David Cohen | Content Writer
The Golden Eagles return to action this weekend when they travel for the C-USA Championship game.
Khyri Thornton was selected in the third round (85th overall) by the Green Bay Packers.
Those names are some of the best to ever be a part of the Black and Gold.
There is one man, though, who has spent most of his collegiate playing and coaching career in Hattiesburg, and been a part of this program for almost a third of its 90-year history. During this season, he will have coached more games than any other Golden Eagle football coach, and his stability on the sidelines have enabled the Southern Miss program to reach new heights.
His name is Jeff Bower, and he is truly "the face" of this Golden Eagle program.
As a player, assistant coach and for the last 16 years as the head coach, Jeff Bower has come to mean as much to the success of Golden Eagle football as that of Bear Bryant to Alabama, Joe Paterno to Penn State and Bobby Bowden to Florida State.
Guided by his competitive fire, his loyalty and dedication and his tremendous character and work ethic, Bower's teams have put a quality product on the football field year-in and year-out, ready to step up to any challenge. It's been through that guidance that the Golden Eagles have joined elite company in all of college football - a group that boasts 13-straight winning seasons and nine bowl appearances in the last 10 years. And with each season that passes, the growing legacy of Jeff Bower for Southern Miss football continues to become even more and more impressive.
Bower enters his 29th overall year with the Southern Miss program, first as a record-setting quarterback, then as a successful assistant coach, and for the past 16 seasons as head coach. Bower has played a role second to none in the school's athletic history, and it has been appropriate that Bower has been at the helm of the program at his alma mater when it was a founding member of Conference USA, and now during a time when it is enjoying unprecedented success.
The 2006 edition saw his team win the final four games of the regular season that enabled them to capture the C-USA East Division championship, before rolling over Ohio, 28-7, in the GMAC Bowl for the team's third straight bowl victory. Southern Miss ended the campaign with a 9-5 mark - the team's first ninewin season since 2003 and the 10th year in the past 11 that the Golden Eagles have won at least seven games in a season. The winning record marked the 13thstraight winning season in Bower's tenure. The winning-season streak is the second-longest for a Southern Miss football coach, second only to Thad "Pie" Vann's school-record 17-straight winning seasons. The GMAC Bowl marked the fifth in a row, a school record, and ninth overall bowl in the last 10 seasons.
The season also produced 12 All-Conference USA selections - including four selected to the first team - and Freshman All-America honorees Damion Fletcher and Gerald McRath. The Golden Eagles had a total of four players tabbed to All-American teams, as George Batiste earned third-team honors from CollegeFootballNews.com and Travis Cooley notched honorable mention from SI.com.
Bower continues to be one of the marquee coaches in Conference USA, and Southern Miss remains one of the top-tier programs in the league. In fact, Bower's and Southern Miss' success in CUSA has set standards other coaches in the league seek to emulate. When the Conference USA Team of the Decade was announced, the Golden Eagles landed eight on the respective offensive and defensive squads, and Bower took home the highest honor by being named the C-USA Coach of the Decade.
Under Bower, the Golden Eagles have posted an impressive 112-77-1 record, making him the secondwinningest coach in school history. In the C-USA era, his teams have posted a 58-19 league record, ranking among the top 10 list nationally for conference victories over the same period. He is the dean of conference coaches, with his teams winning four Conference USA championships (1996, 1997, 1999, 2003). Following the team's perfect league season in 2003, Bower was selected as the Conference USA Coach of the Year for an unprecedented third time, adding to his awards in 1997 and 1999. His 190 games coached also make him only the second USM coach ever to coach more than 100 games, with Vann (200 games) being the other. In 2005, Bower also joined Vann as just the second head coach to win 100 games at Southern Miss, after he won his 100th career game on Oct. 21, with a 38-28 victory at UAB, becoming the 20th active coach to earn his 100th career victory.
Bower also has compiled that enviable record, while playing only 76 of those 190 games at home. His teams have posted a 60-16 record in those 76 games, including a 44-11 mark over the last 10 seasons.
