Vaught legacy transcends football

John Howard Vaught was nationally recognized as one of the greatest football coaches who ever lived. He reached that lofty stature at "little" Ole Miss and basically put our beloved university on the map of college athletics. But there was patently more to him than football.

I didn't play for legendary Ole Miss football coach John Howard Vaught.

I didn't spend a mountainous amount of time recalling the "good old days" with him, even though I was lucky enough to spend a good deal of quality time with him after his retirement and was graciously included in his last videotaped interview vividly reliving his historic coaching career.

But because of being in "these parts" for most of my adult life, and having been a Rebel fan for all 52 years of it, I have been fortunate enough to get to know a lot of people, mostly former players, who did know Coach Vaught very well.

And the thing that struck me the most was the larger-than-life reverence each and every one of them held him in.

I always found that to be almost surreal. On one hand, there were former players recounting the old war stories of fame and glory with humor and, I'm sure, marked by some exaggeration as the years ticked by and ran together. I've heard him called stoic, demanding, straight forward, brutally honest, calculating, manipulative and many other descriptive terms that aren't necessarily considered complimentary in polite conversation, but when used by his former Rebels were always spoken with a deep, abiding love and respect.

There was always an aura of awe when I heard first-hand accounts of Coach Vaught, no matter the story, no matter how many years had passed, no matter how many times the tale had been spun and retold.

The regard he was held in after the dust had settled on his coaching career is the testament to his life's work. Not the wins, which were many. Not the losses, which were few. Not the memories of the innovations in football he introduced. Not the many great battles he led his troops into. Not the national and SEC titles, which were significant. Those were all catalysts for his football legacy, but not the marks of the man.

He was revered by those who knew him best and who willingly shed their blood, sweat and tears for him on the gridiron and gained glory because of his leadership skills and the direction he led, shoved, coddled, pushed and drove them in.

Some outside of the Ole Miss family will say he was just a great football coach. That's a given throughout the entire world of college football. Those in the family know differently.

He was our George Patton, willing us to victory against the odds. Certainly, what Vaught was leading us in was not a matter of life or death, but the pride he instilled in a whole nation of Reb fans was extremely important. He directly and indirectly garnered national respect for our university and our state with his teams' exploits. We, as Mississippians, had something to stick our chests out about when the rest of the nation believed there wasn't much to us. He helped hold us together in times of racial strife. We drew from his undefeated team when the rest of the country was admonishing us. He led the way in comforting us all during radical changes in our nation. We could always turn to Coach Vaught and the Rebels for a beacon of hope and success when things got tough.

And, most importantly, he influenced and guided a couple of generations of players to be leaders of men, successes in life. He touched them all in a profound and positive way, and you can hear it in their voices when they speak of him.

Isn't that what it's all about? Sure, the 190 wins and championships are important. Nobody is saying they aren't the high water marks of his career, but the foundation of this revered man was the residue he left by the thousands of lives he influenced in a life-changing, positive way.

What better legacy could there be for any mere human? It's the stuff that makes the chosen few immortal. Their names live on long after they are gone. Their legacy is passed on for generations.

Rest well, Coach Vaught.

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