (but don’t get me started).

It is hard to create tradition.  It isn’t something one can wake up on and say, OK, we are going to do X Y Z from now on, make it so.  It is something that has to be born from within the student body and the fans then carried on from generation to generation.   

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying we have zero tradition.  Sure people tail gate but that is done everywhere and sort of the norm.  The band plays the same pre-game show each home game and has for years.  The band plays the same home coming show ending with a classic rendition of Purlie.  Someone shoots a gigantic canon at home games when we score.  So there are some traditional things, but nothing cool and exciting that everyone gets involved with or that is associated with the school.

Michigan vs. Indiana

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Sports | Posted on 14-10-2000


Well, the Wolverines play Indiana on Saturday in “The Big House”. Good luck Michigan. All though the Wolverines are picked to win, I don’t think it will be by much. Maybe they’ll put John Navarre back in and things will start to happen (doubt it!).

Southern Mississippi outs Michigan in College AP Poll

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Sports | Posted on 09-10-2000


It is a great day for my alma mater, USM. For the first time I can remember USM now out ranks Michigan in the College Football AP poll. Not only one Mississippi team but two, to be exact (Mississippi State the other) have pulled over the top of the Wolverines. This probably wouldn’t be a big deal to most people but living in Michigan long enough will make you really loath all of this Big Ten talk. For all of you Michigan fans – nah nah nah nah nah.

Big House Rocked and we Won!

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Sports | Posted on 02-09-2000


Michigan rolled over Bowling Green in a 42 to 7 victory today as Navarre made his debute with the Wolverines. Over 110,000 screaming Michigan fans were in attendance. We were seated in the South end-zone almost on level with the playing field and happened to be mixed in with a couple of BGFU fans. A couple of of BG fans were a little rowdy at the start, but were quited after Michigan quickly sprang 14 points ahead. The funniest part of the game was when the BG cheerleaders jumped up on the rails and did a UMich cheer with the fans! The BG crowd didn’t take to kindly to this and there will probably be a write up in their paper this week about the incident. One fan said “They just wanted to cheer for a winner for once”.

Umich and Bolwing Green

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Sports | Posted on 02-09-2000


ZorKa is making his first trip today to the “Big House” to watch Umich vs Bowling Green. Should be a high scoring game and it isn’t predicted to rain so we should have a pretty good time. If you haven’t seen the The Big House then you should check it out. Did I mention it is really big?