Thompson Guiding Improved Ole Miss Defense

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas native John Thompson has made so many stops in his long and winding career it has, admittedly, made him dizzy.

South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama. Southern Miss, Memphis, Louisiana Tech and Northwestern (La.) State. And don't forget the two-year stint (although, he'd probably like to), as East Carolina's head coach.

In other words, there's a lot of things Thompson has witnessed in his coaching career. He's been through his share of adversity, too. But not many can top the difficulties in his first year as Ed Orgeron's defensive coordinator at Ole Miss.

"I don't like to compare," Thompson said. "But this has been a tremendous challenge. It is a great, great, great challenge."

Ole Miss' defense, statistically, enters this weekend's game against Arkansas as one of the worst in the Southeastern Conference. The Rebels (2-5, 0-4 in SEC), who have had trouble replacing All-American linebacker and 2006 Butkus Award winner Patrick Willis, are last in total defense (436.6 yards a game) and against the pass (242). They're 11th in scoring (27.4) and rushing (194.6).

But there is good news: The Rebels have improved the past two weeks as they prepare to face the Razorbacks (3-3, 0-3) on Saturday. They recorded a shutout against Louisiana Tech two weeks ago. Then, led by defensive end Greg Hardy, the defense nearly led Ole Miss to an upset win against Alabama.

"We're not the New England Patriots, now," Thompson said. "But we have made some progress."

Although it hasn't been easy, Thompson said it's better than not coaching.

Last winter, Thompson finished his first year as Central Arkansas' athletic director when Orgeron called looking for help. The Ole Miss coach, who had served as his own defensive coordinator for two seasons, wanted to bring a veteran coach in to run the defense and free him up for other responsibilities.

"I've known Coach Thompson for a long time," said Orgeron, who played for Thompson at Northwestern State. "We just kept talking to him about some things. I knew that inner fire and desire to coach football was still in him."

Thompson checked with his wife, Charleen, and sons, earned their blessing and got back into coaching. There was one catch: Thompson wasn't hired to revamp Ole Miss' defense. Orgeron's 4-3 scheme and overall philosophies have remained intact. Thompson has added new wrinkles and ideas.

"What I have done for years is not what we're doing," Thompson said. "But that's certainly fine with me."

Poor tackling, missed assignments and trouble at linebacker have hindered the blended defense this season. But Thompson said things have improved since allowing 328 rushing yards in the 45-17 loss at Georgia on Sept. 30.

Hardy had 13 tackles, 4 1/2 for losses, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass deflection against Alabama. Defensive tackle Peria Jerry has been a force the past few weeks. Mouzon continues to be a playmaker, scoring touchdowns on an interception return and a blocked field goal this season.

Overall, the results aren't what Thompson or the Rebels had hoped for so far this season. But Ole Miss remains confident in its well-traveled defensive coordinator.

"He's working hard to get this defense together," Mouzon said. "He's a guy who is a great motivator. He's trying to find out what this defense is about and trying to find out the best 11 for this defense right now."

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