Everybody's All-American Growing up in Roswell, Ga., Bower made a name for himself as an all-around athlete, excelling at whatever sport he was playing at the time. He was a part of state championship teams in football, baseball and basketball, but it was his football heroics that would foreshadow where his success would be the greatest. A prep All-American at Roswell High, Bower guided his team to a pair of state championships in football and also was a starter on two state championship teams in baseball and in basketball. Following his senior season, Bower was named the Class AAA Georgia Back of the Year, and he also played in the Georgia High School All Star Game.
Bower originally signed with the University of Georgia out of high school, but soon after made the decision to transfer after his first year with the program. Pondering several options, Bower felt that the best opportunity was at Southern Miss, playing for Head Coach P.W. Underwood. It was that opportunity which prompted the Georgia native to head west and become a main cog for successful Golden Eagle teams of the early 1970s.
After sitting out a redshirt season in 1972, Bower took over as the Eagles' starting quarterback in 1973 and guided the team to a successful 6-4-1 mark. In his first season, he threw for 1,495 yards, while completing 116-of-199 passes. Nine of his throws found their way to the end zone for touchdowns.
His .583 passing percentage during the 1973 season stood as a single season record at Southern Miss for 23 years -- falling by the side in 1996 at the hands of Lee Roberts. In addition, Bower finished that season ranked 26th nationally in passing, and he was an Associated Press All-South honorablemention selection.
Perhaps his best performance as an Eagle came during the 1973 season, when he threw for 291 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 85 yards and two more scores in a 41-14 victory over Texas-Arlington.
During his junior season in 1974, Bower completed 87 of 162 pass attempts for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. The Golden Eagles finished that season with a remarkable 6-5 record, despite having to play all 11 games on the road during the renovation of M.M. Roberts Stadium.
As a senior in 1975, Bower was named team captain and responded by leading the Eagles to an 8-3 record. He completed 75-of-145 pass attempts for 905 yards. For his efforts that season, he was named team Most Valuable Player.
Bower's career totals as a player included completing 278-of-506 passes for 3,589 yards and 20 touchdowns. He still ranks third on the Golden Eagle career list for completion percentage among players with a minimum 200 pass attempts with a .549 mark. He trails only two of his recent quarterbacks, Jeff Kelly (.582) and Lee Roberts (.569). His 1973 total offense mark of 1,706 yards, until recently, ranked in the top 10 at Southern Miss, and his 1,495 passing yards in 1973 only recently dropped out of the top 10.
Only Brett Favre (1987-90), Reggie Collier (1979-82), Lee Roberts (1995-98), Jeff Kelly (1999-2000) and Dustin Almond (2002-05) rank ahead of Bower's 4,062 yards of career total offense. Ironically, Bower coached all five players during their playing days at Southern Miss. In addition, Bower still stands seventh in career passing yardage (3,589), completions (278), and attempts (506), and he is still fifth in career touchdown passes with 20.
From Field General to Sideline Success While playing sports had always been a passion for Bower, coaching in sports wasn't always on his mind. It wasn't until right before graduation that Bower knew that he could have a future in the coaching profession, and that he could get his Master's of Business Administration degree while doing it. After Bower completed his bachelor's degree in 1975, he decided to stay in Hattiesburg in order to pursue a master's degree. That was when Coach Bobby Collins asked Bower to remain with the Golden Eagle program as a graduate assistant.
During his first season as a graduate assistant, Southern Miss struggled to a 3-8 record. During his second year, however, the team made great strides by defeating national power Auburn, as well as state-foes Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
In 1978, Collins offered Bower the chance to join his staff full time as receivers coach, and Bower jumped at the opportunity. It would be then that the former quarterback would begin to make a name for himself on the sidelines instead of on the field. From 1978 through 1981, Bower remained a part of Collins' Southern Miss staff, working with both the receivers and, later, with the quarterbacks. In 1980, the Eagles finished with a victory in the Independence Bowl, and in 1981 went to the Tangerine Bowl.
When Collins left in 1982 to become head coach at Southern Methodist University, Bower went with him to become the Mustangs' quarterback coach. During the period between 1982 and 1986, SMU won both the Cotton Bowl (1982) and the Aloha Bowl (1984) and played in the Sun Bowl (1983).
In 1987, Bower moved on to coach the quarterbacks at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons finished that season with a 7-4 record, their best mark in 44 years.
