Southern Miss coaches tour hits Natchez

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 31, 2016

NATCHEZ — Spike Newman knew he was heading to Rolling River Bistro Tuesday night to meet with University of Southern Mississippi coaches and athletic administrators, but he didn’t know Southern Miss football coach Jay Hopson and other Golden Eagle head coaches would get off a charter bus in front of his home.

“It was a surprise,“ the Southern Miss alumnus and donor said. “They all came in, all 10 or 20.”

The Golden Eagle brass made the impromptu stop at Newman’s home before going downtown for their latest stop on the To the Top Tour.

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Southern Miss athletic director Bill McGillis said the To the Top Tour is the first of its kind since he took over as athletic director in 2013. The tour is scheduled to hit six Mississippi cities in three days, and Natchez was the second stop on the Mississippi tour. The tour is meant to promote the Southern Miss Alumni Association and the season ticket program while encouraging alumni to donate to Southern Miss athletics.

Charm Powell, a Golden Eagle of the class of 1977, said the turnout of local Southern Miss alumni made the banquet a thrilling experience.

“This is so exciting,” Powell said. “I love it. There are so many USM alumni in Natchez, and we are a very close-knit family.”

At the event, the head coach of every varsity sport — except baseball and track and field, which are preparing for postseason play — at Southern Miss spoke about their respective programs, followed by a question-and-answer session with men’s basketball coach Doc Sadler, women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis, women’s golf coach Erika Brennan and Hopson.

“It’s a chance for us to preach the gospel of the Golden Eagles — we love doing that,” McGillis said. “It’s been a great opportunity for (coaches) to bond on this road trip.”

McGillis said the lengthy tour has been an interesting experience for the Southern Miss head coaches. The coaches have traveled across the Southeast, since May 10, in a tour bus embroidered with custom Southern Miss decals.

“What happens on the bus, stays on the bus,” McGillis said.

The coaches and members of the athletic department and alumni association traveled to Vicksburg immediately after breaking down the banquet at Rolling River Bistro. After a noon lunch scheduled in Vicksburg, the crew will book it to Memphis for dinner at 6:30 p.m.

For Hopson, the bus stop in Natchez returned the self-described “river rat” to his southwestern Mississippi roots.

“I was born on the banks of the Mississippi River,” Hopson said. “Between Vicksburg and Natchez, that area is kind of who I am. This is always a home area from me.”

The To the Top Tour is Hospon’s first opportunity for face time with fans of his new football program. Southern Miss hired Hopson after he won a second-consecutive SWAC football title at Alcorn State in 2015.

“I think (meeting fans) is very important,” Hopson said. “We all love the black and gold, we all love Southern Miss, and we all support the school. I think it’s a great thing anytime we can all get together.”