By David Brandt/The Associated Press
HATTIESBURG — Less than a week after Southern Miss won its first Conference USA title since 2003, the program is looking for a new football coach.
North Carolina said Thursday that it will hire Larry Fedora away from the Golden Eagles as its new head coach, pending final approval by the school’s trustees Friday morning. UNC has scheduled a news conference in Chapel Hill that afternoon.
“It’s a situation I’m extremely excited about,” Fedora said on Thursday after a meeting at Southern Miss. “The University of North Carolina has a national brand and I think they’re hungry to win championships.”
In a statement, North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham said interim coach Everett Withers would coach the Tar Heels in the Independence Bowl. It’s unclear what Withers’ responsibilities will be after the bowl game. Fedora said it was too early to make any staff decisions.
Fedora met with Southern Miss players and coaches on Thursday where he revealed he was leaving for North Carolina, but will coach the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles in the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl against Nevada.
“We want to see this thing through,” Fedora said. “We want to finish this thing. This could be only team in 100 years of football that wins 12 games. We want to get that 12th win.”
Fedora, 49, has a 33-19 record in four years with Southern Miss. The Golden Eagles just finished arguably the best regular season in school history, with an 11-2 record and Conference USA title after easily beating No. 7 Houston 49-28 in the championship game.
Before coming to Southern Miss, Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and Florida.
Southern Miss offensive lineman Joe Duhon said players were disappointed by Fedora’s decision, but there were no hard feelings.
“Southern Miss is Southern Miss — we’re going to continue to win with or without” Fedora, Duhon said. “I understand his decision and still really respect him as a coach and mentor.”
Fedora said Southern Miss made a “huge push” financially during the negotiations with North Carolina, “but there was more to it than just that.” Fedora made a salary of $704,500 last season according to USA Today.
Fedora’s departure is part of a major shakeup within the Southern Miss athletic department. Athletic director Richard Giannini announced his retirement on Thursday after 13 years in charge of the Golden Eagles.
Giannini will stay on the job through early January while Southern Miss searches for a new football coach.
The 69-year-old Giannini said in a statement that the recent success and Fedora’s departure made this “a perfect time for me to retire.” Giannini has overseen $68 million worth of new athletic facilities and the Golden Eagles have gone to 10 straight bowl games during his tenure.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to have an athletic director like Richard in my first job,” Fedora said. “I know he’s going on to bigger and better things and probably have a lot more time and a lot less stress.”
North Carolina’s board of trustees met Thursday morning to discuss “a personnel matter” for about an hour in closed session. Later, the board of governors for the 16-campus UNC public system also met for about an hour in closed session to review certain provisions of a deal.
The school hasn’t released contract terms.
After the second meeting, board members congratulated Cunningham and UNC chancellor Holden Thorp as they left. Thorp declined to comment to reporters as he walked out, smiling and saying only, “See you tomorrow.”
Cunningham thanked Withers, who was promoted from defensive coordinator to interim coach after Thorp fired Butch Davis shortly before training camp after an NCAA investigation into the program. Withers’ promotion came under former athletic director Dick Baddour.
“He and his staff provided exemplary leadership under trying circumstances and I am glad they were rewarded with an opportunity to play in a bowl game,” Cunningham said in the statement.
While North Carolina is celebrating a new coaching hire, Southern Miss begins its search.
Southern Miss offensive lineman Austin Quattrochi said he hoped the new coach would be someone from the current staff. Offensive coordinator Blake Anderson is a likely candidate, though the Golden Eagles are also expected to look at outside candidates as well.
“I’d like to see somebody in house step up and get the coaching job,” Quattrochi said. “Obviously, we’ve got a great thing going here … I think there are guys on this coaching staff who have proven that they can step up and be a head coach.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, N.C. contributed to this story.