The Vassallo Interviews — Steve Vassallo is a HottyToddy.com contributor who interviews Oxford’s and our region’s leading personalities.
“Few individuals have ever lived and experienced so much of Ole Miss football history as Billy Brewer. Coach Brewer now lives in Oxford and recently reflected back on many great memories and accomplishments that are still impacting the Ole Miss family today.”
HottyToddy.com — Coach, looking back on your years as Head Football Coach at Ole Miss, what were some of the most enjoyable memories that you have?
Coach Brewer — “One was the opportunity to return to Ole Miss as I played on the great teams of 1959-60. As a player, we experienced great success during that era and the 1959 team was voted the team of the decade in the SEC. We gave up only 21 points during the season. Playing both ways then was certainly an exception as QB’s had to also punt and play free safety. Few have ever had the opportunity to return to their alma mater as the Head Football Coach. The 11-year run that I had is the second longest tenure, second only to John Vaught.”
HottyToddy.com — If my recollection is correct, did you not play a key role in the 1959 regular season game with LSU? Could you describe the atmosphere that Halloween night?
Coach Brewer — “Electric. Exciting. Paul Dietzel, the LSU Coach, had organized his team into three units — the White Team; the Go Team; and the Chinese Bandits. This was the beginning of the SEC playing night games in Tiger Stadium at which time Ole Miss played consistently in Baton Rouge. I actually recovered three fumbles during this game and could have intercepted a pass that would have been the winning touchdown for us.”
HottyToddy.com — You coached a number of great players. Do you still stay in communication with these athletes?
Coach Brewer — “Yes. One recently was Wesley Walls from Pontotoc who was inducted into College Football Hall of Fame. Wesley now lives outside of Charlotte (NC). His son goes to Ole Miss. He was an All-American and played tight end and defensive end for us. He was most instrumental in the win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which was the only time throughout history that an Ole Miss team defeated Alabama in Alabama. On that day the Paul “Bear” Bryant Museum was dedicated.”
HottyToddy.com — Coach, how important are the facilities in competing in today’s environment in college football?
Coach Brewer — “Extremely important. Because we are recruiting nationally, student athletes are comparing what we have with the other schools, not only in the SEC, but in the nation. We are now on par with the other schools. It is my understanding that the north end zone will be enclosed at Vaught Hemingway at the end of next fall (2015), which will add an additional 10-15,000 seats.”
HottyToddy.com — Ole Miss competes in the toughest conference/division in all of college football. Can a school with a small alumni base such as ours continue to compete with the Alabama’s, LSU’s and Tennessee’s of the world?
Coach Brewer — “Ole Miss can compete on a national basis. The present team is going to be a real surprise in the conference and in the country. We have the opportunity to have an unusually successful year with two of the top teams in the nation (Alabama and Auburn) coming into Oxford. Crowd-wise and ability-wise, it’s as good as it’s ever been in Oxford, Miss.Ole Miss has a strong fan base in all major sports.”
HottyToddy.com — What is the story behind your nickname of “dog”?
Coach Brewer — “Everyone on the Ole Miss team would have a nickname that stuck with you for life. The love and friendship of our teammates was special. I have always loved dogs and still do. I have had them around me all my life.”
HottyToddy.com — Can you tell us your experience in Alligator, Miss.?
Coach Brewer — “A really good player named Tony Bennett came from there. In order for me and Coach Ron Case (who recruited that area) to get to the house we had to navigate a creek on a John Deere tractor.”
HottyToddy.com — What do you miss most about coaching?
Coach Brewer — “Game day, being around players and coaches, the exciting times in the Grove. We actually started the players’ walk through the Grove while I was Head Coach. The first few seasons we had no lights in Vaught Hemingway.”
HottyToddy.com — How does the loss of Chuckie (Mullins) impact your life today?
Coach Brewer — “Chuckie was the most positive, upbeat young man that I was ever around. He was a ‘glue player.’ By that I mean just his presence on your football team would be an asset. The day he was injured I cannot recall any time in my ten years as Head Coach that I had seen a photo of the team running onto the field. On that day one was taken. Chuckie was to my immediate right side. Two minutes later on the opening drive (vs. Vanderbilt) he was severely injured. A day, a week does not go by that I do not think about him and his contribution to Ole Miss and what he meant. His jersey number (38) will always be special.”
HottyToddy.com — What do you want your legacy to be here?
Coach Brewer — “I am not big on personal issues. As Head Coach this was my school, my team and my people. I love them all. This was the first time (1983) in 15 years that we had success here at Ole Miss. The 1983 team probably did more to lay the foundation to what was to come and where we are today. I believe that I was the only Division 1 Head Coach who ever lived in an athletic dorm with the players.”
Postscript: I could have talked to this gentleman for an entire day. Not only did he do great things for his school, he influenced the lives of so many individuals. One thing he recalled that I had never remembered was in the 1986 Independence Bowl, the team wore, for the very first time, white jerseys with blue numerals. In later years against Mississippi State, Coach Brewer would have the team wear white jerseys with red numerals during the first half and then return to the field with new jerseys having blue numerals in the second half. Few noticed, including me! Billy “Dog” Brewer’s coaching philosophy came down to just three things — “Attitude, Work Habits and Discipline.” He is truly a treasure and a wonderful human being!