It’s been a tough week outside of covering Ole Miss Athletics for this blog with life and what not going on. But, this news made it even tougher to put it in words.
Homer E. “Billy” Brewer, 83, who played quarterback for Johnny Vaught from 1957-1960 and coached the Rebs for over a decade, passed away last Saturday afternoon following a brief illness that he had been fighting for quite some time.
I didn’t know Coach Brewer personally. He was before my time. But, in my first few years on this planet, I do remember (with help of my father’s stories) his last few teams that wore the Red and Blue. 1992 was a good year. The Rebs went 9-3, beat Auburn, Arkansas, and won the Egg Bowl. Then, they headed up I-55 and beat Air Force in the Liberty Bowl. Those early Rebel teams played loose, were gritty, and didn’t quit, no matter how formidable the task was in front of them.
Just like Coach Brewer.
During his 11-year run as head coach at the University of Mississippi, Brewer’s 67 wins put him second behind the three-time national champion-winning legend, Johnny Vaught, his former coach. Those 11 seasons as head coach are the second-longest campaign coaching Ole Miss football in its history, placing him second, once again behind Coach Vaught.
As a player, he signed to play football for Ole Miss following his senior season at S.D. Lee High School in Columbus, Miss. He earned three Rebel letters while playing on three of John Vaught’s greatest teams, including the 1959 squad which earned “SEC Team of the Decade” honors after going 10-1 and winning the Southeastern Conference title. During Brewer’s three-year varsity career, the Rebels went 28-4-1.
After earning All-SEC defensive honors his senior year, he played in the College All-Star Game in Chicago and then played two years of professional football before doing what he loved: coaching. He made stops at Southeastern Louisiana and Louisiana Tech before he got his shot to lead the Rebels out into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium starting in 1983.
Brewer’s first Ole Miss team shocked everyone that year, finishing 7-4 overall and 4-2 in league play. The Rebs won a nail-biter, 24-23, over Mississippi State, and eventually lost to Air Force, 9-3, in the Independence Bowl. But, it marked the first time Ole Miss had been to a bowl since 1971 when Billy Kinard’s team defeated Georgia Tech 41-18 in the Peach Bowl.
Yes, there were some down years during the Brewer era, but there were some good years. Under Brewer’s guidance on the sidelines, Ole Miss won for the first time ever in Tuscaloosa, won in Baton Rouge for the first time since 1968, gained its first victory over Georgia since 1976, and earned its first victory over Arkansas in Little Rock since 1960.
Although it is absolutely not the memory he is most fond of, Brewer was the head coach on the sidelines in 1989 when former Ole Miss great Chucky Mullins was left paralyzed after a brutal collision against a Vanderbilt Commodore.
But, again, no quit.
Behind the encouragement from Chucky and Coach Brewer, the Rebels finished the year 8-4 and once again made it to a bowl game. After Mullins passed away in 1991, it was Dog who gave the eulogy at his funeral service that was held on campus at Tad Smith Coliseum. But that’s how Billy was to so many that he coached, knew, and the lives he touched while coaching at Ole Miss. Not once would he quit on you. He was there until the very end for Chucky. And he was there until the very end for so many others.
Following Mullins’ injury and unfortunate death, it was Dog who decided to honor Chucky each season by having a deserving player wear his number 38 the next season. Chris Mitchell was the first recipient in 1990 when the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity at Ole Miss initiated the annual Chucky Mullins Courage Award. Today, it is an honor unlike any other for a Rebel to get to drape No. 38 over their shoulder pads.
Again, thanks to Coach Brewer.
And speaking of starting traditions, in 1985 Brewer started going through The Grove on the east side of the Student Union building before proceeding down a sidewalk, which we now know as The Walk of Champions, a Saturday tradition where fans gather to greet the coaches and players every single game day before they head to the stadium.
Selfless and always putting Ole Miss first. Once again.
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke spoke with Antonio Morales of the Clarion-Ledger after learning of Brewer’s passing and he echoed that sentiment.
“As a coach and player, Billy Brewer shared a love for Ole Miss that was unparalleled,” said Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke in a statement. “He was greatly admired by his players and his teammates and will forever be engrained in the history of Rebel Football.”
Longtime former Ole Miss sports information director Langston Rogers talked about a few traditions he started at Ole Miss. And it wasn’t for him, it was for the players, the fans, and the people that make this program and this place so special.
“Billy Brewer’s life was about much more than football. He truly cared for the young men he brought into the Ole Miss football program and wanted them to graduate and succeed in life,” said Rogers. “He touched so many lives and his players loved him. He started the walk through the Grove and was admired by the way he responded following the injury and later death of Chucky Mullins, including making sure Chucky’s legacy remained by having a deserving player wear his uniform number 38, a tradition which continues today.”
Most of the time when sports figures pass away, most people will look at X’s and O’s and statistics and wins and losses, but with Coach Brewer, it was much more than that. Sure he faced turmoil whether it be with back-to-back losing seasons, a spat with the NCAA (eat shit), and tragedy between the lines, but Billy was never phased. In fact, he thrived in these moments.
Ole Miss Spirit founder and publisher Chuck Rounsaville had something similar to say.
“There were ups and downs but he was always very good when his back was against the wall,” Rounsaville said. “He was a fighter. He was a survivor and his love of Ole Miss is what separated him and carried him through.”
It’s truly fitting isn’t it? When his back was against the wall and he needed to muster up just a little more “umph” to fight back, he always did.
Until the very end.
Hope to get to meet you one day, coach. Tell Chucky the Cup said “hey”.
Until then, Hotty Toddy.