Ole Miss

Unless otherwise noted, all articles on this page were either written by Jeremiah Short or were taken from press releases submitted to us. Jeremiah Short covers Mississippi State University football and basketball.  Follow him on Twitter, @JeremiahShort26; join his Facebook blog, Real Story Sports: J.Short’s Blog, or e-mail him, JShort@realstorypublishing.com.

Brewer Knew How to Win Games

I’ve done several Mississippi State Classics, over the past six months, but I feel that I have neglected Ole Miss. I have decided to change that, and it was only fitting that the first Ole Miss Classic be Billy Brewer. Brewer, a Columbus native, is the second-winningest coach in Rebel history. He compiled a 67-56-3 record, during his 11 years roaming the Rebel sidelines. He specialized in turning programs around; winning at every stop in his career.

Brewer was a great football coach; but he also had an outstanding playing career. He suited up for Johnny Vaught, who is the winningest coach in Ole Miss history from 1957-1960. As a Rebel athlete, he played quarterback, defensive back, punter, and place kicker, all of which earned him a place on the Rebel Team of the Century, which was announced in 1993.

Brewer had a short playing career in the NFL, before returning to Columbus. He was offered the Lee High School head coaching job, which he reluctantly accepted. Brewer proceeded to return Lee High School to prominence; they had been national champions in 1936. When Brewer was at the helm, the program was ahead of its time. They had a weight room and flew to football games – amenities that were rare, then. He was the highest paid coach in Mississippi, at that time.

“Columbus hadn’t won in twenty years, when I took the job. I had just come back from pro ball, with the Washington Redskins. I really didn’t want the job, but I took the job in 1962,” said Brewer.

“We never had a losing season, in the nine years I was there. We had some great kids that came through there. We won the north half of the big eight. We had great seasons. Friday night was the time to be in the Magnolia Bowl; it was wall-to-wall.”

“We had great success and had a lot of kids go on to Division I, Division II, and junior college football.”

“It was unbelievable – the support we got for high school football at Lee High School, during that era. Some really good teams and great athletes, that went to play for Georgia Tech, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Ole Miss. It was a fun and a great time”.

Brewer ushered Lee High School through integration. He indicated that it wasn’t that tough for him, because he had grown up with the parents of most of his incoming black players.

“It just gelled. You know how many problems we had? None. Race was not a problem; people create problems,” says Brewer, on the integration of his team. It was really good for the town. They just let it get away from them, throughout the years.

Current Columbus Mayor Robert Smith played for Brewer at Lee High School.

“He didn’t get to play at the black high school. If he were playing, right now, he would be a number-one draft choice. He was really a terrific defensive end – speed, size, and great quickness – and very intelligent. He was just a great guy,” said Brewer, on the player Robert Smith was.

After a short stint at Heritage Academy, Brewer moved on to Division II Southeastern Louisiana. He spent two years as an assistant, before getting the head coaching spot. In six years, he turned a program that hadn’t won in 20 years into a viable team. The Lions went 10-3 during his final season, in 1979, and Brewer was named the Division II Coach of the Year.

Brewer was then given a chance to coach Louisiana Tech, which was a Division I team for a few seasons, from 1980-1982. He concluded his tenure there with a 19-15 record.

Brewer eventually got the call to come back to his alma mater, Ole Miss, and right the ship. He couldn’t refuse the offer.

“It was a lifetime dream. Growing up, I thought I was going to Mississippi State or Alabama. When I got into coaching, it influenced me to want to come up here. It was a dream come true, to come back to your alma mater and be the football coach,” Brewer said.

He was able to work his magic on an Ole Miss program that had been down for close to twenty years. The Rebels had six winning seasons and went to five bowl games under Brewer – making Ole Miss a respected program again. He had several big victories, including one against Tennessee. The greeting as the team returned home from that game is remembered, vividly, by Brewer.

“We flew back into Oxford, and we couldn’t land because students were running up and down the highway. They were just so excited. The guy said ‘if I land, I’m going to kill about 50 students’, and I’m like ‘we better land, because we about to run out of gas’,” said Brewer, with a slight chuckle.

Coach Brewer actually lived with his players, in the athletic dorms in 1988, after selling his home. He discussed living with his players, which occurred the same year that Chucky Mullins was critically injured on the field.

“I would come in there at 10:30 at night, from work. There would be twenty players in there, in our area of the dorm. We had twenty rooms; we lived in a wing. They would be eating Oreos and drinking milk, watching As the World Turns. She would tape that stuff. Those kids were into that, and I’d have to run them out of there,” Brewer said.

