Fedora hired as new head coach

Published 11:09 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2007

HATTIESBURG (AP) — Hoping for a boost on offense and at the box office, Southern Miss hired Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora as its new coach Wednesday.

Fedora replaces Jeff Bower, who was forced to resign last month after 17 years and 119 wins. He told about 1,000 fans, media and pep band members that he believes he can squeeze more from a program that’s already a proven winner and Conference USA contender every season.

‘‘I believe we can make the nation realize there’s a force to be reckoned with here at Southern Miss,’’ Fedora said between ovations.

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Fedora had been considered a front-runner for the job after he visited the Southern Miss campus last week.

The 45-year-old just completed his third season as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator and has 16 years of college coaching experience, including a stint as Florida’s offensive coordinator. This will be his first job as head coach.

Athletic Director Richard Giannini said he was looking for a way to fill seats when he began searching for Bower’s replacement.

Fedora’s single-back, no-huddle offense may be the solution. The Cowboys averaged 33.4 points and 484.1 yards per game on the way to a 6-6 record and an Insight Bowl berth.

Oklahoma State had the nation’s seventh-ranked rushing offense at 245.3 yards per game, and overall the offense was ranked ninth.

‘‘We wanted someone that had incredible energy and incredible passion for the game of football and tremendous passion to be successful,’’ Giannini said. ‘‘And there’s no question we got the No. 1 guy. From Day 1, he was on our list.’’

That list was a long one. Giannini said as many as 20 coordinators from Top 25 teams called about the job, as did a number of former head coaches. He took his time, conducting dozens of interviews in the 16 days since Bower resigned under pressure Nov. 26.

Fedora’s hiring must still be approved by the state College Board. Giannini said Fedora’s contract will be for four years. He did not want to discuss financial terms until the board approved the contract, but said Fedora will be paid more than the $550,000 in public and private money Bower earned.

Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Florida in 2004 and has coached at Air Force, Baylor, Middle Tennessee State and Austin College, where he went to school.

Under Fedora in 2004, the Gators led the Southeastern Conference in six offensive categories and the school was the first to feature the conference’s top passer, rusher, receiver and total offense leader in the same season.

‘‘Larry is one of the best coaches I have worked with in my time in college football,’’ said Illinois coach Ron Zook, who was Fedora’s boss at Florida. ‘‘He has a great offensive mind and the ability to motivate his players.’’

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy agreed: ‘‘I think the people at Southern Mississippi will be very excited about the direction he will take them.’’

Fedora will be under pressure to win immediately as he follows Bower, who had 14 straight winning seasons and bowl appearances in 10 of the last 11 years. The team was favored to win the C-USA title after finishing second last season. But the Golden Eagles stumbled to a 2-3 start and needed two wins at the end of the year to extend both streaks.

Bower came to Southern Miss as a transfer quarterback in 1972 and was a player and assistant coach with the school for 12 seasons before taking over in 1990 as head coach after serving a year as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator. His last game as coach will be the Papajohns.com Bowl on Dec. 22 in Birmingham, Ala., against No. 20 Cincinnati.

Then it’s Fedora’s turn.

‘‘I knew this was just going to be a golden opportunity,’’ Fedora said. ‘‘I think Southern Miss is getting ready to explode and I wanted to be the next guy here to just push it over the top.’’