By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The fall of 2008 was a bit odd for Les Koenning.
He was doing coach things, but he wasn’t coaching on Saturdays, because there were no games. He was offensive coordinator at South Alabama, which was putting together a football program, and at the time that meant fundraisers and traveling around the country to soak up information from other coaching staffs.
Koenning and the USA staff, led by head coach Joey Jones, traveled to places like Kentucky, Florida State, LSU and Alabama to watch practices and sit in on meetings. It was a learning experience for Koenning, who’s now Mississippi State’s offensive coordinator and will face South Alabama on Saturday.
“So we got a chance to see all that, how different things are done,” Koenning said. “And as a coach, there’s no one direct way you do things, but there’s a lot of good ideas, and you can steal from those ideas to implement in your program. I think Joey’s done that.”
South Alabama (1-2) is in its fourth season of playing games. Koenning never coached on the field for USA, because in 2009 he joined Dan Mullen’s staff at MSU as offensive coordinator.
Prior to being hired by Jones, Koenning had been an assistant at Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice, MSU and UL-Lafayette. So why take the USA post?
“My daughter was at the University of Alabama. I’d interviewed with Nick (Saban) for that job that was open there, and it fell through, and then Joey said, ‘Hey, would you want to come?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, let me talk to my wife,’ and I talked to her, and she said, ‘Yes, we’d really like to come.’
“So I moved down to South Alabama and got to meet some really good people.”
Koenning said the school’s administration showed great support for the program, giving the coaches freedom to travel around and visit other schools. Since his departure, South Alabama has posted an overall record of 24-6 under Jones. It’s a transitional Division I-A program that will have full membership starting next season.
Jones was a very successful high school coach in Alabama and was at Birmingham-Southern for two years when it restarted its football program.
“To start up a program, sometimes when you walk in you have to be flexible, because there’s so many different things that pop up daily,” Koenning said. “And he had been through that, he understood it, and it wasn’t a really hard deal for him.”
Saturday’s game will be South Alabama’s first against an SEC team. It will be a member of the Sun Belt Conference next year and is playing that league’s schedule this fall.
“Playing SEC opponents like Mississippi State, who is ranked in the top 25, and we of course have to go through our Sun Belt schools, certainly we’ll look back at the end of the year and kind of see where we are and where we need to go,” Jones said.