The next season, Bower returned to his alma mater as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, a job he held for two seasons. During his first season back, in 1988, the Eagles set numerous passing records and finished the season with a 10-2 record and an Independence Bowl victory. During that season, the Eagles put up the highest per game passing average in school history at 235.3 yards per game. The team was ranked 28th in the nation in that category that year.
Bower moved to Oklahoma State in 1989 to serve as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Although the team managed only a 4-7 record, Bower's offensive attack produced the nation's leading rusher in Gerald Hudson.
The Bower Era At Last Then on Dec. 2, 1990, Bower returned to the place where it all started as he became the 17th head football coach in Golden Eagle history and assumed the reins of the Southern Miss program for the final game of that season - the 1990 All-American Bowl.
His recognition as an outstanding offensive coach continued to grow after he took over the Golden Eagles for the final game of that season. Under Bower's guidance, quarterback Brett Favre completed 28-of-39 passes for 341 yards and two touchdowns during the 1990 All American Bowl against North Carolina State.
Bower's debut season may not have ranked among the best records in his career as the Golden Eagles finished that year with a 4-7 overall mark. Among those four wins, however, was a victory over Delta State in Bower's first-ever regular-season opener, and two more home victories over Colorado State and Tulane. The biggest win of the year, though, came in a dramatic 10-9 victory over nationally-ranked Auburn on the road.
In 1992, Bower took a team with only four starters returning and molded it into one of the more competitive teams ever fielded by the Golden Eagles. Southern Miss finished that season with a 7-4 record, losing only to eventual national champion Alabama, Auburn, Florida, and Northern Illinois by a combined total of 32 points.
Winning Becomes The Norm After suffering through a rare losing season in 1993, the Golden Eagles bounced back with consecutive 6-5 campaigns in 1994 and 1995, beginning a streak of 13-straight winning season with Bower at the helm of the Southern Miss program. The 1994 squad clinched a winning season with a thrilling season-ending victory at LSU, and the 1995 squad posted consecutive road wins to close the year and insured a second straight winning season.
Bower enjoyed another great year in 1996, when he guided the Eagles to an 8-3 record and a share of the inaugural Conference USA Championship. Southern Miss reeled off seven consecutive victories during the year, and that streak helped vault Southern Miss into the nation's top 25 polls for the first time since the 1989 season.
During the 1997 season, Bower led the Golden Eagles to a 9-3 record and sole possession of the Conference USA crown. Southern Miss spent two weeks in the national polls during the year and finished the regular season ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 23 in the ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches Poll. After scoring the most lopsided victory of any bowl game that season, in a 41-7 rout of Pittsburgh in the Liberty Bowl, Southern Miss finished with a final national ranking of 19th in both major polls, marking the first time in school history a Golden Eagles squad finished the year in the top 25.
The 1998 Golden Eagles rebounded from a 1-3 start to the season by winning six of their final seven games, earning a second-consecutive bowl trip. For the second time in as many seasons, Southern Miss was one of just a handful of schools to produce a 2,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and a 1,000-yard receiver, and was one of just two schools to repeat the accomplishment from the previous season.
The Eagles jumped into the AP's Top 25 in early October of 1999, stayed there a total of seven weeks during the season, and finished the season as the highest postseason ranked team in Southern Miss history, 14th in the AP, and 13th in the ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches' Poll. Over that season, Southern Miss regained its dominant presence and finished with a 9-3 mark, a C-USA championship, and a Liberty Bowl victory that earned Bower a second CUSA Coach of the Year Award.
In 2000, Southern Miss finished with an 8-4 overall record and reached its highest ranking under Bower's leadership and was ranked for a school record 23-straight weeks dating back to the `99 season. The highest ranking of the 2000 season was during the week of October 30, when the Golden Eagles were ranked 13th in the AP poll, and 11th in the USA Today/ESPN poll.
With numerous standouts and future NFL players gone from the previous season, a young 2001 squad worked hard and made its own mark, finishing 6-5 to continue to the winning streak.
The 2002 Golden Eagles had another productive season, finishing with a 7-6 overall record and a return to postseason play with a trip to the 2002 Houston Bowl.
