Ray Mosby

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ray Mosby is publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.

“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 Howard Vaught

OXFORD—Oh, Johnny, we hardly knew thee.

There’s a reason why men don’t like to be the guy trying to replace a legend. And one need look no farther than the football program at Ole Miss to prove it.

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From 1947 until 1970 (and again for an awkward 8-game stretch in 1973), the Ole Miss football program was led by an outwardly gentlemanly, inwardly driven innovative genius of a man, the late John H. “Johnny” Vaught. During that period, Ole Miss won 190 football games, lost 61, tied 12 (a winning percentage of 72 percent), captured six Southeastern Conference championships and, in the days of split polling, one national championship.

In the 41 years since then, nine head football coaches at Ole Miss have won 231 games, lost 220, tied 4 (a winning percentage of 50.7 percent), captured exactly no SEC championships, and, quite naturally, no national championships, either.

Because of their respective relative successes on the football field over the years, it has been said that Mississippi State people don’t really know how to win gracefully, and Ole Miss people don’t know how to lose gracefully and there is some truth in both.

But that is also the reason why every so often, like now, the fans of Ole Miss football, most notably the ones who write the really big checks for that program, tend to start sharpening their pitchforks and lighting their torches and marching in this direction. It’s been four decades since Vaught left the sidelines here and Ole Miss folks are still looking for the next Gentleman Johnny—which in a very real sense can be likened, I suppose, to other folks waiting for their messiah.
One, apparently, shows up just about as often as the other.

The post-Vaught period at Ole Miss has been ugly in several respects.

• First there was the Kinard experiment. Athletics Director Bruiser hired brother Billy to coach and 2 years later, Vaught reappeared to finish out that, his last year.

• Then came Ken Cooper for four forgettable years.

• Then came Steve Sloan who tried to mix Christianity and coaching for five horrendous years.

• Then came Billy “Dog” Brewer, who won 54 percent of his 125-game stint and had some memorial moments, but not enough of them or bowl games.

• The Joe Lee Dunn no-socks experiment resulted in one 4-7 season.

• Tommy Tuberville looked to be turning things around with his gambling style, producing memorable wins, bowl appearances and said,  

“They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box,” about two weeks before leaving to take the Auburn job. To this point though, of all Vaught’s successors, he’s the only one that wasn’t fired.

• Next came David Cutcliff, who was another gentleman, a solid coach who knew how to coach quarterbacks (Ole Miss tends to win only when it gets good quarterback play), and would have been content to stay here forever. But, he ran afoul of Ole Miss’ idiot Athletics Director Pete Boone, who ran him off after Cutcliff had won 60 percent of his games in what was, and remains the biggest coaching mistake here since Vaught left.

• Boone then predicted national titles after he hired Ed Orgeron, who could recruit but could not either talk or coach and was fired after three dreadful years in which he won only 10 games.

Now, of course, there is Houston Nutt, who after producing two back-to-back 9-4 Cotton Bowl seasons and more sugar plums dancing in the heads of the faithful, has won only six of the last 17 games and has the pitchfork and torch crowd after both his job and Boone’s, and maybe the new chancellor’s, while they are at it. Once these things start, they tend to take on a life of their own up here and it’s apt to not be very pretty before it’s over.

Johnny Vaught once said, “I’ll do anything for Ole Miss.”  If that could include coming back from the dead, it would sure tickle some folks in these parts about now.