Giannini excited about USM athletics

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 3, 2000

Eleven months ago, Richard Giannini became only the fourth full-time athletic director at Southern Mississippi. Since then the football team finished with its highest-ever ranking (No.13), the men’s basketball team just missed postseason play, the baseball team is battling for first place in Conference USA and the softball teams leads the conference.

&uot;These are good times are Southern Mississippi,&uot;&160;said Giannini, who was guest speaker at the USM Alumni gathering at Biscuits and Blues Tuesday. &uot;There are a lot of good things going on.&uot;

USM just finished spring football and Giannini is expecting even bigger things in the upcoming years.

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&uot;Our record in Conference USA&160;is 17-1 over the last three years,&uot; Giannini said. &uot;The only team ahead of us as far as best record in their conference is Florida State, and they’ve dominated the ACC.&uot;

Giannini is also excited about the upcoming football season.

&uot;We have a great schedule coming up,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;Our goal is not only to win the championship in the C-USA, but to get into the Bowl Championship Series.&160;We start off with Tennessee on national television and then we have Alabama in Birmingham, and it’s always better to play them early in the year. We replaced Texas A&M with Oklahoma State, and although they have a good program, they are not where Texas A&M is. I think if we can win at last two of the first three and play well and then dominate our conference schedule, we could very easily qualify for the BCS.&uot;

Giannini is pleased to have Golden Eagle Jeff Bower at the helm of the football team.

&uot;Jeff is a quality coach, and is as good as any coach in the country,&uot;&160;Giannini said. &uot;He has a great loyalty to Hattiesburg and Southern Miss. He’s played and coached at USM for 24 years, so he’s dedicated to the program. We did some things to show him we were committed to keep him here.&uot;

Among those commitments are a new fieldhouse and athletic center.

&uot;That let Jeff know the university and supporters were making a commitment,&uot; he said.

And sometimes that takes sacrifice.

Giannini had the tough task of having to drop indoor track to meet the budget.

&uot;Syracuse and Miami both had to drop sports,&uot; Giannini said. &uot;You have to keep an eye on inflation. Our scholarships are going up $350,000 to $400,000. We can’t continue to have quality programs in every sport if we don’t do some belt tightening in the lower-tier sports. We don’t have the luxury of playing in a conference like the SEC.&uot;

Giannini, 57, spent five years at Northeast Louisiana before joining USM.

&uot;People talk about Hattiesburg being a small medium market,&uot; he said. &uot;If you take in 120 miles from us you have Mobile and New Orleans. That makes us the No. 12 media market in the country.&uot;

Giannini is excited about the future at USM.

&uot;I think we have a real renewal of fans,&uot; he said. &uot;The interest is really high. Our ticket sales have increased and membership in the Eagle Club is as high as it’s ever been.&uot;

Giannini said he sees USM’s football program now where Florida State, Kansas State and Virginia Tech were when they first started becoming national powers.

&uot;We have people totally committed to the program,&uot; he said. &uot;I think we can be the next Virginia Tech.&uot;

Giannini said he would like to see more athletes from the Miss-Lou attending USM.

&uot;I’d like to see us hit Natchez harder and even go up to Vicksburg,&uot; he said. &uot;Within a year (highway) 98 will be four-lane all the way from McComb with will make it easier for the students to go back and forth and get a quality education. We’ve got 14,000 students, so we’re not too big. And Hattiesburg is conducive to college students.&uot;