Southern Miss AD: Golden Eagles can still win big

FILE - In this July 18, 2013 file photo, Bill McGillis speaks to reporters after being introduced as the new Southern Miss Athletics Director, in Hattiesburg, Miss. The 50-year-old McGillis believes the Golden Eagles can still win big in Conference USA and on the national level, as he helps resurrect a football program that went 0-12 last season. (AP Photo/Hattiesburg American, Bryant Hawkins, File)

FILE – In this July 18, 2013 file photo, Bill McGillis speaks to reporters after being introduced as the new Southern Miss Athletics Director, in Hattiesburg, Miss. The 50-year-old McGillis believes the Golden Eagles can still win big in Conference USA and on the national level, as he helps resurrect a football program that went 0-12 last season. (AP Photo/Hattiesburg American, Bryant Hawkins, File)

DAVID BRANDT, AP Sports Writer

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Southern Mississippi’s new athletic director Bill McGillis took a long look out his office window at Roberts Stadium, admired the recently-finished renovations at the 36,000-seat facility, and then plainly laid out his vision for the Golden Eagles.

“Our expectation and aspiration is to win championships and be highly competitive at a conference and national level,” McGillis said. “I believe we can do that. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think so.”

The 50-year-old McGillis took the Southern Miss job in July after six years as an associate athletic director at South Florida. The veteran administrator was also the AD at Evansville from 2002 to 2007.

McGillis has two major challenges in the coming years.

The first is helping resurrect a football program that fell to 0-12 last season, breaking a streak of 18 straight winning seasons. New coach Todd Monken was hired in December by the previous athletic administration.

McGillis said Monken — whose high-scoring offense at Oklahoma State averaged about 45 points per game last season — is a perfect fit for the Golden Eagles. He said Monken’s offensive pedigree is important, but his “CEO qualities” have impressed him most.

“He’s a true football coach in terms of teaching the game and knowing it,” McGillis said. “He’s very straightforward and doesn’t give a lot of coach speak. I really respect that about him. He doesn’t give excuses, but he’s positive. He likes his football team, he likes being at Southern Miss, he expects to be successful and he’s a glass half-full guy.”

Monken, likewise, had nothing but compliments for his new boss.

“All he’s ever asked is what he can do and what do we need,” Monken said. “He understands the same things I do about Southern Miss. There are no barriers to success here. There are no excuses. If we don’t win, it’s on us.”

Another important task ahead of McGillis over the next several years is helping Southern Miss navigate through the rapidly changing world of conference realignment.

Many of Southern Miss’ rivals in Conference USA have left for bigger conferences over the past few years, including Tulane, Memphis and Houston.

Though Southern Miss has been consistently competitive over the past few decades in both football and basketball, the school hasn’t received much interest from BCS conferences looking to expand.

McGillis said that the department’s recent fiscal issues — including a $1 million debt in 2012 — would not keep him from making necessary improvements. Southern Miss has a $24.4 million athletic budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

“We all have a challenge in growing our resources necessary to have a highly competitive program,” McGillis said. “My objectives are twofold — providing every student-athlete here an awesome experience and building championship programs across the board. It’s not super complicated. To do that, we have to grow the fan base, pull people together, raise more money and invest more in our program.”

McGillis said the Golden Eagles’ future in college athletics would be tied to how successful it is on the field. He said his experience at South Florida — which included helping the school through the transition from the Big East to the newly-created American Athletic Conference — should help in shaping a path for the school.

“That’s something I’ve been right in the middle of, so I have a high level of awareness of that situation,” McGillis said. “That should benefit us in the long term.”

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