By now, you are a bit familiar with newly minted Southern Miss Golden Eagles head coach Jay Hopson. The former Alcorn State head coach is a Mississippi native and former assistant for the Golden Eagles, coaching on two different occasions for the program.
Hopson started his college career as a player for Ole Miss from 1988-1991, spending his time in Oxford as a defensive back. Immediately after his playing career ended, he started his coaching career with Tulane as a graduate assistant. He spent the 1992-1995 seasons hopping around as a graduate assistant at Tulane, LSU, and Florida. Hopson did spend the 1993 season as a member of the Delta State football staff.
The 1996 season is when Hopson’s career really took off with him landing a job with Marshall as the defensive backs coach. He stayed with the Thundering Herd through the 2000 season, leading a secondary that was among the nation's best during his tenure.
The 2001 season started Hopson’s first stint with the Golden Eagles, coaching the defensive backs for three seasons. He left for virtually the same position at his alma mater, Ole Miss, after the 2003 season. He spent one season with Ole Miss before heading back to Hattiesburg as the new defensive coordinator.
After three more seasons with Southern Miss, Hopson made the move to the University of Michigan for two seasons (LB Coach) and then Memphis (Defensive Coordinator) for two seasons. Having spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the Memphis Tigers, Hopson finally landed a coveted head coaching job. To the surprise of many, the job he took was with Alcorn State.
Hopson took over the reeling Alcorn State Braves, becoming the first white head coach in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Looking to return the Braves to their glory days, Hopson showed promise with a 4-7 year in 2012, before reeling off three straight seasons with nine or more wins. He led the Braves to second place finish in the SWAC East Division in 2013 and back to back SWAC Championships in 2014 and 2015. In his four seasons at Alcorn State, Hopson led the program to a 32-17 record and a 25-11 record in SWAC play.
Then Southern Miss came calling once again. Hopson heard several names mentioned as possible candidates for the job, but he was the final choice. He accepted the job, becoming the third head coach for the Golden Eagles in five years.
What does Hopson bring to the table?
An ability to slow down the passing game. Hopson is a defensive oriented coach that played and coached on the defensive side of the ball until taking over at Alcorn State. The hallmarks of the Braves were an ability to cover the passing game and force turnovers. He is not afraid to send rushers to make a big play. His first year with Alcorn State had a defense that led the SWAC in passing yards allowed per game.
Alcorn State only got better under Hopson versus the pass. They held opponents to a minuscule 121.3 yards per game in the air. His secondary had more interceptions (11) than touchdowns allowed (8) on the year. They did have their struggles versus the run game, but he inherits a deep and talented front four at Southern Miss.
The Braves allowed only 294.8 yards per game of total offense.
Some changes will be made on the defensive side of the ball, as Hopson works with defensive coordinator David Duggan to figure out how to stop the high flying passing games of Conference USA.
His offenses at Alcorn State worked best when the run game is working. There are some similarities to the Southern Miss offense, but I would expect Hopson to let offensive coordinator John Wozniak run the offense in a similar fashion to the 2015 season.
We should hear in the next few days what changes the 47-year old expects to make on the coaching staff, but at this time of the year, very few would be expected. As long as he is able to keep together the coaching staff and the upcoming recruiting class, Hopson is set up for immediate success this fall.