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Historic Team Spotlight: Ole Miss

Conference rivals, we were not.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl - Mississippi v Georgia Tech
Music City Bowl, 2013
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Today, Tech and Ole Miss will match up in just the fifth matchup between the two schools. This fact is particularly remarkable when one realizes the two shared a conference for several decades. Really, what gives?

The shared history of Ole Miss and Georgia Tech, quite frankly, is a short one. Despite sharing a conference for 42 seasons, they only played each other twice in that span. One of those times, oddly enough, was a bowl game. Most Tech fans probably have at least some reason come to mind as why: William Alexander and Bobby Dodd didn’t want to travel, Tech liked home gate receipts, the Mississippi teams weren’t seen as competitively interesting or a rivalry or just something of fan interest, and the SEC not forcing all teams to play each other on anything remotely resembling a rotation.

Rare is the day when I tease a column a year out, but we’ll look more specifically at the Tech angle of the rivalry next year when the Jackets head to Oxford for the first time ever. But for today, we’ll first learn a bit about Ole Miss on the gridiron.

The father of Ole Miss football is quite an interesting fellow. Alexander Bondurant was a classical historian who studied at four universities, he was also the man who first thought up the idea to create an athletic department at the school. As the man with the idea, he was also tabbed as the first coach. That first season was favorable for Ole Miss, as they went 4-1 featuring a home and home against Southwestern Baptist University (now known as Union University in Jackson, Tennessee), as well as a season finale win at Tulane by the intriguing score of 12-4.

HTS: Ole Miss

Season Opponent Score Result Attendance Site
Season Opponent Score Result Attendance Site
1946 Ole Miss 24-7 W N/A H
1952 Ole Miss 24-7 W 80,187 N
1971 Ole Miss 18-41 L 36,771 N
2013 Ole Miss 17-25 L 52,125 N
History of the Ole Miss series. Data via Wikipedia, Winsipedia, and the GT Football Media Guide, Compiled by Jake Grant

Much like Tech’s early history, Ole Miss also missed a year in the late 1890s. This was common among college teams, as interest in the growing sport clashed with extreme danger athletes faced during games. But outside the short break, Ole Miss had a fairly continuous history of early success, regardless of season-long interruptions. Their second season in particularly saw them play an intriguing schedule — Alabama, Vanderbilt, Tulane, LSU, and Cumberland — but a modicum of regularity would not come until the 1899 season when they joined the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (a precursor to the Southern Conference and, by extension, the modern Southeastern Conference).

The SIAA was a massive, cumbersome beast. Even though many prominent schools held off joining or (like Georgia Tech) went through intermittent periods of independence, it was essentially like combining the entirety of the modern SEC, ACC, SoCon, and a not-insignificant amount of modern Division II and III schools. Thus, though Ole Miss never finished higher than sixth in their roughly twenty years in the conference, said place was somewhat of a remarkable finish, given how massive the conference truly was. The thought of playing a competitively balanced conference schedule was more or less inconceivable, which would follow into the next conference, as well.

Summary of the Ole Miss series.
Data via Wikipedia, Winsipedia, and the GT Football Media Guide, Compiled by Jake Grant

After 1921, the larger schools in the SIAA would break away to form their own conference, the Southern Conference — the same SoCon that exists today though the membership composition has changed significantly in that time. It took until 1925 when Ole Miss hired Homer Hazel that they had a coach stay longer than three years, but Hazel experienced mixed success in Oxford. It would be his successor in 1930, Ed Walker, who led Ole Miss to their first bowl game in 1935: the Orange Bowl, where they lost to Catholic University (now in D3). Walker compiled a 38-38-8 record in his eight seasons, and while his successor, Harry Mehre, would follow him with a better win percentage, Mehre’s tenure lacked the highs of a bowl appearance despite eight years and seven seasons (with one season canceled due to World War II). After a brief 1946 disaster in the form of a 1-6 Harold Drew campaign, Ole Miss made the most impactful hire in their history when they hired one of the men their stadium is named after: Johnny Vaught. Vaught would coach nearly a quarter century in Oxford — a 24 season span that is inarguably the high point in their historic arc on the gridiron itself.

But there is not nearly enough time, nor do I have nearly the expertise on Mississippi and Ole Miss history in particular, to discuss at length the glaring paradox between the success Ole Miss was having on the football field and the socially regressive, oppressive realities that the average non-white Mississippian was facing. However, I would be remiss not to discuss these two currents, as they ran in clear parallel to one another throughout the Vaught tenure at Ole Miss, which included three national championships and six conference championships. Said currents crashed together several times, but the most prominent instance might be the 1962 Ole Miss riot, which came in advance of the integration of the university and coincided with the third of Vaught’s national titles.

After a middling three-year tenure from Billy Kinard, Johnny Vaught would return for a twenty fifth and final season in 1974. But Ole Miss would not make a bowl game between appearances in the 1971 Peach Bowl against Tech and the 1983 Independence Bowl, and their tenure between then and the turn of the twenty-first century is not particularly noteworthy.

But in the modern era, the Ole Miss coaching lineup is a who’s who of interesting figures, including sitting Alabama senator and mostly-mediocre Ole Miss coach Tommy Tuberville; the relatively successful and consistent quarterback whisperer/curmudgeon David Cutcliffe; the overmatched but later flash-in-the-pan wildly successful national champion Ed Orgeron; Houston Nutt, who committed enough recruiting violations to have the eponymous Houston Nutt rule named for him; Hugh Freeze, who would also like to let you know to report any recruiting violations (of which there were many) to, and who was very famously fired for using a university phone to arrange escort services; Matt Luke, who was just trying his best™; and most recently, Lane Kiffin. You might recall Kiffin from a number of his previous stops (Alabama and the Oakland Raiders), but you may remember him best from when he was famously “tarmac-ed” in 2012 after his USC Trojans started sluggishly the season after a loss to Tech, Paul Johnson, and their triple option in the Sun Bowl in 2011.

Always show up on time to the Sun Bowl dinner.
SB Nation

Really, all of those coaches are worth a quick Google search, as they are, at the very least, quite interesting. In his tenure, Kiffin has led a renaissance of the Ole Miss offense, and his team comes into Tech with two wins this year, ten the year before, and a Sugar Bowl appearance to its name.

This afternoon, Georgia Tech and Ole Miss will face off in the fifth meeting between the two programs, the second ever at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Tune in here at From the Rumble Seat throughout the day for coverage via the gameday thread and the postgame recap, along with live updates via @FTRSBlog on Twitter.