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Mizzou Moves To The SEC: Ole Miss And College Football's Most Underrated Coach

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OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 19: Barry Brunetti #11 of the Ole Miss Rebels runs with the ball against Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers on November 19, 2011 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 19: Barry Brunetti #11 of the Ole Miss Rebels runs with the ball against Morris Claiborne #17 of the LSU Tigers on November 19, 2011 at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Put on your khaki tailgating pants, and grab a red solo cup. It's Ole Miss week!

Ole Miss's Percentile Performance Since 1921 (according to S&P+ and Est. S&P+).
The dotted black line is the school's ten-year average.
For more on Est. S&P+, start here.

(Original helmet photo via

I'm not sure I've come across a program that has experienced more ups and downs than Ole Miss through the decades. Just look at the last 30+ years: since the late-1970s, the Rebels have had a 10-year average that placed between the 50th and 60th percentile in major college football. Their long-term fortunes haven't changed ... but in the short-term they seem to either be improving or regressing drastically every year. From 3-8 in 1980, to 8-3-1 in 1986, to 3-8 in 1987, to 9-3 in 1990 and 1992, to 4-7 in 1994, to 8-4 in 1997 and 1999, to 10-3 in 2003, to 3-8 in 2005, to 9-4 in 2008 and 2009, to 2-10 in 2011.

Your question, then: if your long-term performance really never changes, would you prefer severe ups and downs to, say, constant 7-5 seasons? Would you trade more low moments for more high ones, or would you prefer to simply keep cranking out low-tier bowl games every year?

Regardless of how odd Ole Miss' fortunes have been through most of our lifetimes, one thing is certain: this was an absolutely incredible program in the late-1950s. But we'll get to that.

Worst Five-Year Span

1922-26. Stop me if you've heard this one before: [Random SEC program] wasn't very good in the 1920s. Just like Auburn and Mississippi State, Ole Miss didn't really make much of a mark through the first 30 years of the 20th century. They did go 7-1 in 1910 (powered by shutout wins over Memphis High, Tennessee Medical, 0-7 Tulane, Mississippi College and Tennessee Medical again), but from 1919 to 1928, they won either three, four or five games every year, and against less than impressive competition. They actually bottomed out in 1929, with a 1-6-2 campaign -- they beat Loyola (New Orleans), 26-24, tied Mississippi State and Sewanee, and lost their six other games by a combined 185-34; Tennessee and MSU beat them by a combined 104-7. Under Ed Walker, fortunes changed a bit; the Rebels went 9-3 and lost in the Orange Bowl in 1935, and in the first four seasons of the Harry Mehre era (1938-41), they went 31-8-1 and finished 17th in 1941. But from 1942-46, the program fell apart, going 10-25, 2-7 in 1946. Enter John Vaught.

Best Ten-Year Span

1954-63. A couple of years ago, I began to devour whatever old college football books I could find. I love being able to go back to the source, so to speak, and read old books and old articles, things that still hold proper context for events that took place long ago. My favorite of these old finds was a book called Rebel Coach by John Vaught, who coached at Ole Miss from 1947 to 1970. If you can find a used copy on Amazon (or anywhere else), I would recommend picking it up. It is an easy read, and it tells an awesome tale of how he both built and maintained an Ole Miss program that very well could have been the best in the country in the late 1950s. Vaught inherited a 2-7 program an, in his first two years, went 17-3, leading the Rebels to a Delta Bowl appearance (Ole Miss 13, TCU 9) and two Top 15 finishes; they went 9-2 with future Pro Bowl quarterback Charlie Conerly behind center in 1947, then improved slightly to 8-1 the next year.

It was a little too easy, actually -- in his book, Vaught says "I don't deny beginners luck in 1947" -- and when the Rebels regressed beginning in 1949, they regressed pretty far. Ole Miss went just 15-13-2 from 1949-51. After losing a couple of superstars, Ole Miss didn't have the depth to compete with the move to platoon football, and it took Vaught a while to build depth. From Rebel Coach:

Looking back on those dismal times, I'm not sure I was ready for this new approach. Platoon football calls for specialists -- one-way athletes. Everything in my background had been built around the best athlete -- a boy who played offense and defense. It seemed in 1949 that the one big puzzle the staff and I had been working to put together suddenly became two.

