June 6, 2012
"Thank you. I'm so very thankful for God's blessings in my life. It just seems like less than two years ago, my wife and I were at a place called Fort Hood, Texas, and we were looking out over the homes of where the soldiers and their families lived and we noticed there were moving vans. What that meant was that people were leaving because their loved one had lost their life in combat. We looked at each other and we said, 'We want to be happy again.' It's a sad time right now for those serving in the military because the cost is tremendous and we just wanted to be happy, and we knew happiness was here in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. We knew that we could smile every day coming back to The University of Southern Mississippi. In that regard, I'm just so grateful to The University of Southern Mississippi and to the wonderful people here today for your support, for your love and for your care. I truly appreciate (Interim University President Dr. Aubrey Lucas). Thank you for trusting me. You're a remarkable man. (University President Dr. Martha Saunders), ma'am, you're simply a remarkable strategic leader and I want to thank each of you for your trust and for your confidence and all of the Eagle supporters who have been there with me through some very interesting months, to say the least. Dr. Lucas gave you sort of a quick chronology of the history of our athletic directors, and I think we must recognize those wonderful people that have come before us. It's a tough but critically important position to make a difference. In particular, I want to recognize (former athletic director) Mr. Richard Giannini, for his absolutely remarkable, dedicated service to this institution. He sacrificed so much to make us better, to make us great. You just look around, for the reason we are here today and the things we're trying to accomplish, and all of the most respectful appreciation goes to such a fine man."
"I'd like to introduce you to my wife, Diane, and my daughter, Megan, here. My son is off in Texas for the summer, but I want to tell you something about my wife, Diane. She's the daughter of a lady who worked years and years in the School of Nursing, Ruth Centanni - she's here, my dear in-laws Ruth and Paul Centanni. She worked years and years in our school so that her children could go to college. She sacrificed everything, not only to raise a family, but to work so that the kids could go to school. I fell in love with a girl that's a product of this institution so you get a two-for-one with us. You get both Diane and I as Southern Miss graduates, but over time, I really want you to get to know my Diane because she really likes you guys. She really does and you're going to like her because her heart is bigger than her body. She's the best part of me."
"My commitment is pretty simple. I'm going to lead from the front, by example, with a strong code of ethics that is supported by a love for this institution. Ethics and love. You mix that together and that's pretty powerful. The vision is pretty simple. I can summarize the vision in three words: mission, family and team. Let me explain that. The mission of this athletics department, under my watch, will be the mission of this University. It will be embedded in the mission of this University. At the end of the day, that's to produce young men and women that dream, imagine and go out into the world and do magnificent things. That's our mission in the athletics department. Family - we've got to be a family. Families can have differences. We can argue. We can get mad. That's what families do, but at the end of the day, when the sun goes down, it's a terrible situation if a family member doesn't find the time to say, 'I love you,' and settle the differences. That's what families do and we are a family. Now, the third component, we are a team. If you are a south Mississippian, if you even look a little bit black and gold, doesn't matter if you're alumni, student, faculty or anything else, you're part of the team. Mission, family and team."
"My leadership style over the years was shaped by the likes of at least some of the people here today. I've mentioned them. P.W Underwood, coach, thank you for being steadfast and strong. Bobby Collins, Jim Carmody, Jeff Bower - I see his wife Debbie and daughter are here, thank you. I had two remarkable professors of mine here that taught me through the vehicle of special education how to treat people with dignity and respect and that's Dr. Basil Garr and Dr. John Norsworthy. And, there's a local man here by the name of Ed Felsher who taught me a little more about leadership than I ever counted on. These folks helped shaped me and there are many others, but it calls to mind one particular situation in my life. Some of you might be familiar with this. This year is 1976. We were an 0-9 football team. Prior to that, I volunteered to do anything I could to make a difference to the team. If you remember, I was the wedge man on the kickoff return. That's not too smart for a quarterback to do that, but I told Bobby Collins, I said, 'I just want to win. Put me somewhere to win.' I think he thought I was crazy so he joked and said I was the wedge man. But, we're 0-9, we're playing Memphis State here, they are heading to a bowl game, and Coach Collins says, 'You're going to be the starting quarterback.' Now, I'd never been a starting quarterback in Division I college football in my life. I didn't know anything about being a starting quarterback, but I knew how to lead, I knew when to call a timeout, I knew a little bit about how to make the reads on the option, but most importantly, I knew when it was time to step back and seek the counsel of good coaches so that I could make the right decisions. If you remember, we won that game. Then from there forth, we won the next game, and the next season we beat Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Auburn in a row and I like to think we did something towards moving ahead into the future with our great program."
"It's time for us to come together, ladies and gentlemen, as a team. Forget our differences - let's argue like a family. Remember, it is mission, family and team. It's time for us to hug a little bit. I'm going to be a good listener. I'm going to be one that desires to bring everyone back together and I'm going to find a reason for us to all move the same direction, in the boat, all pulling the oars together in unison at the same time. Please count on me as a leader to lead the way in healing, nurturing, caring for this department and moving it forward. I know this program and the culture. I know the challenges that we have to overcome. I value the relationship with all of our supporters and I firmly believe that the last 34 years of my life have well prepared me for this position."
"Finally, I want to share with you a short quote which I think encapsulates who we are. Before we move forth, from this day onward, let's step back and remind ourselves who are we. Mission, family, team. Author Mickey Spagnola, (of the) Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Sunday morning after the USM upset victory over Alabama and Bear Bryant. The year was 1982 where we won the game 38-29, and the big thing is we snapped Bear Bryant's 57-game home winning streak. It was one of those Lou Gehrig records where no one is ever going to touch that. But we did. We did it. And here's what Mickey wrote and that's what I want to share with you and this answers the question of who are we. Mickey says, that Sunday, 'If you're gonna go to war, and you get to pick first, choose Southern Mississippi.' He went on to say, 'Always choose Southern Mississippi. Don't fight Southern Mississippi. No matter how hard you fight, these folks will fight harder. These people know sweat. They know hard work and they know nothing ever comes easy. They are hard, I'm telling you, they are hard.' And I'd like to add, if I could complete it, those Southern Miss people have character and the moral courage to move the world."
"I thank everyone that came here today, but I want to offer one special thank you though. That goes out to the wonderful, off-the-scale, fantastic faculty that work at this university, that work unbelievably hard to ensure that we deliver the finest education in the state and in the deep south today. In closing, let's not forget our students and this wonderful staff. I see many of the athletic staff and the coaches are here. Thank you and God Bless each and every one of you."