Rebel legend passes away

John Howard Vaught, 96, who left an indelible mark on Southern football during his 25 seasons as the head coach at Ole Miss, passed away here Friday night at his residence at Hermitage Gardens of Oxford.

OXFORD, Miss. – John Howard Vaught, 96, who left an indelible mark on Southern football during his 25 seasons as the head coach at Ole Miss, passed away here Friday night at his residence at Hermitage Gardens of Oxford.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time. Coleman's Funeral Home in Oxford is in charge.

"With the death of John Vaught, we lose an epic figure of Twentieth Century college football," said Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat, who played for Vaught. "Universally recognized as one of the great coaches in American football history, he brought dignity, intellect, creativity and vision to the game.

"The University of Mississippi has been shaped and influenced by Coach Vaught and we are a better place as a result of his leadership. His players admired and respected him, University administrators and faculty appreciated his commitment to academic excellence and football fans loved him. His was a life well-lived. He will be missed."

Vaught's first 24 teams won 185 games, lost 58 and tied 12, and that record -- up to the time of his heart seizure in October of 1970 -- was second-best nationally among active major college coaches.

"Coach Vaught took Ole Miss football, and to a certain extent the University of Mississippi, into the national spotlight. John Vaught possessed everything that should define a great coaching legacy: success, confident but yet humble, and loyalty to his University; characteristics not as common in today's environment," said Ole MIss Athletic Director Pete Boone.

He returned as the Rebels' head coach three games into the 1973 season when asked to replace Billy Kinard. Ole Miss went 5-3 during the remaining eight games to finish the year 6-5. When Vaught finally stepped down for good, his overall coaching record at the University of Mississippi stood at 190-61-12.

Vaught's teams won six Southeastern Conference championships from 1947-70 and only one other coach in the league had claimed that many titles at that time. He was selected SEC Coach of the Year six times by the Associated Press, twice by United Press International, twice by the Nashville Banner, and twice by the SEC Coaches. In 1993, he was chosen by Ole Miss fans as the "Coach of the Century" (1893-1993) when the University of Mississippi celebrated the school's first 100 years of football.

He elevated Ole Miss football from ninth in the then-12 member Southeastern Conference in 1947 to third in all-time SEC standing at the time of his second retirement in 1973.

Vaught's 1959 machine, which finished 10-1 and gave up only three touchdowns all year, emerged with SEC Team of the Decade (1950-59) accolades. That squad was also selected by the Sagarin Ratings as the third highest rated college football team from 1956 to 1995. He developed 18 first team All-American players and countless players who gained All-Southeastern and All-South recognition.

Three of his teams -- 1959, 1960, and 1962 -- are recognized as being selected national champions by at least one rating system. The 1959 team was named national champion by Berryman, Billingsley, Dunkle, and Sagarin, while the 1960 squad was recognized as the national champion by the Football Writers (Grantland Rice Trophy), DeVold, Dunkle, Football Research, National Championship Foundation, and Williamson. The 1962 Ole Miss team, which finished with a perfect 10-0 record, was chosen national champs by the Litkenhouse Ratings.

In results against Southeastern Conference members during his coaching days at Ole Miss, Vaught was 2-4 against Alabama, 3-2 against Auburn, 4-2 against Florida, 4-3 against Georgia, 18-8-1 against Kentucky, 15-7-3 against LSU, 19-2-4 against Mississippi State, 13-7 against Tennessee, 15-3 against Tulane and 16-4-2 against Vanderbilt.

Vaught left a legacy of 14 consecutive bowl games, a national record at that time, and 18 of his teams participated in post-season classics in New Orleans, Dallas, Jacksonville, Houston, Memphis and El Paso.

At one point, his Rebels held two Sugar Bowl records -- most appearances with eight and most victories with five. Including the 1971 Gator Bowl loss (28-35) to Auburn, with Vaught watching on TV from his home and quarterback Archie Manning handicapped by the brace protecting his broken arm, the Ole Miss bowl record under Vaught was 10-8.

Manning was the last of a number of spectacular quarterbacks developed by Vaught. The first Rebel hero under Vaught was Charlie Conerly, who played in the last year of the Notre Dame system on the Ole Miss campus. That was 1947, Vaught's first season as the Rebel head coach, and Conerly set a national record with 133 completions and 18 touchdown passes. Also on that team was end Barney Poole, who set a new national record with 52 catches, 44 from Conerly. The Rebels won the first of their six SEC crowns that autumn.

Quarterbacks Farley Salmon, Rocky Byrd, Jimmy Lear, Eagle Day, Ray Brown, Bobby Franklin, Jake Gibbs, Doug Elmore, Glynn Griffing, Perry Lee Dunn and Jim Weatherly were other great Rebel signal-callers developed by Vaught.

The name of the game with Johnny Vaught football was "excitement." Born on May 6, 1909 in Olney, Texas, and a graduate of Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth, Vaught played that way as a football collegian at Texas Christian University in 1930-32. He was All-America at guard in 1932, captain of a Southwest Conference championship team that season, and was All-SWC for two seasons.

Vaught served as a line coach at North Carolina with Ray "Bear" Wolf from 1936-41. As a Lt. Commander in the Naval Preflight program during World War II, he was stationed at North Carolina in 1942 and Corpus NAS in 1945, serving at those stations as line coach in football. And as line coach with Harold "Red" Drew at Ole Miss in 1946, he was Drew's chief assistant and took over as head coach when Drew returned to Alabama in January, 1947, to replace the ailing Frank Thomas. Vaught's unexcelled record of excellence followed, starting in 1947.

Vaught was one of the great innovators in American college football. He altered shift patterns in the old Notre Dame box style to station Conerly at tailback for all action, with the right halfback utilized as a flanker or in motion.

A year later, he introduced Split-T football to the Deep South. Thereafter, he pioneered in roll-out and sprint-out pressure out of the Wing-T and was among the first college coaches to utilize the "I" and Power-I formations.

Vaught football at Ole Miss became the model for many college and high school mentors. His 25 years as a college head coach produced a record that ranks among the most productive at any institution across the nation ... in any era.

Coach Vaught was inducted into the National Football Foundsation College Hall of Fame in 1979.

"In the short time that I was able to get to know Coach Vaught, it was evident how much he loved Ole Miss football and his former players. We have lost a giant in our coaching profession, and you simply can't measure the important contributions he made to our great game. Our prayers go out to the entire Ole Miss family," said Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Johnsie, and his son, John Jr. Survivors include a sister, Nedra Strickland of Glendale, Ariz., a daughter-in-law, Bonnie L. Vaught of Oxford, Miss., and a step granddaughter, Susan Vaught of Tennessee.

Vaught was a member of the St. Peter's Episcopal Church of Oxford.

Memorials may be made to either the Ole Miss Loyalty Foundation or the Alzheimer's Association.

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