Those years depressed me. It was the only time I seriously considered leaving Ole Miss. I don't like to lose, and I told myself that if I couldn't win I wasn't going to stay in the game. I would do something else.

Of course, he didn't leave. And even in 1949 and 1950, he began to win some key recruiting battles close to home. The Rebels bounced back to 6-3-1 in 1952, then took a huge step forward, finishing 8-1-2 and seventh in the country in 1952; their only loss: to undefeated Georgia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. The momentum just kept building and building after that.

1953: 7-2-1
1954: 9-2, No. 6 in the country, Sugar Bowl loss
1955: 10-1, No. 10 in the country, Cotton Bowl win
1956: 7-3
1957: 9-1-1, No. 7 in the country, Sugar Bowl win
1958: 9-2, No. 11 in the country, Gator Bowl win
1959: 10-1, No. 2 in the country, Sugar Bowl win
1960: 10-0-1, No. 2 in the country, Sugar Bowl win
1961: 9-2, No. 5 in the country, Cotton Bowl loss
1962: 10-0, No. 3 in the country, Sugar Bowl win
1963: 7-1-2, No. 7 in the country, Sugar Bowl loss

(We'll talk more about that 1959 team later in the week.)

Throughout this amazing decade, the Rebels claimed shares of three national titles (1959, 1960, 1962)

In an era with so few bowls, the Rebels went to bowls 18 times in 20 years from 1952-71. After a bit of a regression (28-14-2 from 1965-68), Ole Miss surged again with Archie Manning at quarterback, finishing No. 8 in 1969 (with another Sugar Bowl win). Vaught's health started to fade, and he retired after a disappointing 7-4 season in 1970. He returned briefly in 1973, when successor Billy Kinard's level of success faded (he went 10-2 in 1971, then just 6-7 in 1972-73) and won another five games, but that was it. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979, and honestly, he might be the most underrated coach of all-time. Yes, he's in the Hall of Fame. Yes, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is partially named after him. But the casual fan is perhaps only somewhat aware of Vaught and his success, and that's a shame. He is an all-time great.

After 18 bowls in 20 years, Ole Miss has been to only 13 in the last 40. As mentioned, the ups and downs have taken full effect. Ken Cooper went 21-23 from 1974-77, and Steve Sloan went 20-34-1 from 1978-82. Billy Brewer led the Rebs from 1983-93, made five bowls and finished ranked twice. Joe Lee Dunn, architect of the 3-3-5 defense, was named interim coach when Brewer was fired before 1994 and went 4-7. Tommy Tuberville took over in 1995, led them to two bowls in 1997-98, then Jimmy Sexton'd his way to a better contract at Auburn. David Cutcliffe took over and engineered five consecutive winning seasons from 1999-03, but when the Rebels fell to 4-7 in 2004 following Eli Manning's departure, he was axed in favor of Ed Orgeron. Whoops. (So many programs fall into holes because they got impatient with good-not-great coaches.) Orgeron won 10 games in three seasons and was dumped in favor of Houston Nutt in 2008. Nutt did what Nutt does: win games, then begin to win less as time goes on. The Rebels went 18-8 in 2008-09, then went just 6-18 in 2010-11, and Nutt was predictably shown the door. In 2012, former Arkansas State coach Hugh Freeze -- of whom I am a pretty big fan -- takes over.

Retired Numbers And Statues

Ole Miss has retired two numbers: No. 18 (Archie Manning) and No. 38 (Chucky Mullins). Manning, you probably know. Mullins, on the other hand, has a tragic story. He shattered four vertebrae in a 1989 game versus Vanderbilt and was paralyzed. Ole Miss established the Chucky Mullins Trust Fund to manage an outpouring of donations that came in Mullins' name, and he became an inspirational tale.

Chucky's battle with his physical disability and his undefeatable spirit changed the University of Mississippi. For months after the tragic accident, Chucky endured the grueling challenges of rehabilitation. During the difficult time, Chucky's gritty determination and positive spirit touched the lives of literally hundreds of people. More than a million dollars was raised for the Chucky Mullins Trust Fund. He was visited in the hospital and later at home by such stars as Walter Payton, Janet Jackson and President George Bush. Chucky's accident and his unbroken spirit transcended football. The people of Mississippi, the South and the entire United States rallied around this remarkable young man.