Brewer’s teams were able to defeat in-state rival Mississippi State eight out of eleven times.

“It has always been a rivalry, like that. State use to control the rivalry; we had a good run. Of course when I was a player, they never won. We tied one time. We just had the better athletes, at that time. Later on, they were an outstanding football team; we were just fortunate to win some games,” Brewer said.

He does feel that the rivalry between Mississippi State and Ole Miss was nastier, back then.

“It was a lot rougher then, than it is now. I’m not saying they were toting knives and guns, but if they caught you in a honky-tonk somewhere by yourself. You would have to fight yourself out of it,” stated Brewer, describing how vicious the in-state rivalry was, during his era.

Brewer didn’t just enjoy success, while he was at Ole Miss – he also had to deal with sanctions, on two separate occasions – 1987 and 1993. The latter sanctions ultimately led to his dismissal. Brewer felt that his long-standing war with the Chancellor, Gerald Turner, had more to do with his firing.

“The first sanction deal was Alumni. You can’t control Alumni. The second one was nothing. We won the court deal; so, there was nothing on the court deal,” said Brewer, on the sanctions.

“Ole Miss turned themselves in, because the Chancellor didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. I didn’t blink. You fire me if you want to, but I’m not going to buy that pin from you for 1,000 dollars, for my lapel. I’m like ‘our coaches are underpaid and you’re trying to have everybody buy a 1,000 dollar pin’ – I’m not into that.”

“I can show you, on the record, where he met with the Commissioner and the NCAA. They schemed it. I’m not just saying this; it’s on files and on record. They set it up. The Commissioner told him ‘if you fire your coach within 30 days and any sanctions you get, I will control the infractions committee and there will be no infractions.’ The chairman nailed them. They turned themselves in on false stuff.”

“I was not implicated. It was called ‘lack of institutional control’. Institutional control? I’m twelfth on the list. How many ahead of me? It starts with the Chancellor; his name is Gerald Turner. I’ll leave it at that, and let it go. It’s out of my life, now, and I don’t want anything to do with it”.

The veteran coach decided to give up coaching, after the ordeal with Ole Miss – suffering from burn-out.

“I had opportunities to and could have been administrators to assist other guys. I had 39 years of playing and coaching. It was enough for me,” stated Brewer, on why he gave up coaching.

He was able to stay busy after his retirement—heading up the Tupelo Furniture Market, writing for Ole Miss Spirit (an Ole Miss fan site), and doing a post-game call-in show called “Hoddy Toddy Hotline”.

Brewer didn’t have the best relationship with the Rebel administration, after leaving, but he was invited back in 2009 for a ceremonial coin toss, when the rebels faced Southeastern Louisiana, his first college team. It’s something he considered a special moment.

He definitely felt more of a part of the Rebel program when his son, Gunter Brewer, was hired in 2011 as an assistant, under Houston Nutt. The younger Brewer had become an accomplished wide receivers coach. The elder Brewer is very proud of what his son has done as a football coach.

“He has been in some great programs. He coached Randy Moss, Dez Bryant, and Justin Blackmon. He is the only receivers coach who has coached three Biletnikoff winners,” said Brewer, with elation, discussing his son’s resume.

I would have been remiss, if I hadn’t asked Brewer, with his all of his coaching experience, about how he felt the game has changed over the years.

“The kids are bigger, stronger, and faster. They are just a lot bigger. The high school kids are college size, now, and some are NFL size. They get faster, every year.  The NFL is changing the rules because of that. If you can’t run as quarterback, you have to be a guy, like Peyton Manning, that can read defenses and get rid of the ball real quick. Then, you can’t play as a drop-back passer,” said Brewer, on how the game has changed.

“If you can’t run as a defensive player, then you can’t play. You got receivers that can run 4.3s, 4.4s, and some run 4.2s. It’s amazing – the speed and talent these kids have, now. If you’re down there to watch them take off their jerseys, in their shorts, and see what they do in the weight rooms, now, and how they’re cut and the strength they have. Now they feed them two times a day for training meals. I’m going to tell you – these guys are bowed up. These kids get to the combine, they look better than the guys already in the NFL”.

Billy Brewer had a stellar career—compiling a 124-95-5 overall record. Most high school and college coaches can only dream of realizing the kind of accolades that he did. Brewer’s name will forever be remembered in the state of Mississippi, because he just knew how to win games.

 Originally published in the April 25, 2012 Print Edition

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