In 2003, Bower led the Golden Eagles to an unprecedented fourth Conference USA championship, when Southern Miss finished the season with a 9-4 record, winning the final six games of the regular season in the process. The Golden Eagles tallied an 8-0 league record, posting their unprecedented third undefeated conference mark.
For his efforts, Bower was selected as the Conference USA Coach of the Year for an unprecedented third time, adding to his previous coach of the year honors from 1999 and 1997.
Then in 2004, Bower guided the Golden Eagles to a 7-6 overall record in a year that started as one of the best in school history. Southern Miss picked up its first-ever win over Nebraska in the season-opener and then rolled off three more wins to start the season 4-0 for the first time in Bower's career. In addition, the Golden Eagles picked up key wins throughout the season to keep the win streak intact. And with an invitation to the Wyndham New Orleans Bowl - which Southern Miss won 31-10 over North Texas - Southern Miss also landed the third-straight bowl berth and the seventh in eight years.
Bower guided the program through its toughest season for the program, although the difficulties came off the field in the form of Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst natural disasters to ever affect the United States, devastating much of the Gulf Coast in the states of Mississippi and Louisiana. The storm forced the postponement of the season opener against Tulane and sending Southern Miss to Memphis to train. After just two games, Hurricane Rita postponed the game at Houston, sending the Golden Eagles schedule into one that would feature a strenuous fourgame road stretch. Among the five losses on the season were three of four points or less. The team did receive its fourth-straight invitation to a postseason bowl as Southern Miss defeated Arkansas State, 31-19, in the New Orleans Bowl at Lafayette. Kevis Coley was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year, the third-straight and seventh overall for Southern Miss in league history, as Bower captured his 100th win during the campaign.
>b>`Do The Little Things Right And Big Things Will Happen' Throughout his career, Bower has coached a number of standout athletes, some of them among the greatest ever to wear the Black and Gold. But more important than that, Bower and his staff have continually sought to not only turn out outstanding football players, but also turn out outstanding people and role models. Bower has prided himself and his teams in working hard at doing the little things right. A lesson that goes back to his days under Collins, Bower preaches that if you do the little things right, then thebig will happen. That motto isn't just a saying to motivate the players to work hard on the field, but it's a catalyst to being a success in all facets of life.
Over the years, Bower has coached numerous All-Conference USA selections, seven Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year selections, 10 different players were named to 40 different All-America teams and nine Freshman All-Americans.
While Bower has worked with his share of outstanding citizens with high moral character and a solid work ethic, he also helped guide a number of standout athletes. During his coaching career, Bower has coached numerous All-America and all-conference selections. Other than Favre and Collier, Bower has had a hand in the careers of former Southern Miss offensive players Glen Howe, Mike Landrum, Marvin Harvey, Louis Lipps, Sammy Winder, Fred Brock, Terry Hardy, Michael Jackson, Harold Shaw, and Tony Smith, all of whom went on to play professional football. In addition, four of his 1999 players were drafted, including receiving standouts Sherrod Gideon and Todd Pinkston, defensive end Adalius Thomas and linebacker T. J. Slaughter; in 2000, another four were drafted and four others signed free agent contracts and two were drafted and one signed a free agent contract from the 2001 team.
Jeremy Bridges was drafted from the 2002 team and from the 2001 group, Chad Williams and Jeff Kelly were selected in the draft and Roy Magee signed a free agent contract. The 2000 group included defensive end Cedric Scott, defensive back Raymond Walls and defensive linemen John Nix and Daleroy Stewart. In both 1997 and 1999 the Golden Eagles sent seven players into various camps around the National Football League, and had four players drafted in each of those years.
The 1999 team also sported two All-Americans in defensive lineman Adalius Thomas and receiver Sherrod Gideon. Thomas, an AFCA first-team All-American in 1998, was named by College Football News as the best defensive lineman in the nation for the 1999 season and earned All-America honors on a number of postseason teams. Gideon left Southern Miss owning virtually every school receiving record, and he and Pinkston formed the most prolific receiving duo in Southern Miss history.
In addition, while at SMU, Bower's quarterbacks received first-team all conference honors for three-consecutive seasons. At Wake Forest, Bower coached Mike Elkins, who was the second quarterback taken in the 1989 NFL draft.