When Chucky returned to Oxford in August 1990 to begin living in the specially-equipped house built by the Trust Fund donations, he announced a determination to return to Ole Miss and pursue a degree. Against all odds, in January 1991, he did return to the classroom.

Mullins defeated the odds by returning to school, but fate took another cruel turn; he died of a pulmonary embolism on May 6, 1991. Since 1990, Ole Miss has been awarding the Chucky Mullins Courage Award in his honor.

Each award recipient receives a framed Mullins jersey and has the honor of wearing Mullins' No. 38 on the field the following season. In 2006, the number was officially retired, joining Archie Manning's No. 18 as the only retired numbers in the Rebels' storied football history. A 38 patch, rather than the jersey number, was worn from 2006 until 2010. The decision was made in March 2011 for the jersey to remain retired and be worn only by the Chucky Mullins Courage Award winner each year.

As for statues ... well ... I would have hoped there would be a Vaught statue somewhere. There is indeed. There's also this.


Ole Miss plays at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, capacity: 60,580. It was Hemingway Stadium until October 12, 1982, when Vaught's name was added. Perhaps more notable than the stadium, of course, is The Grove. Talk to any Mizzou fan who attended the 2007 game between the Tigers and Rebels, and they might remember the final score. But they'll definitely remember tailgating at The Grove.

Ole Miss On YouTube

Ten semi-random highlights via the YouTubes:

Season of Glory, the 1959 Ole Miss Rebels (Part 1 of 5)
Perhaps the greatest team of all-time (the 1959 Ole Miss Rebels) loses at LSU on Halloween 1959 because of one of the most amazing plays of all-time.
Ole Miss defeats Frank Broyles' Arkansas Razorbacks, 12-7, in the 1963 Sugar Bowl (Part 1 of 4)
Archie Manning and Ole Miss loses a thrilling 33-32 decision to Alabama in 1969
Ole Miss again defeats Arkansas in the 1970 Sugar Bowl (Part 1 of 4; side note: the SugarBowlClassic YouTube channel is outstanding)
Ole Miss upsets No. 12 LSU on a late missed field goal, and the Ole Miss radio guy loses his damn mind.
The incredible intro to the 2003 game between No. 15 Ole Miss and No. 3 LSU. (And yes, the Tigers rained on the Rebels' parade once again, 17-14.)
Houston Nutt > Urban Meyer. Jevan Snead and Ole Miss shock Florida in The Swamp in 2008.
Archie Manning talks Egg Bowl in 2009.


View their statistical profile here. Hugh Freeze has some rebuilding to do.

Five Interesting Returnees On Offense
RB Jeff Scott (5'7, 175, Jr.) (529 rushing yards, 4.6 per carry, -2.5 Adj. POE; 99 receiving yards)
RT Bobby Massie (6'6, 315, Sr.) (29 career starts, former five-star recruit)
WR Donte Moncrief (6'2, 217, So.) (454 receiving yards, 7.2 yards per target)
WR Ja-Mes Logan (6'2, 190, Jr.) (274 receiving yards, 6.7 yards per target)
QB Randall Mackey (5'11, 195, Sr.) (1,112 passing yards, 335 pre-sack rushing yards)

Five Interesting Returnees On Defense
FS Charles Sawyer (5'11, 175, Jr.) (57.5 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 9 PBU)
LB Mike Marry (6'2, 248, Jr.) (63.5 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks)
DE C.J. Johnson (6'1, 235, So.) (25.0 tackles, 4 TFL, former five-star recruit)
LB Joel Kight (5'9, 226, Sr.) (44.0 tackles, 4.5 TFL)
CB Wesley Pendleton (5'11, 180, Sr.) (14.5 tackles, 4 PBU)


Missouri's All-Time Series Versus Ole Miss

Another series lead for the Tigers (5-1). And if Mizzou and Ole Miss play only twice every 12 years, it will be a long while before the Rebels can catch up.

