June 20, 2013 10:40:03 AM
The University of Southern Mississippi is looking for a new athletic director.
University President Rodney Bennett announced Wednesday morning in Hattiesburg that the one-year contract for Jeff Hammond will not be renewed after it expires June 30.
Hammond -- a former Army major general who played quarterback for the Golden Eagles in the 1970s -- made several important decisions during his tenure, including firing football coach Ellis Johnson after one season that ended with an 0-12 record.
He also hired men's basketball coach Donnie Tyndall, who won 27 games in his first season.
But Bennett, who started his tenure as president in April, said he wanted new leadership in athletics.
"It is important to me to hire my own executive staff in certain high profile areas and assemble my own leadership team," Bennett said. "Nonetheless, there is a place for General Hammond in my administration, and I have extended an opportunity for him to continue to serve USM in other areas. I am hopeful that he will accept my offer."
Hammond also had to deal with an athletic department that was $1.2 million in debt. He sold a home football game back to Nebraska in 2012 and also scheduled a road game against Arkansas -- which includes a hefty payout -- for the upcoming season in an effort to generate more funds.
Bennett did not elaborate about Hammond's proposed new position.
Hammond, who was not at Wednesday's press conference, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Associate athletic director Jeremy McClain will be the interim athletic director, but is not a candidate for the full-time job.
Bennett said a search committee -- which includes former University of Georgia football coach and athletic director Vince Dooley -- will begin the process of finding a new athletic director. Bennett said he hopes to have a new candidate in place by the end of August.
It will undeniably be an important hire. Bennett said Southern Miss is "at a critical juncture in determining our future."
Southern Miss is trying to find its place in the NCAA's changing conference landscape. The Golden Eagles have watched several longtime rivals and Conference USA members -- like the University of Memphis, Tulane University, and the University of Houston -- leave for bigger conferences.
Southern Miss has had a decent amount of recent success, including a C-USA football championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament in basketball during the 2011-12 school year, but average facilities and a small market have hurt the program's chances at joining a more high-profile conference.
"While I have not pre-determined who our next athletics director will be, because of my contacts in athletics, I know of several highly qualified individuals from around the country who I hope and suspect will apply," Bennett said. "There will be a national search, and I am confident that highly qualified, experienced candidates will be excited about this opportunity."
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