Southern Miss hires Jon Gilbert as athletic director

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) Southern Mississippi's new athletic director, Jon Gilbert, has witnessed some of the school's proudest moments on the football field.

Now the 48-year-old hopes to help the Golden Eagles recreate those glory days.

Southern Miss announced Tuesday that it had hired Gilbert and he'll start his new job no later than March 1. The veteran administrator, who was introduced on campus, has been an executive senior associate athletic director at Tennessee since 2011. He also worked at Alabama in several roles over nearly 17 years.

Gilbert takes over for Bill McGillis, who left to become athletic director at the University of San Diego.

Gilbert said he's long respected the Southern Miss program and has personally witnessed some of the football program's best moments, including a 1989 victory over Florida State and a 2000 victory over Alabama.

''I saw what a passionate fan base it was and a lot of those things, you can't generate,'' Gilbert said. ''There are schools that can't generate the fan base, the excitement and the tradition that we have and that's really what led me here.''

Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett said in a statement that Gilbert was ''the right person for the right time'' to lead the school's athletic department.

Southern Miss and Tennessee have some recent shared history in basketball that both schools would probably like to forget. The Volunteers hired coach Donnie Tyndall away from Southern Miss in 2014, months before it became public that the NCAA was investigating Southern Miss for multiple rules violations that occurred during Tyndall's tenure.

Tennessee eventually fired Tyndall after just one season and Southern Miss has received multiple sanctions, including scholarship losses and a two-year postseason ban. Tyndall received a 10-year show-cause from the NCAA, a penalty that he is appealing.

''Both institutions obviously suffered from that,'' Gilbert said. ''I'm hopeful we can all move on and continue the healing process that has already begun.''

Gilbert's main job will be helping Southern Miss find its niche in the rapidly evolving world of college sports. The school - which has a roughly $25 million athletic budget - is currently in Conference USA and over the past several years has seen former rivals like Memphis, East Carolina, Tulane and Central Florida move on to the more financially lucrative American Athletic Conference.

The Golden Eagles' football program has been up and down in recent seasons. Southern Miss bottomed out with a 0-12 record in 2012 but bounced back by 2015 with a nine-win season. Coach Todd Monken left after the 2015 season to become the offensive coordinator with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Southern Miss hired Jay Hopson, who went 7-6 last year during his first season.

Gilbert is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, North Carolina, where he played football. He earned a master's degree in sport administration at Eastern Kentucky.

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