Could we see yet another head coaching change at the FBS level? Based on the last 72 hours or so in Hattiesburg, it certainly seems as if it’s a possibility.
Earlier this week, Jay Hopson interviewed disgraced former Baylor head coach Art Briles for the offensive coordinator vacancy at Southern Miss. Wednesday, the university, which was not initially aware of the head coach’s interview with Briles, announced in a statement that Briles was informed he is no longer a candidate for a position with the football program; shortly thereafter, Hopson released a statement that very publicly questioned his employer’s decision, writing in part that Briles “is a man who deserves a second chance” as he “personally… committed no crime.”
On Thursday, a report from The Athletic‘s Nicole Auerbach further cast both the coach and the university in a negative light.
According to Auerbach, Hopson had signed junior college transfer Charles West as part of USM’s 2019 recruiting class. The problem? West was accused of raping two women at knifepoint in 2015 in two separate incidents. A potentially bigger problem for Hopson? As was the case with the Briles interview, the head coach, again per Auerbach, never informed the university of West’s past.
West was set to enroll in classes at the university Jan. 24 of this year before “someone in the athletic department found the Dallas Morning News article detailing the sexual assault cases that West’s background was brought to light,” Auerbach wrote. “Then West’s application was denied by the admissions office,” she added.
While initially accused of rape, West, 18 years old at the time of the attacks, subsequently pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after the case fell apart as both alleged victims were “having a hard time testifying in front of [their] attacker” and declined to take the witness stand. West was one of the highest-rated members of BYU’s 2015 recruiting class before the football independent parted ways with the player as a result of the off-field issues; in between the first assault in early 2015 and the parting of ways, West was shot in the left arm while playing a game of pickup basketball at his former Texas middle school in July of that year.
In the assault cases, West reached plea deals in July of 2016 and was sentenced to four years of deferred adjudication probation. If he violates probation at any point between then and July of 2020, he would be facing 20 years in prison on each count.
In addition to the West situation, Auerbach also detailed in her exceptional piece “Hopson’s previous tenure as a head coach at Alcorn State [that] included recruiting a registered sex offender and a player who saw game action while awaiting rape charges.” In the latter case, Hopson added a player to his Alcorn State roster who was connected to the Vanderbilt rape scandal, Jaborian “Tip” McKenzie, in 2013, although the university quickly did an about-face after the addition brought significant scrutiny to the university.
West, who eventually returned to Alcorn State as a player after Hopson left for Southern Miss, was sentenced to 10 years of probation in May of 2018 as he was never accused of actually raping the victim but rather standing by as it happened.
Auerbach also detailed Hopson taking in another player with a sketchy past after the McKenzie imbroglio:
Jamil Cooks had enrolled at Alcorn State after he was dismissed from the Air Force Academy. Midway through the 2014 season, ABC News reported that Cooks had to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life after a court-martial panel convicted him of abusive sexual contact in 2013. Cooks pleaded guilty to unlawfully entering women’s dorm rooms at Air Force the week prior to the conviction.
Despite his status as a sex offender, there was no rule that prevented Cooks from playing at another university. His 11 sacks led the Braves in 2014, and his 14 tackles for loss were second on the team.
Despite repeated requests, Southern Miss officials have thus far to comment publicly on Auerbach’s report.