On one side, you have interim athletic director Jeff Hammond and his supporters. He’s a man with a good deal of respect from the majority of USM fans. A former Army Major General, Hammond knows how to get the attention of a crowd and he is an unquestioned leader.
Hammond has his most ardent supporters among your everyday Golden Eagle fans. He’s done a good job of getting out and familiarizing himself with USM’s supporters while passionately expressing his love for the university.
On the other side, you have others, many who have been long-time financial supporters of the USM athletic department, who question Hammond’s experience and have clashed with his personality and management style.
Sure, there are some Golden Eagle fans who are smack dab in the middle. They have no significant preference one way or the other and will follow along with whatever president Dr. Martha Saunders decides.
But the first two groups of USM fans I described are dug in and will not give an inch on their beliefs.
Some of Hammond’s most adamant opponents claim that they will withdraw their funding of USM athletics if he is named the AD.
Needless to say, this is causing quite a stir in the Southern Miss community.
Saunders has been nothing but supportive of Hammond since the former quarterback came home to USM in the summer of 2010 after a distinguished military career.
Saunders’ respect for Hammond made him a prime candidate for interim athletic director when Richard Giannini retired at the first of January.
Many of the same people who are critical of Hammond and the unwavering support he has received from Saunders were allied with Giannini in the past.
You add all this drama to the fact that there is a vacancy atop the men’s basketball program and you’ve got a volatile situation brewing just below the surface at USM.
Some have rallied behind the solid resumé of Appalachian State athletic director Charlie Cobb and his candidacy for the job.
Whether there’s a nice third option whose hiring could bring about a “Kumbaya” moment appears uncertain.
Whoever is named athletic director, there is going to be a backlash from a certain group of fans either way. Some will be happy, while others will possibly pull away or drop their financial support.
Money talks, and someone will have to step up and replace whatever financial backing is lost if that does happen.
Ultimately, college athletics is about 18 to 21 year old student-athletes and not about fanatics ranting incessantly or boosters banging the war drums.