Mississippi State

"1965 Bulldogs"


Paul E. Davis had been an outstanding football player at Ole Miss after serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and like many football loving young men, traveled a path that took him from coaching position to coaching position until finding himself as the head football coach at Mississippi State University. He built a solid reputation as a high school coach, enhanced it as the head coach at Jones County Junior College in Mississippi, and entered the collegiate ranks as an assistant. At Memphis State and Mississippi State, his players enjoyed playing for him and when Wallace Wade stepped down to become the full time Athletic Director for the MSU Bulldogs, Davis was promoted to head coach. Though his inaugural 1962 season was a typical 2-8 losing affair for the hard pressed MSU program, he rose to Southeastern Conference Coach Of The Year in ’63 with a 7 – 2 – 2 record and Liberty Bowl win that is best remembered for its very frigid temperatures. 1964 was a bit of a disappointment at 4 – 6 but hopes for a run at the SEC title were considered realistic for ’65. Davis had assembled a solid staff. Billy Tohill would later become head coach at Texas Christian University and later, as a high school coach would send current Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney off to play for Alabama’s 1992 National Championship squad. Jim Carmody was an iconic figure in the state of Mississippi, lauded for his terrific defensive schemes at Ole Miss and Mississippi State and as the head coach at Southern Mississippi. Despite trailing what was an Ole Miss team that was consistently ranked in the top ten nationally throughout the late 1950’s and early 60’s, the Bulldogs always had a few highly talented players. Team speed for ’65 was provided by 160 pound halfback Marcus Rhoden, a Florida high school football and track star, while the power came from the crunching runs of Hoyle Granger, future Houston Oilers fullback. Smart line play with Percy “Bootsie” Larsen, a future college and high school coach, seemed to put all of the pieces in place for a victorious run and the 1965 season certainly began that way.


The Bulldogs power was personified by bruising fullback Hoyle Granger who later starred for the Houston Oilers

A few insightful prognosticators noted that MSU would begin the ’65 schedule against non-SEC competition other than the September 25th Florida contest, and that it would be difficult to judge the Bulldogs true worth until they hit mid-year and a full plate of conference foes. They were perhaps more knowledgeable than those on campus who became giddy with the Bulldogs opening 4 – 0 salvo that included victories over Houston, Florida, Tampa, and Southern Miss. Rhoden ran wild against the Gators when the Bulldogs traveled to Gainsville, showing his home state fans the speed he was known for. Granger lived up to the pre-season hype, with bursts of power, augmented by halfback Don Bland’s rushing contributions. Team co-captains Bland and Larsen, stood out against Houston and Southern Miss, every bit as much as the heralded backfield duo of Rhoden and Granger. With rangy Don Saget making outstanding catches, the team seemed to have it all, especially putting up 36, 48, and 27 points in three of those four wins. Traveling to Memphis State for Game Five turned the 1965 season on its head as the underachieving Memphis State Tigers “pulled a rabbit out of a hat” with what was seen as a major 33 – 13 upset despite two Anthony Cook – to – Don Bland TD passes. A narrow but unexpected 17 – 15 loss to lowly Tulane provided the second consecutive upset and the Bulldogs could not recover going into the toughest part of the schedule. Highly ranked Alabama, and tough SEC opponents Auburn and LSU continued the slide with lopsided losses and the 4 – 0 start to the season that sent fans into delirium and thoughts of a title run, brought the team limping into the season finale rivalry game against Ole Miss with a 4 – 5 mark.

Halfback Marcus Rhoden supplied the speed to the MSU Bulldogs ground game in 1965

Davis had a boost towards his SEC Coach Of The Year honors in ’64 with a huge upset win over Mississippi 20 – 17, the first Bulldogs victory over the hated Rebels in seventeen years. A win would make the ’65 season bearable but a 21 – 0 defeat by Ole Miss very much insured a miserable off-season. Despite good performances by Rhoden, Granger, Larsen, and others, this particular 4 – 6 record was upsetting to the entire fan base. Davis did not pull it around for ’66 and his 2 – 8 record reflected an anemic offense that frustrated his supporters. Inevitably he was fired and replaced by Charley Shira. Davis would have a lengthy career as a respected coordinator and assistant, primarily at Auburn under three head coaches. Another of his assistants on the MSU staff, Henry Lee Parker and 1965’s co-captain and outstanding center Larsen would have their names on every media broadcast, cited as coaches caught in the middle of the 1984 SMU money payment scandal that led to the school’s football Death Penalty. Though Larsen would later become a successful high school coach in Texas, his career would remain marred by the SMU tragedy. Though winning has been traditionally difficult for Mississippi State in the SEC, they have been consistent in their on-field appearance, emphasizing the school colors of maroon and white, and often utilizing the bulldog mascot logo on the uniform. In ’65, the maroon shell with white, NCAA style two-inch player identification numerals on front and back, and white bulldog head decal on each side made for a streamlined, classy presentation. The conservative maroon jerseys with numerals but absent of striping, like the helmet, gave MSU a very clean cut, timeless look that made their fans proud, despite a succession of losing records. To many fans, it was unfortunate that 1966 brought a change to the helmet design, as the identifying bulldog head was removed and a stylized “M” decal was instead utilized. The ’65 season may have been disappointing for MSU fans, but they presented an appearance that supporters certainly enjoyed.