Jon Gilbert Named Southern Miss Director of Athletics

HATTIESBURG – Before Southern Miss President Dr. Rodney Bennett made his decision and offered Jon Gilbert the USM Director of Athletics job, he had a few lofty traits he wanted to new AD to have.

According to Bennett, Gilbert checked every single box.

“I really wanted a person that wanted to be at the University of Southern Mississippi,” Bennett said. “It was almost a deal-breaker. I had to believe it, in a sense, that you wanted to be here.

“Then, I wanted a person who had compassion, who connected with people, who was transparent, and maybe in a corny kind of way, but you could see their soul and understand who they were and our students and student athletes would be able to connect with that person, because that’s who we are as a university.”

Southern Miss announced the hiring of Gilbert Tuesday morning on the second floor of the Jim and Thomas Duff Athletic Center in front of a packed room.

“The brand that Southern Miss has is profound across the southeast; it’s something that I hold dear,” Gilbert said in his opening statement. “There are a lot of institutions that have things that maybe we don’t have, but I can tell you this, they don’t have our brand, and that’s what attracted me to this community. I couldn’t be more excited to be here.”

Gilbert served as the University of Tennessee’s senior associate athletics director since October 2011, where he was Director of Athletics Dave Hart’s second-hand man. Prior to his stint with Tennessee, Gilbert was associate athletic director at the University of Alabama, as well as filling various others rolls in the athletic department in his 16 years in Tuscaloosa.

Gilbert joked about his low starting salary his first year at Alabama, as he worked in event management facilities. The late Mal Moore, the University of Alabama Athletics Director from 1999-2013, moved Gilbert to athletic development.

“For those of you who are familiar with how athletics work, most people don’t make the transition to an event management facilities guy into asking people for money, so I was very fortunate there,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert got the experience of working with ticket sales, marketing, promotions and sports administration, then when Hart got to Alabama, he moved Gilbert to external affairs. When Hart moved to Tennessee, he made Gilbert his No. 2 in the athletic department.

Gilbert’s experience set him above the rest of the candidates. Not only did Bennett and the selection committee focus on Gilbert’s administrative duties, Bennett wanted an Athletic Director who could connect with the students.

“Our bread and butter is built on our ability to connect with our students,” Bennett said. “To move them to where they are to some place different in a way that’s meaningful and in a way that’s transformative, and that’s what Jon Gilbert brought to the table, and that’s why Jon Gilbert is sitting here today.”

But, the hire had to be smart for Gilbert, too. During the press conference, he called this the ‘right opportunity,’ and he wanted to make sure he was confortable with his new home.

“I was really looking for cultural fit,” Gilbert said. “There are a lot of places that are great places to be an athletic director, but I really wanted to make sure that it was a cultural fit, and really more so, that my family was.”

Gilbert was a three-year letterman in football at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C., and he believes his time as a student athlete helps in his administrative duties.

“I really do understand what our student athletes go through on a daily basis,” he said. “One of the first things I’ll do when I return to the Hattiesburg community, is I want to walk in their footprint. I want to walk where they walk. I want to go into their residence halls, I want to go into their dining facilities, I want to see everything they see.”