  • September 15, 1973: Missouri 17, Ole MIss 0 (in Columbia)
  • September 14, 1974: Ole Miss 10, Missouri 0 (in Jackson)
  • September 23, 1978: Missouri 45, Ole Miss 14 (in Columbia)

    If there were still lingering concerns about Phil Bradley's overall abilities as a quarterback, his performance helped to alleviate them. Bradley went 14-for-19 passing (spreading the love to seven receivers) with 178 yards and 2 TDs while adding 34 rushing yards. In all, Mizzou rushed for 327 yards and passed for 207. They sacked Ole Miss QBs ten times and held the Rebels to 186 total yards, and the only reason this game was even as close as it was, was because of four first-half Mizzou fumbles.

    Leo Lewis muffed an early Rebel punt, which set up Ole Miss for a quick 7-0 lead. Mizzou fumbled the ensuing kickoff as well (shades of the 1984 Iowa State game!), but three straight sacks kept Ole Miss from going up double digits. Then it was fullback Gerry Ellis' turn to fumble. Once again, Mizzou's defense held, however, and then Ellis atoned for his mistake by busting a 77-yard touchdown run. Butter fingers kept Mizzou from pulling away for a while (it was only 17-14 Mizzou at halftime), but it was only a matter of time. The Mizzou running game went crazy in the second half -- Ellis ended up with 114 yards, James Wilder 75 -- and Mizzou used a 21-0 fourth quarter surge to make the final score look a little more accurate.

    Seriously, this game might have been about 59-7 without the fumbles.

    So through three games, Mizzou had beaten the #5 team on the road, led the #1 team at halftime, and thoroughly dominated a not-great-but-not-terrible SEC team at home. They had clearly established themselves as one of the top teams in the country. That was the good news. The bad news? The schedule wasn't getting any easier. Thanks to a USC win over Alabama, there was a new team at #1; and thanks to the schedule makers, Mizzou got to play their second top-ranked opponent in three weeks. Brutal.

  • September 22, 1979: Missouri 33, Ole Miss 7 (in Jackson)
  • September 9, 2006: Missouri 34, Ole MIss 7 (in Columbia)

    While his counterpart Chase Daniel received plenty of time to complete 24 of 40 passes for 243 yards, [Ole Miss quarterback Brent] Schaeffer was under pressure on almost every play. The junior college transfer was intercepted three times and completed just 13 of 29 passes for 90 yards.

    "They had a good game plan on us," Schaeffer said. "It seemed like they were just everywhere. We couldn’t really get any big plays on them. … We didn’t get in a rhythm at all today offensively. Things didn’t go our way today. Everything that probably could go wrong did."

    The Rebels had just one play that really went right. Marshay Green turned a wide receiver screen into a 30-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

    Schaeffer was repeatedly pressured by Missouri’s front four. The Tigers sacked Schaeffer three times and stayed in his face. Stryker Sulak hit Schaeffer on an incomplete pass at the end of the third quarter that had the quarterback shaking his right hand as he jogged off the field.

    Staring at a Missouri defense stacking just six players in the box, the Rebels figured they’d repeat their running performance from the Memphis game. But the Rebels managed just 72 yards rushing on 28 carries.

    "We had a lot of pressure, and we couldn’t run the football," Mississippi Coach Ed Orgeron said. "We were trying to drop back and throw the football, but they did a good job of picking up our protections. The offensive line didn’t play like they should. I didn’t think we ran the ball like we should, and it was just an overall, we got whupped. Overall they just whupped us."

  • September 8, 2007: Missouri 38, Ole MIss 25 (in Oxford) (The Beef's Photo Gallery)

    Mizzou Statistical MVPs

    Offensive – Chase Daniel. The running game worked in spurts on Saturday, but not enough to prevent a deluge of 3rd downs. Throwing on 3rd-and-4, Chase was 1-for-1 getting the first down. On 3rd-and-5, 3-for-3. On 3rd-and-7, 2-for-3. On 3rd-and-10, 1-for-1. In all, he got the first down 7 of 9 times throwing on third down. That’s insane, and it made the difference in the game. Chase has lots of weapons at his disposal, but finding the right weapon at that high a rate is still quite impressive.

    Defensive – Brock Christopher. When the game was within 17, the Tigers made 15 ‘successful’ plays (i.e. unsuccessful for offense). Christopher had 4 of them and forced a BJGE fumble inside the Mizzou 10. It wasn’t a good day for the defense, but they still made plays when they absolutely needed to, and Christopher led the way in that regard.