Southern Miss hires Clay Bignell as defensive coordinator

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Southern Miss has announced Clay Bignell as the football team’s new defensive coordinator.

Bignell, considered an up-and-coming defensive mind, comes to Hattiesburg from Eastern Illinois, where he served as defensive coordinator for the FCS program this past season. He previously spent one season as safeties coach and pass game coordinator for the Panthers before being promoted to full-time playcaller.

“Clay is a proven playcaller with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Southern Miss head coach Will Hall said. “He has learned under some of the best defensive minds in college football. Throughout this process, it was obvious he is a great teacher with a deep passion for his players.”

In his only year as defensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois, his unit led the country in turnover margin (1.36) and ranked No. 6 in turnovers gained (25), No. 18 in scoring defense (19.7), and No. 19 in fourth-down defense (.409).

Prior to his time at Eastern Illinois, Bignell worked as a defensive analyst at Vanderbilt in 2021 and at East Carolina in 2020. He also served as a defensive graduate and senior defensive analyst at Notre Dame from 2016-18. Learning under now-LSU head coach Brian Kelly, he crossed paths with new Southern Miss offensive coordinator Chip Long while in South Bend.

Bignell, who played at Montana State, got his coaching start at Montana Western in 2012 overseeing the linebacker group for the NAIA program. He then went to Northwestern as a graduate assistant before going to Notre Dame.

Southern Miss, coming off an underwhelming 3-9 campaign, is in the process of bringing in a slate of new assistant coaches. With the additions of Bignell and Long, the university has yet to announce a new defensive line coach after firing Brandon Lacy. It is unclear if they will bring in a new tight ends coach as Cayden Cochran was dismissed with the position rarely being utilized.

The Golden Eagle defense allowed over 35 points per game this past fall, which ranked 128th out of 133 FBS teams.

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