| By Myra Bean
If you say the name Cowboy Woodruff in this area, many people know who you are talking about.
Though James Lee "Cowboy" Woodruff now lives part-time in the Memphis area and part-time in Destin, Fla., memories surfaced of his years as an Ole Miss Rebel after the death of his former coach John Vaught last week.
Woodruff was not able to attend the funeral as he had a family funeral of his own to attend. He did have fond memories of Vaught that he shared.
"He was very much a gentleman," Woodruff said of Vaught. "Coach Vaught was a very beloved man. He was a CEO – definitely one to be respected."
Woodruff told of the time when Vaught signed him to the Ole Miss Rebels in 1956.
"He showed up at our house at 6 a.m. and ate breakfast with us," Woodruff said. Vaught would always refer to that time when he met Woodruff in later years, Woodruff said.
Vaught coached the Rebels through what has become known as the glory years. Woodruff played on those national championship teams of 1956-1959.
"Coach Vaught recruited the best coaching staff in the country and managed very, very well," Woodruff said. "We had the same staff year after year. He was very good at the blackboard as far as designing plays and so forth."
Woodruff spoke of how Vaught would take another team’s defense and tear it apart.
"The plays would work out just exactly like he said it would," Woodruff commented. "He was definitely a great coach. He was playing golf up until two or three years ago. He kept himself in very good shape."
Woodruff also spoke of Vaught’s sense of humor and how he introduced him at one alumni meeting.
Woodruff recalled Vaught said, "Cowboy was a great football player. He was the only player we felt obligated to explain why we wanted to run that play."
Woodruff explained that he was an engineer and liked to break the play down.
"It was not easy to put together a football team back then," he said. "Mississippi did not have a lot of money but he basically started it all."
Woodruff’s father, Lee Thornton "Cowboy" Woodruff, also played with Ole Miss from 1927-1929. Senior Woodruff played professional ball with the original Philadelphia Eagles which is now the Washington Redskins team.
Younger Woodruff inherited the Cowboy moniker from his father and he played professional ball with the Houston Oilers and the Canadian League team Edmonton until he tore his knees up, he said.
In 1959, Ole Miss was ranked No. 1 in the polls but the lowest the team was ranked that year was No. 5.
Woodruff played with players with the familiar names of Billy Cannon, Charlie Flowers, Chancellor Robert Khayat, Jake Gibbs, Bobby Franklin, Allen Green and Billy Brewer.
Twenty-two players from that team played two or three years in the professional leagues, but there was no Super Bowl at that time.
Other notables of that era included Ole Miss beating Texas in the Sugar bowl Woodruff’s sophomore year 37-7. In his junior year, they beat Florida in the Gator Bowl 7-3, and in his senior year, defeated LSU in the Sugar Bowl 21-0.
"Coach Vaught told us before the LSU game if we won that game we would be No. 1 in the nation," Woodruff recalled.
"Coach Vaught was very affectionate," Woodruff remembered. "He would always speak and give me a big hug. We will definitely miss him."