When legendary Ole Miss football coach John Vaught died in 2006, I scrambled to find one of his coaching contemporaries for comment. Quite a task when you consider Vaught was 96 when he died.
Thankfully, I had read somewhere that former LSU coach Paul Dietzel, who was a lot younger than Vaught, was living in Baton Rouge. Luckily, I was able to contact him.
Having grown up in south Mississippi, I was very familiar with Dietzel’s short, but successful, career at LSU and the Tigers’ intense yearly battles against Vaught’s Rebels. Dietzel was 3-4-1 against them during his tenure. He lost three straight to start the series, but his squad beat Ole Miss 14-0 in 1958 on its way to winning the program’s first national championship.
He gave me plenty of insight on the heated Ole Miss-LSU rivalry and his secret friendship with Vaught.
“We were friends. Of course we tried not to be seen together and talking,” Dietzel said, then laughed. “We were only bitter enemies for a couple of hours every year.”
Dietzel said Vaught’s teams were the best he ever coached against. “They didn’t make a lot of mistakes and made very few penalties,” he said. “They were so darn well-coached.”
Dietzel had an opportunity at an all-star game to coach a few of Vaught’s players. He picked their brains to see if they were doing something in Oxford that may help his Tigers, who had failed to beat Ole Miss.
“They told me they ran 20 50-yard dashes every day … full-pad,” Dietzel said. “That spring, I told my team we were going to start running 21 50-yard dashes in full-pads at practice.”
Why 21? “Because (Ole Miss) ran 20,” he replied.
Dietzel also learned about platooning players during his team’s 46-17 loss to the Rebels in 1956. LSU – with the great Jim Taylor in its backfield – led Ole Miss 17-14 at halftime.
“We played our first team the whole game. Johnny played his first, second and third teams,” Dietzel said. “That got us started in our three-team system (his famed Go Team, White Team and Chinese Bandits). I thought, we can’t beat Ole Miss if we can’t match them.”
‘Made us famous’
The LSU program and Dietzel – who died last week at age 89 – were admired and respected by Vaught, too.
“I don’t hate LSU; I love them. They made us famous,” Vaught told me in a 2003 interview.
He meant it.