By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
I am an early-riser. This is a recent development, brought on by age and other factors, I suspect.
Because of this, as former West Point mayor Kenny Dill and I kept trading phone messages into the mid-day on Monday, I suggested that the next morning might be a better time to talk.
I had inside information from Dill’s son-in-law, who said the former Ole Miss team captain is a morning person.
Indeed he is. Dill set a school record for an interview start time by buzzing my phone at 5:42 a.m. The previous record was 6:15 held by former Ole Miss offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.
No complaints here. I’m a fan of early production, and I needed to break ground on a story on the 1962 Ole Miss team which will be honored at the Rebels’ game against No. 14 Texas on Saturday night in Oxford. The Rebels won SEC and national championships in Dill’s junior season, but that team is most remembered due to an event for which it had no control – the forced enrollment of James Meredith, the school’s first black student.
I’ve yet to meet a football coach who doesn’t view control as part of his job description.
I relocated to Mississippi in 1989, and as I began to work more closely with Ole Miss, I became a student of the Rebels’ impressive football history.
I’ve had conversations about the 1962 team, and there’s consistency in the message that when the rumbling started John Vaught and his coaches controlled their players. They put them on lockdown.
The motivation, perhaps, was safety for the players, but it also had the effect of helping the marshals do their jobs. That was a least one group that law enforcement did not have to worry about making an explosive situation worse.
“We went on about our business living in that environment with the coaches controlling the situation,” Dill recalled. “We had great leadership. We knew we needed to stay out of trouble and to try not to get involved with that.”
No doubt John Vaught had rock star popularity then. He and his players could have become a focal point had he wanted it that way. Given the number of outside Ole Miss people involved in the fray, it’s unlikely a strong, vocal stance from Vaught would have helped restore order more quickly.
Today, music and movie stars would gravitate to the situation and give us their views. I’m not sure that’s progress.
Vaught did not take a Weather Channel approach and attack the center of the storm. Sometimes just taking care of business is the best plan.
That’s what the unbeaten 1962 team will be remembered for Saturday night.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.