We’ve had lots of cross-pollination in Mississippi sports

Hugh Freeze speaks at an Ole Miss alumni gathering with one of our 80-inch high-def screens in the background.
Hugh Freeze speaks at an Ole Miss alumni gathering at your MSHOF.
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

So now we’ve got an Ole Miss alum coaching football at Southern Miss. And we’ve got a Southern Miss alum coaching football at Ole Miss. This, I think, begs the question: Can’t we all get along?

First things first: Good for USM on hiring Ole Miss alum Jay Hopson to lead the black and gold. He has coached at USM before. He just completed one of the great reclamation jobs in college football at Alcorn. He knows the lay of the land. High school and junior college coaches in this state know and respect him. He will work his fanny off. My guess: He will win.

Hopson is not the first Ole Miss alum to coach at Southern Miss. Mississippi

Jay Hopson becomes the 21st head coach at USM.
Jay Hopson becomes the 21st head coach at USM.

Sports Hall of Famer Thad “Pie” Vann, who first brought USM football to national prominence as a small college powerhouse that knocked off the likes Alabama and Georgia,was a three-year standout and captain of the 1928 Ole Miss Rebels. Long-time USM athletic director Roland Dale, a Hall of Famer who hired so many Hall of Fame coaches, was first a standout lineman for Ole Miss before becoming one of Johnny Vaught’s most trusted coaching lieutenants. Dale famously accepted the USM head football coach’s job before turning it down and returning to Vaught’s staff. Years later, he was back at USM as an effective and accomplished athletic director.

And Freeze is not the only USM alum who coaches football at Ole Miss. Derrick Nix, the Rebels’ highly regarded running backs coach, ranks as one of the greatest players in USM football history. He was a record-smashing (and linebacker smashing) running back, a member of USM’s Team of the Century and a member of the elite USM Legends Club.

Bobby Collins, who used to dominate Mississippi State (and Ole Miss) when he coached USM, played football for Mississippi State. Collins will tell you that as a player he carried the great Jackie Parker’s bags at Dear Ol’ State, but Collins was a fine player in his own right, both as quarterback and punter.

We have so many cases of these allegiance switches through the years here in the Magnolia State. It all goes to show something I’ve learned in 50 years of covering Mississippi sports: It’s not about the mascots or the school colors, it’s about the people.

Andy Kennedy got his 200th Ole Miss victory Tuesday night.
The winningest coach in Ole Miss history grew up a State fan in Louisville.

Andy Kennedy, the winning-est basketball coach in Ole Miss history, grew up in Louisville, a fan of nearby Mississippi State. He has joked that the first cuss word he ever employed was “hell” as in “Go to hell Ole Miss.” Funny how things work out.

Hopson’s father, Dr. Briggs Hopson, served two years as the president of the national Ole Miss Alumni Association. Jay was a four-year letterman at Ole Miss as a safety and an Academic All American as a senior. He also coached at Ole Miss under David Cutcliffe between two different three-year stints at USM.

The point being: A coach may change shirt colors, but he doesn’t change character. The same coach can be loved and reviled by the same group of fans at different stages of his career, depending on his place of employment. Meanwhile, he’s the same guy.

Van Chancellor
Van Chancellor

Hall of Famer Van Chancellor graduated from Mississippi State but was a record-setting women’s basketball coach at Ole Miss before Olympic and WNBA fame. As Van would say, “Who’d a thunk it?”

Answer: Dudy Noble, that’s who, the father of Mississippi State athletics. Noble attended State (then Mississippi A & M), where he earned 14 varsity letters in four sports — football, basketball, baseball and track. He graduated in 1915, but not before accounting for five touchdowns in a 65-0 victory over Ole Miss.
Now, here’s the part so hard for so many to believe. In 1917, Dudy Noble became the head football coach at The School Up North – yes, Ole Miss. Noble coached football at Ole Miss for two seasons, basketball for one and baseball for two. For the record, Noble’s two Ole Miss football teams lost both times they played State.
Noble returned to his alma mater in 1919 and remained there for the next 40 years until his retirement in 1959. He was the athletic director from 1938 until he retired.

Dudy Noble
Dudy Noble

Even though Coach Dudy spent two of the formative years of his coaching career at Ole Miss, he apparently left with no affinity for the his alma mater’s arch-rival. Noble once told a Tennessee sports writer: “I already know what hell is like. I once coached at Ole Miss.”

Yes, and Noble once owned a bird dog, a lazy mutt that refused to hunt.

Dudy Noble named him “Mr. Ole Miss.”

And so it goes…

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