Southern Miss hires its seventh Director of Athletics


Pres. Bennett and AD Jon Gilbert shake hands at his introductory press conference inside the Duff Athletic Center on Jan. 24.

Southern Miss announced today that former Associate Athletic Director at Tennessee Jon Gilbert has been hired as the new Southern Miss Athletic Director. 

“I really wanted a person who wanted to be at the University of Southern Mississippi,” said Southern Miss President Dr. Rodney Bennett. “It was almost a deal breaker. I had to believe it and sense that you wanted to be here. Our bread and butter is our ability to connect with our students.”

The Golden Eagles embarked on their search for a new AD on Dec. 19 after former athletic director Bill McGillis announced that he was leaving for the University of San Diego to become their Executive Director of Athletics. McGillis, a native of Seattle, was motivated to move to the West Coast to get closer to family.

“My intention was only to have one Director of Athletics during my tenure here,” Bennett said. “I felt like Bill [McGillis] and I would be here for as long as I was going to be here. As I transitioned into Jon, I felt like we had an amazing chemistry.”

Gilbert comes to Southern Miss after spending 16 years as Associate Athletic Director at the University of Alabama, then moved to Tennessee where he spent five years.

“The first thing that really excited me about this opportunity as I began to do my research on the University of Southern Mississippi was Dr. Rodney Bennett,” Gilbert said. “I knew that Dr. Bennett was very supportive of athletics. The relationship between the athletic director and the president is paramount towards success.”

Dave Hart, who was the athletic director at Tennessee during Gilbert’s tenure, announced that he was leaving in August, opening the door for a potential move for Gilbert and his family.

“Our goal is to provide our student-athletes with the best college experience possible, while having success on the field, in the classroom and in the community,” Gilbert said. “We understand there is plenty of work to be done, but myself and our staff are going to work tirelessly to take Southern Miss to new heights.”

The Southern Miss program has had recent successes with all of the sports teams, which opened up Gilbert’s eyes to the job.

Gilbert referenced Southern Miss’ win against Florida State in 1989 and at Alabama in 2000 as ways that USM showed passion and having bragging rights in the Southeast United States.

“I was really looking for cultural fit as well,” Gilbert said. “I saw what a passionate fan base [Southern Miss] was. A lot of [that passion], you can’t generate. There are schools that can’t generate the fan base, the excitement and the tradition that we have. That’s what led me here.”

Interim Athletic Director and current Head Strength and Conditioning coach Zac Woodfin will continue his duties until the end of February when Gilbert returns for the full-time role.