Incoming Southern Miss AD Jeremy McClain envisioned a 10-day process for finding and hiring Doc Sadler’s replacement as USM’s men’s basketball coach. Though McClain has yet to “officially” begin his duties, it took him less than a week to zero in on Hattiesburg’s own Jay Ladner, a 1988 USM grad.
“What you set out to do is develop a list and start narrowing that down the best way you can, and that began [last] Thursday,” McClain said. “I’ve spent more hours on the phone over the last six days than I ever care to, I tell you that. But it was important to the process and making sure we had a great understanding of backgrounds of coaches and how they fit for Southern Miss.
“Jay continued to shine, and every time we had a round of interviews, he continued to be right at the top of that list.”
So eventually, McClain dialed Ladner up to offer him the job, but Ladner says he waited a few rings to answer.
“I knew who it was, and I knew that it was gonna be ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, so I stared at it for a couple of rings,” Ladner said. “I stared at it and said ‘I’m gonna have to answer it’, so I went ahead and answered it.
“I’m not even sure what I get paid, I really don’t. I may be working for free here because I was so excited about the opportunity that I immediately said ‘Yes’. I’m excited about being here.”
Ladner was introduced Thursday morning to Southern Miss supporters, many of whom needed no introduction.
In addition to being a Hattiesburg native, Ladner graduated from Oak Grove High School and played on Southern Miss’ 1987 NIT championship team. He led St. Stanislaus’ boys basketball program for 20 years, leading the Rock-A-Chaws to a state championship in 2011 prior to returning to Hattiesburg to coach at Oak Grove. After one season with the Warriors, he accepted the head coaching job at Jones County Junior College, where he won a junior college national championship in 2014. Afterwards, he moved up to the Division I ranks at Southeastern Louisiana, which is where he spent the previous five seasons.
“I’ve had a very, very rare career,” Ladner said. “I’ve never, for whatever reason, been outside of my home area. I’ve always been within driving distance to my mom’s red beans and fried chicken. I’ve always been close.
“But to have an opportunity to come back and coach basketball here, that’s the greatest thing in the world, it really is. This is a destination job for Jay Ladner, I can tell you that. I love the place, I know what it’s about, and I’m looking forward to getting it back in its rightful place in the hierarchy of basketball.”
Despite the loss of five seniors, Ladner says the program, which is coming off its first 20-win season since 2013-2014, has “all the resources to win”, describing it as a “black and gold mine”.
“We just gotta go to work,” he said. “It’s not gonna happen overnight. We’re late in the signing period. I’m not making any excuses, but I can tell you this: It started moving forward last night, I’m excited about getting to work.”