By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Former Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer was in good spirits last Wednesday. You could sense pride bubbling through the phone even from a hotel room in Nashville. What father wouldn’t be excited to see his son make a career move closer to home – or in the case of Gunter Brewer, at home?
In the case of Billy and the university, though, there’s an underlying sub text, and that’s the further normalization of relations.
Twice in 11 years under Billy Brewer’s watch, the football program was placed on NCAA probation.
Many Ole Miss fans remember Brewer’s 67-56-3 record as something of a Golden Age for the program.
For some that memory may be a bit over the top. The Rebels reached a bowl game five times during those 11 seasons.
But Brewer had some big wins, and for a fan base that warmly embraces the program’s rich tradition, Brewer’s time provided fight, spirit and some postseason exposure. Before he took the job in 1983, Ole Miss had reached seven wins in a season just once since John Vaught re-retired in 1970.
Billy Brewer remains an important figure in the program’s history not only as coach but also as player, a member of the school’s team of the century.
But the two NCAA probations were point of discord for two different chancellors, and Brewer, though always around, was not fully embraced by the administration.
In fact, Billy Brewer isn’t so sure that Gunter Brewer – his impressive resume notwithstanding – would be employed at Ole Miss now if not for a new chancellor in Dan Jones.
“Sincerely, I … I don’t know. You would hope that wouldn’t be the case, that anybody would hold that against a youngster or a kid. This is another chapter in another era,” Billy Brewer said.
Relations had begun to thaw. Brewer was recognized on the field earlier this season, and he has a deep respect for Nutt.
“Not that I was totally outside, but he’s opened up his arms and said, ‘Hey, come in … come in this house. The door is always open.’ He said, ‘I want to hear from you. I want to talk to you, and he’s done that.’ It’s a great feeling.”
Gunter Brewer’s hire was good for Nutt, not because of kin folk but because of what he’s achieved. If there’s something to be gained from nostalgia, that’s great, but Brewer will be good for his receivers, for his recruits and for offensive game planning.
Memories of an outlaw program in the 80s are still strong for some, but if the university, in the modern era, walks the straight and narrow and is at peace with its commitment to follow the rules, there’s no harm in a good relationship with a coach it once fired.
Perception may be a problem for some outside the program, but have thick skin, educate your coaches and follow the rules.
In a teleconference announcing his hire, Gunter Brewer said he believed his father’s past, which included a wrongful termination lawsuit, has been put to bed. He thanked everyone at Ole Miss except perhaps food services. He certainly thanked the chancellor.
Tradition is important to many Ole Miss fans. However, the younger Brewer’s hire is not about the past, but the future, which Nutt believes will be better with Brewer working on the field and on the recruiting trail.
He has to feel that way. He can’t make hires based on anything less, especially in the wake of a 4-8 season.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.