A Mississippi Boy Back in Mississippi: Meet the First FBS Hire of the 2020 Cycle

Will Hall, Tulane's 40-year-old offensive coordinator, is heading home for his first D-I head coaching job.
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Will Hall talks Mississippi because he is Mississippi.

In fact, he’s from the deep, country part of the state, the most Mississippi of Mississippi, where Fridays are for football and Sundays are for church.

He was raised in the most Mississippi of ways—by a bigger-than-life high school football coach, Bobby Hall, who taught him the three Fs. If you’re from Mississippi, you know what those are: faith, family and football.

Will learned how to read by sounding out words in the sports section of the local newspaper. At age 8, Will studied film with his dad and coaching staff in a fieldhouse stinking of spit and sweat. On game days, Will often found himself on the end of whippings from his father because he enjoyed the art of passing—only he was passing rocks through car windows and ice at players’ heads.

Fittingly, Will went on to become a midline option quarterback for his dad, then set a bevy of junior college offensive records before moving on to the Division II level, where he claimed D-II's version of the Heisman Trophy.

Will’s story is like something from Varsity Blues. Small-town boy quarterbacks high school football powerhouse while playing under legendary coach, who just so happens to be his father.

What happened next is predictable: The coach’s son became a coach himself, ascending through the small college ranks before landing his first D-I head coaching job in, of all the places, Mississippi.

Southern Miss flag

On Wednesday, Southern Miss introduced Will Hall, Tulane’s offensive coordinator, as its next head coach. The first FBS job opening during this bizarre COVID season is the first to be filled.

The Mississippi boy is back in Mississippi.

“He’s always said, ‘I’m going to be a head coach at a D-I school by the time I’m 40,’” Bobby Hall says in an interview with SI on Tuesday. “Well, he doesn’t turn 41 until May.”

For Will Hall, this has been a slow march up the coaching ladder. He spent the first 14 years of his coaching career mostly at the D-II level, either as an offensive assistant or coordinator or head coach. He had stops at places called Arkansas-Monticello, Henderson State and Southwest Baptist.

He became a head coach at age 30 at West Alabama in the metropolis of Livingston, Ala. Population: 3,400. After three winning seasons, he moved up in the world, landing the head job at West Georgia, where he led the Wolves to a conference title and back-to-back D-II semifinal appearances.

He was his own strength coach, academic adviser, video coordinator and laundry man. He recalls once even filming an entire practice because his video man called out for the day.

Recruiting was no fun. He had just 36 scholarships to divide among 70 players. “Oh, one more thing,” he’d have to tell parents before leaving their home during recruiting trips, “you’ll have to pay your own way.”

“Will Hall has been down a lot of dirt roads to get where he is today,” Bobby Hall quips.

Will likes to say that he’s never been to the Alabamas and Georgias of the world. “But I’ve been to the West Alabamas and West Georgias,” he smiles.

It’s true: He’s never coached at a Power 5 football program. He only just three years ago broke into the Division I ranks, serving as offensive coordinator for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in 2017. His head coach, Mark Hudspeth, and the staff got fired after that year.

His first dip into the big leagues lasted 11 months.

“It’s scary. You sometimes wonder if you’re ever going to make it,” Hall said an interview this spring.

And yet, here he is, landing a head gig after creating buzz by overhauling Tulane’s offense the last two seasons with a scheme he describes as a multiple-formation, power spread, no-huddle, hurry up. It’s a conglomeration of styles. A dash of his father’s midline option. Some concepts from Sean Payton’s passing playbook. And, most of all, schemes he derived from former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino.

He visited Petrino’s programs through the years, specifically when the coach employed Hall’s college roommate, Chip Long, a former Arkansas graduate assistant who later became the Notre Dame offensive coordinator and who is now an analyst at Tennessee.

He uses the hybrid position regularly. Expect a lot of running backs and tight ends. It’s smash-mouth football with a twist. He is, after all, a former quarterback who used to sling it across the yard.

Will records about 150 college and NFL football games each year, his father says, and spends part of the offseason rewatching them. Adding this into his offense and that.

“I don’t know how many times he texts me a day with something he read or saw. He’s constantly in motion,” Tulane head coach Willie Fritz says. “He thinks outside the box.”

Such a football junkie, Will’s oldest of two boys is nicknamed Trip. As in, triple option, Bobby says.

Will carries with him a notebook everywhere. Andy Stevens, one of Bobby Hall’s former players, remembers Will arriving at his home for dinner with a notebook. He scribbled in it between bites at the table. “But he keeps it simple,” says Stevens, another Mississippi-bred boy who is nicknamed Mule. “He realizes that kids these days don’t need 50 plays.”

Maybe his best gift to Hattiesburg isn’t schematic. Or isn’t his leadership qualities (he’s like his daddy, they say—he can rally a team with the best of ’em). It’s his last name.

“The Hall name is well known throughout the state,” Stevens says.

Bobby Hall has the second-most wins of any coach in Mississippi high school football history and he led two different schools to a combined four state championships. And though he’s 65 and retired now living outside of Jackson, his mystic lingers over a state that, per capita, generates more college prospects than all but a handful of others.

“Bobby Hall is the best high school football coach in the history of the state of Mississippi,” says Buddy Duke, Bobby Hall’s former assistant coach and a Southern Miss graduate himself. “You knew Will was going to follow in those footsteps. Bobby and Will can sell an eskimo a bag of ice.”

In one of the weirdest seasons in the modern history of college football, Southern Miss has been in the middle of the most weird. Its head coach, Jay Hopson, resigned after the first game. Its interim coach, Scotty Walden, left midseason for the head job at Austin Peay. And the Golden Eagles (2–7) have had a total of five bye weeks because of game cancellations and postponements.

Once giant killers in the 1990s under Jeff Bower, the Eagles have never consistently returned to that level of success. Hall is their fifth coach since Bower’s final season in 2008. Despite its place in the talent-rich south and in a languishing conference, USM’s resources are lacking and attendance has been a problem for years.

“In my opinion, Southern Miss has always had trouble filling the stands,” Duke says. “I think the solution is you recruit more in-state talent. Will can do that.”

On this Tuesday, Duke’s phone has been buzzing with high school coaches around the state, all of them elated about the hire. They want their kids to play for the Hall boy, he says.

The Halls aren’t just known in the state—they are legendary. Fritz recalls recruiting with Will in Mississippi last year. At each high school in which they stopped, the head football coach knew Will. Not only the head football coach. “All the coaches at the school,” Fritz says.

Yes, Will Hall is Mississippi. And he’s back.