Last week in our summer-long series concerning failures of Ole Miss past, we put on our 1980s red pants and waded through three of Billy Brewer's worst teams, which composed numbers 10, 9, and 8 in our countdown. This week, we move into the next decade, but not out of the Brewer coaching tree.
In July of 1994, Ole Miss fired Billy Brewer as a result of an NCAA investigation that accused his program of multiple violations for the SECOND TIME IN LESS THAN TEN YEARS (to be fair, it was only 15 violations in 1994, compared to 27 in 1986). Also lost to the NCAA investigation was good ol' boy athletic department caretaker Warner Alford, who resigned from his athletic director position one day before Brewer was fired.
That meant within two months of starting the 1994 football season, Ole Miss was without a head coach and an AD. Fortunately for the Rebel faithful, the athletic department and administration were filled with people who knew what they were doing and carefully weighed their options.
Lol, jk. They promoted defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn to interim head coach for the 1994 season the next day. According to the Oscala Star-Banner:
But hey, who doesn't enjoy somewhat eccentric head coaches? I mean, having some fun and winning (note: despite what someone once said, those are not spelled the same way) would be a good time for everyone. The only tiny issue was that Dunn's record as a head coach at New Mexico ('83-'86) was 17-30 (9-21 in the WAC).
But surely he learned from his mistakes and had a better idea of what it took to be a successful head coach in college football, right?
So with preparation, offensive, and special teams philosophies falling under the mantra of "hope everything else falls into place," Joe Lee Dunn led Ole Miss through the 1994 season and produced the number seven team in our countdown.
7) 1994 (4-7 overall, 2-6 SEC)
The good news about this season was that there were no Jackson games, the quarterbacks threw only six interceptions* (all of which belonged to starter Josh Nelson), and Ole Miss fans were treated to the weekly viewings of The Joe Lee Dunn Show, where Dunn would sit uncomfortably in a studio with radio play-by-play man David Kellum and comment on highlights of what was likely a defeat. It was like The Ed Orgeron Show, but with more offensive success and fewer Hummer commercials (I have searched the mountains and valleys of the internet for a copy of a Dunn show episode, but I remain without my Holy Grail).
*The last time Ole Miss had a single-digit total for interceptions thrown? 2001 when Eli Manning threw nine and no one else was allowed to throw.
As for the not good news, of which there was plenty, it started with Ole Miss being outscored 185-133 in SEC games. That's an offense that averaged 16.6 points per conference game and did not score more than 20 points against an SEC opponent until October 29th (34 points against LSU; ENJOY THAT HUMILIATION, 1994 TIGERS).
Though it was outscored by 52 points in SEC play, it was a team that enjoyed toying with the emotions of Ole Miss fans (one of the Rebels' finest traditions). In the first half of SEC games, they outscored opponents 92-86, leading many a foolishly hopeful Rebel supporter to say at halftime, "I DECLARE, THEY MIGHT JUST DO IT THIS TIME."
Of course, it never happened. Ole Miss lost the second half scoring battle 99-41, which includes four conference games that saw the Rebels score zero points in the final 30 minutes.
Perhaps the finest example of such a tease came against Alabama in pre-spot-it-from-space Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Rebels led the Crimson Tide 7-0 in the second quarter when an Old Testament thunderstorm rolled in to Tuscaloosa. Granted, this is an image somewhat corrupted by bad technology, but look at Alabama head coach Gene Stallings trying to stare through the rain while waiting for Ole Miss to screw this one up:
What that image doesn't show you (but the linked video does) is all of the lighting strikes during the game. And not just lightning several miles away, but lightning close enough to the stadium that ABC's feed to the television-watching world kept cutting out.
But what's COMPLETELY BONKERS about that video is that 1994 was apparently a time when there were no rules in place that would require officials to suspend a game due to lightning in the area. The current rule calls for play to be stopped when lightning strikes within eight miles of a stadium, which is followed by a 30-minute suspension of the game after the last lightning strike.
The strategy of the officials back then was something along the lines of don't stop play until lighting hits the stadium or someone in it. And hoooooooo boy, it finally did. Make sure your audio is on and listen right when Ole Miss' Dou Innocent (his 14th year in the program) breaks through the line of scrimmage.
That, my friends, is the artillery-like boom following a lighting bolt that HIT AN OLE MISS ASSISTANT COACH AND TWO ABC WORKERS IN THE STADIUM. The two ABC employees went to the hospital and were released a short time later, but linebackers coach Mike Grant stayed put and tried to coach the Rebels up, despite having a "little red spot" where the GALL DARN LIGHTNING ENTERED HIS BODY.
The lighting hit Grant due to the headset and transmitter on his belt, which he then threw on the ground and said, "I wasn't going to use it anymore." GOOD CALL.
After the delay, Ole Miss somehow didn't collapse and pushed the lead to 10-0 at halftime, but went on to lose 21-10 because of course.
Speaking of artillery sounds, there was QUITE THE CONTROVERSY in 1994 over the ROTC cannon usually fired before, during, and after Ole Miss home games. Red Cup Rebellion senior field correspondent Beth Murphy explains.
The university telling the ROTC they had to retire the cannon because it "scared young children, disturbed people with heart conditions, and even caused hearing loss in one game spectator" was a special blend of the "SIT DOWN, I CAN'T SEE" leadership that plagued that place for decades.
Finally, no post in this countdown would be complete without an attendance check. How about the crap non-conference games?
Not only was that Memphis game a loss, it featured a 5-3 score at the end of the first quarter. So that's two straight countdown posts with a fiver involved.
What about a game involving the first time a number one ranked team ever visited Vaught-Hemingway Stadium?
I attended this game as a #youth (as well as the SIU game, where one of my dad's friends pointed out a pay phone to me in case I needed to call my bookie) who believed something great could happen that day. After one quarter and the score tied at 14, hope was felt throughout the mostly filled seats.
While that hope was burned swiftly to the ground in the second quarter, a new appreciation for spite rose from the ashes in the fourth quarter when a maniac in a visor on the Florida sideline elected to kick a field goal, up 35-14, with 1:43 to play.