Jeff Kelly was another in a long line of successful quarterbacks to play under Bower. His on-field accomplishments earned him a prominent place in the Southern Miss record book, and his classroom successes were even more impressive. He graduated with a degree in business in only three years and finished his MBA when he ended his playing career in Dec. 2001. He was honored as a National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar athlete as well as being named the Woody Hayes Division I Male Scholar Athlete by the University and Northwest Sertoma Club of Columbus, Ohio. In 2000, he was named a second-team CoSIDA Academic All-American, behind the Academic All-American of the Year, Purdue's Drew Brees.
Kelly, along with Brett Favre and Lee Roberts ranks at or near the top of every Southern Miss career passing lists.
Roberts immediately preceded Kelly, and despite playing just half the season in 1996, was named second-team All-Conference USA, an honor he repeated in 1997. In 1997, he also solidified his position as one of the great passers in school history by becoming the second player in school history to pass for more than 2,000 yards in a season, a feat he repeated in 1998, breaking the school record with 2,680 yards passing.
In addition to Roberts, Gideon also put together three of the more prolific seasons of any pass catcher in school history. It should come as no surprise that Bower served as Gideon's position coach. The sophomore became the fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career receiving yards, taking just 17 games to reach that plateau, and his 1,186 yards receiving as a junior was the highest individual season total in school history.
Roberts and Gideon capped their 1997 season by hooking up for three touchdowns in the win over Pittsburgh in the Liberty Bowl. Gideon was named the game's most outstanding offensive player, as well as Liberty Bowl MVP.
That success has continued over the last few seasons, where Golden Eagle players have been named to numerous All-America teams and won countless other honors - including two Conerly Trophy (Mississippi's Heisman) winners, Rod Davis and Michael Boley.
The transition to the next level also has continued with many players selected in the NFL draft and more signing NFL free-agent contracts. In fact, over the last 15 seasons, 40 players have gone to play on the next level. The 2005 group saw five players - Dustin Almond, Kevis Coley, Trevis Coley, John Eubanks and Tom Johnson - sign free agent contracts with four different NFL teams.
The Bower Legacy Continues To Shine In 1988, Bower received his highest Golden Eagle honor when the M Club voted him into the Southern Miss Sports Hall of Fame. In 2001, he was honored with the prestigious "Hub Award" for his outstanding contributions to the community, commitment to excellence and dedication to public service in Hattiesburg.
Bower's list of awards continued to grow in 2003, when the All-American Football Foundation, at its Banquet of Champions XXXVIII, named Bower the Johnny Vaught All-American Head Coach and Bower's wife, Debbie, the "First Lady" of football.
In Dec. 2004, Bower received the Captains of Hattiesburg Award, an honor given by the Mississippi Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation for an individual's outstanding achievement in their profession and contributions to promote economic and charitable development across the state of Mississippi.
Born May 28, 1953, the 54-year-old Bower, who received his M.B.A. in management from Southern Miss in 1978, is married to a former Miss Southern Mississippi (1975) and Miss Mississippi USA (1972). The former Debbie Pawlik, who was a Southern Miss cheerleader and a member of the Kappa Delta sorority while in Hattiesburg, graduated with a nursing degree in 1975. She remains active in the Southern Miss Eagle Club and a variety of other university promotional efforts and continues to enjoy a nationally-recognized career as an Executive Senior Sales Director for Mary Kay Cosmetics.
The Bower family, which includes 21-year-old daughter Stephanie, a senior at Southern Miss, survived a tragedy early in the 1997 season when they lost 17-year-old daughter Kristen in an automobile accident. The Southern Miss team and the entire Hattiesburg community rallied around the Bowers in an unprecedented show of love and support following the accident.
Throughout the last three decades, Jeff Bower has taken Southern Miss to unparalleled heights. Whether it's been through conference championships, record-setting seasons, numerous postseason appearances or sending numerous players on to the National Football League, Bower truly has led the Golden Eagles to a place of national prominence and respect. It's been through hard work and loyalty that he has been able to accomplish so much for the university that gave him his start. And it will be through that hard work and loyalty, as well as Bower's guidance that the Southern Miss football program will continue to make strides in the realm of college football.