It was an unbelievable yet bittersweet moment for Scotty Walden as he learned the news just 20 minutes before addressing the team that he was chosen as Southern Miss’ interim coach.
“We had a team meeting at 4 p.m., and I found out at about 3:40 p.m.,” Walden said. “I had about 20 minutes to get my mind right and get going. We had no indication and sat around all day game planning for Louisiana tech and really didn’t have a clue with what was going on. It was pretty fast, and about 25 minutes later, I was in front of the team.”
It was almost a dream come true for Walden to earn the chance at becoming a Division I head coach, much less the youngest active coach in Division I football coach. While the opportunity is something he appreciates, Walden considers former coach Jay Hopson to be an important mentor in his career.
“It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling and an up and down rollercoaster just because Coach Hopson is a mentor to me and I look up to the guy,” Walden said. “He helped my career and profession and obviously took a chance on me. He means everything to me, and we had a great talk that first night.
“He was awesome and so supportive. He is a good person. Obviously, you don’t want something like this to happen to get a head coaching job this way. But we have to grab the bull by the horns and roll.”
Since taking the job, Walden has made several changes to the program. First, he moved Tim Billings to coach the nickels and Reed Stringer to coach the tight ends. Then he promoted alum Kevin Bolden as the offensive quality control coach and Brandon Butcher as the defensive quality control coach. Most importantly, Walden also cut down USM’s three-hour practices.
“I don’t believe in being out there for three or three and a half hours because, at some point, you start to lose the intensity,” Walden said. “We have been preaching that we will cut down practice a little bit. We are not cutting down practice not to just take care of their body, but rather get the intensity of the reps higher.
“That’s what I want our guys to understand. Running to the football, running full speed routes, and you may miss two or three reps, but they are full speed now and consistently full speed.”
As Walden preps for his first game at the helm of the Golden Eagles, he has drawn much of his experience from his one-year as head coach at East Texas Baptist University where he led to the program to a 7-3 record and averaged 49.9 points and 564.3 yards of offense per game.
“There’s a lot of differences, but being a head coach is being a head coach,” Walden said. “This is obviously a way bigger level. There is more expected and more pressure. The D-III program standard was I better win or something would happen. They wanted to win. There was pressure there too. At the end of the day, you have to keep it about the kids. I really think my time at ETBU was invaluable.
“I’m more comfortable now that I feel more comfortable in the chair than I did when I first got the job at ETBU. I did not feel comfortable until after the first three months or four months, and then I kind of started to settle in. I think having that year under my belt has really been invaluable for this moment.”
Walden’s offensive mind developed in his college days as a quarterback at Sul Ross State University as his team changed its offense three different times in his final season.
“We literally ran a different offense every week as the starting quarter,” Walden said. “We started out running the spread pistol. Then we go on a bye week switch to a spread tempo. When we went to spread tempo, we were moving the ball on people and having athletes in space. The energy was totally different. Towards the end of the season, we had injuries, and we went to the Power-I, so I ran almost every offense in that year that you could possibly run.
“I learned real quick that you have to have, and I don’t care if you are a position coach, you need to have an identity on offense and defense. I knew real quick that I wanted to be a spread tempo, no-huddle guy, and push the tempo up the field. That’s what we were good at the time, but I saw how it affected defenses.”
For Walden, taking the reins at Southern Miss is something that has been just as special. As a college senior, he watched Southern Miss upset over Houston in the 2011 conference championship game, which was a game that always left an impression on him.
“I’ll never forget when I was in college, I watched the 2011 Southern Miss conference championship game against Houston,” Walden said. “I watched it because I love Case Keenum and their offense, and I thought this is going to be a good game to watch. I fell in love with the black and gold that day because of the way they played.
“When I watched that game, I had known about Southern Miss, but I knew that it was big-time football. To be sitting here as a Division I football coach in a place like this is not something I take lightly and take a lot of pride in and very excited and passionate about.”