Conference USA Preview: After stunning collapse, Southern Miss turns to Monken

Although the rope for college football coaches is seemingly shorter today than ever before, the times when they get axed after just one year are few and far between.

Ellis Johnson managed to pull off that rare feat last season. The administration at Southern Mississippi needed just a dozen winless games to figure out that Johnson wasn’t the guy.

(Aside: I’d have a hard time canning a guy that quickly, but, man, the Golden Eagles were awful last season. They lost every game by an average of nearly 20 points.)

The Johnson hire deviated from USM’s tried and true formula of hiring Oklahoma State offensive coordinators. The Golden Eagles’ previous two head honchos, Jeff Bower and Larry Fedora, both ran the Pokes’ offense prior to taking charge in Hattiesburg. Once the axe fell on Johnson, USM went back to the Orange and Black well, tasking OSU offensive architect Todd Monken with building the program back up.

Following in Johnson’s footsteps sounds much easier for Monken than his last stop, where he was hired to replace Air Raid aficionado and Stillwater man about town Dana Holgorsen. That actually turned out pretty well, as the Pokes improved on offense in their two seasons under Monken’s direction.

If Monken expected to find anything close to the arsenal of offensive weapons that he had at OSU, imagine the disappointment that he must have felt when he surveyed his inheritance. USM finished 114th in the country in Offensive F/+ after generating a measly 4.9 yards per play (110th overall). The passing game was particularly awful, ranking 120th overall in passer rating. With numbers like that, it’s probably a plus that most of last year’s starters on that side of the ball are gone.

Defensively, the Golden Eagles really weren’t much better. They ranked 97th in Defensive F/+, thanks in large measure to giving up nearly 5 yards per carry on the ground – that from a D that ranked 19th in F/+ in 2011.

While Monken helps manage the O, he brought back a familiar face to rebuild the other side of the ball. David Duggan coached linebackers at USM for four solid seasons from 2008 to 2011 before lighting out for North Carolina with Larry Fedora. After a year in Chapel Hill, he’s back in Hattiesburg, and this time, he’ll be running the show on D.

All in all, it’s hard to believe that a program could have cratered as quickly as USM did in ‘12. The school had enjoyed 18 consecutive winning seasons and 10 straight bowl appearances prior to the Ellis Johnson Experience. For Monken, the hope has to be that a program that sustained success for so long can’t be undone by a campaign as disastrous as they come.