“The worst thing a coach can do is stand pat and think the things that worked yesterday will win tomorrow. Intelligent changes must be made.”—John H. Vaught.
Well, somebody was going to be looking for a new football coach after the Thanksgiving Day Egg Bowl, and as it turns out, it’s Ole Miss. And that’s certainly fair enough, all things considered. There certainly had been no reservation made for Matt Luke in the coaching hall of fame, nice a fellow as he may be.
And besides, unless I miss my bet, State’s coach’s turn will be coming round soon enough, too. Such is life in the fast lane of big-time college football. And yes, it surely will make you lose your mind.
But for now, it is Ole Miss’ turn in the barrel, and yet again the sugar plum visions of their now faded gridiron glory days have begun to dance in the heads of the school’s still loyal fan base.
There are entire generations of Mississippians who have never associated Ole Miss football and winning but there is at least one still around who can remember when it was a rare thing indeed for the team to lose.
From 1947 until 1970 (and again briefly, in 1973) Ole Miss was coached by one John H. “Johnny” Vaught, a dapper Southern gentleman who introduced the Southeastern Conference to something called the Wing-T on his way to winning 190 football games, while losing only 61 and tying 12.
Vaught’s teams averaged eight wins a year playing nine-and-10-game schedules. Under Vaught, Ole Miss won its only five SEC championships, went to 18 bowls (before there were so many that any team with a pulse could qualify to play in one) and claimed a share of one national championship while being deserving of another.
Oxford today is a cultural mecca and real estate developer’s dream come true; back in those days, the two best places in town to eat were a bowling alley and a bait shop and Ole Miss was all about quarterbacks and Miss Americas.
Those were indeed the good ole days. Since then, not so much:
• The first bad hire, Billy Kinard (picked by his brother) went 16-9 in just over two years.
• Ken Cooper went 21-23 in three years that were, frankly, just boring as hell.
• Steve Sloan, more concerned with preaching than tackling, went 20-34-1 in four years.
• Billy Brewer brought back toughness and respectability, going 68-55-3 for a decade.
• Joe Lee Dunn had one disastrous 4-7 campaign in 1994.
• Tommy Tuberville did a lot with a little from 1995-98, winning 25 of 45, but lied about his faithful commitment to Ole Miss on his way out the door to the greener grass of Auburn.
• David Cutcliffe was the best coach Ole Miss has had since Vaught and still ought to be there. Period. From 1998-2004, Cutcliffe won 44 games, lost 29 and returned Ole Miss to the post-season glory of the Cotton Bowl. But some very foolish alumni and an abject idiot athletic director ran him off to Duke, which had not won any games since Moses was a lad and which is now going to bowl games with some regularity.
• Ed Orgeron may be the toast of Tiger town now, but he was just Godawful in Oxford. He could recruit players, but he couldn’t coach them up a lick and went 10-25. And no, he could not speak the English language at Ole Miss, either.
• Houston Nutt’s record, 24-26, looks better than it was, because he won almost all those games with the players that Orgeron recruited and after they left, he started losing to directional schools with “his” recruits. Seems like we could either get them or coach them, but nobody since Cutcliffe has really been able to do both—at least, legally.
• Hugh Freeze is apparently something of an offensive genius, a talent he parlayed into 35 wins and only 19 losses from 2012 to 2016, once again making the Ole Miss faithful remember those thrilling days of yesteryear. Unfortunately, it turned out ole Hugh didn’t mind a little cheating along the way—on the recruiting trail, on his wife—and before he left Ole Miss in disgrace and on probation, the fan base had all received a lesson in hypocrisy and the promise of some very lean years ahead.
And lean, indeed, they have been, as Ole Miss once again pretty well wanders aimlessly in the football wilderness, trying to find a new Moses to lead it to the promised land. Luke’s job was a thankless one and he did about as well at it as might be expected, but truth is, he never really felt, never really seemed like anything other than a caretaker coach—a patch until the tire could be replaced.
Once upon a time, the head football coaching job at Ole Miss would have been a mighty, mighty attractive one. Now? I reckon we are about to see.
(Editor’s Note – This column was written last week, prior to Ole Miss hiring Lane Kiffin as its new head football coach).
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.