"We had Texas, but we always considered Ole Miss a rival, too," said the Rebels' new tight ends coach as well as special teams coordinator.
And those memories, along with coaching against Ole Miss the past few seasons, helped prepare Shibest for his new coaching home.
"It's one of the reasons we're excited to be here," he said of his history of playing and coaching against Ole Miss. "It's a place we've always looked at and said ‘Wouldn't it be neat to coach there?' I think coaches do that at different times in their careers."
That time for Shibest and several members of the Razorbacks' coaching staff came when Houston Nutt was named the head football coach at Ole Miss in late November 2007. The 1988 Arkansas graduate was an all-conference receiver for the Hogs. He's been a part of Nutt's coaching staff the past eight seasons after a coaching career in the Kansas junior college ranks.
The Houston, Texas, native said while his roots run deep in Arkansas, he is all about Ole Miss now and the job before him here.
"I'm an alum," he said of Arkansas. "It's where I played. In a sense, that's home. But change is great. It's a new challenge here, and a lot of time coaches are looking for that. This change is good."
One thing Shibest doesn't want to change is the impact special teams had on the teams he's coached the past several seasons. He wants Ole Miss to be noted for its special teams, because it helps teams win, but can also cost teams games if things aren't solid.
"We feel we've been very strong in special teams (at Arkansas)," he said. "It's a third of the game. It starts with the head man. Then it goes to your personnel. It's a group effort on special teams. We'll all coach different things. We'll strongly emphasize it. It wins ballgames. And it loses ballgames. So it's very important. It's got to be a big part of what we do for us to win."
Shibest said he knows the importance of having a strong kickoff man, too, a guy who might be able to kickoff from the 30-yard line into the end zone.
"It's worth a scholarship," Shibest said of a kicker who can make a significant difference on kickoffs. "If they can do it (kickoff into the end zone) just 50 percent of the time, it's worth a scholarship. I don't know if that will happen, but we've talked about it. We'll always look for a guy like that, because there aren't very many out there."
Shibest said he loves coaching tight ends and knows Ole Miss has had some great ones in its past.
"I played receiver. I coached receivers half the time I was at Arkansas. Tight ends is different, but I enjoy both. There have been some great tight ends here at Ole Miss. We'll try to get a guy who can play this position and play it well."
With this being their first recruiting season as Rebel coaches, Shibest said the staff believes Ole Miss is in the middle of fertile recruiting territory.
"We're excited about recruiting here. It's a great area. You've got Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Memphis. Atlanta isn't that far. In-state we haven't been used to recruiting against schools like there are here (MSU, USM). That will be interesting to compete with that."
The 43-year-old said the staff, led by Nutt, looks not just for talent but a whole lot more when it comes to the young men they want in their program.
"We don't necessarily believe in four or five stars," he said of evaluating players who might one day play for them. "We want them to be four or five stars in two or three years. We make sure we evaluate and try to eliminate mistakes instead of worrying about what everybody prints and how everybody talks about them. Good character, good students, those are just as important as anything."
Shibest said there is no question that a football player who comes to Ole Miss will have a terrific college experience under a head coach who understands what it means for them to get the most out of this special time in their lives.
"They're going to love Houston Nutt," he said. "He's a player's guy. We'll work their tails off. We expect to win. We demand they do the right things. We'll give them a great environment to do that and have fun doing it. Sometimes this game gets to be so much of a business that it takes away what's most important and that's the players. That's what it's really all about, them getting a degree and having the greatest experience of their lives."
Nutt says Shibest is a tremendous addition to the Rebel coaching staff, one he is very comfortable with and pleased to have on board at Ole Miss.
"James is an awesome guy who has been our tight ends coach and special teams coach. Solid guy. Has experience recruiting Texas and in junior colleges. That's real big to our staff. He brings a lot of energy and is a very good coach. It goes back to those relationships again. It goes way back. Just another good fit for our staff here that we're excited about."
Shibest is to be joined in Oxford by his wife Dianna and their two children, James John III (5) and Jordyn Grace (2). He says it will be good to get the family settled in to Oxford and become a part of the community, which he has heard so many good things about.
"This is the first time we've done this," he said of the move with children. "I've got a five year old and two year old that are missing daddy. I told my wife I'd been gone recruiting a lot before, but maybe this time it's because I might be gone for 30 days without seeing them. But I'll tell you what, they're excited. We like smaller towns. Everything we've heard, and I've talked to a lot of coaches who've coached here before, they've said it's been the best place they've coached, especially as far as where they've lived. So when you hear that, that makes you feel good."
Shibest excited about move to Oxford
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