Mississippi State University

1979 - 85 Bulldogs
(Authentic Reproduction)




By the time the 1978 season had concluded, University President James D. McComas had decided to both change the face of MSU athletics and get Bob Tyler off of the firing line. Tyler had made changes on the staff and outgoing assistant coaches Jimmy Sharpe, the former head coach at Virginia Tech and Tyler’s offensive coordinator, State icon Rockey Felker, and respected offensive line coach Steve Sprayberry were all extremely critical of the way in which Tyler organized his program and his treatment of players and assistant coaches. Tyler was also forced to deny rumors that he was seeking the University Of Miami head job. Thus McComas requested that Tyler focus solely upon his job as head football coach while the Board hired an athletic director who would do that job only. Stating that he would not accept the head football position if he could not keep both jobs, Tyler then refused to answer any of the President’s calls or letters through the first two weeks of January. From January 16 through the 22nd there were numerous meetings with attorneys and spokesmen and on the 22nd, Tyler resigned. His 39-25-2 record had been knocked down to 21-44-2 with the wins forfeited due to playing suspended Larry Gillard during the NCAA enforced probationary period, and all State fans and alumni viewed Tyler’s final days in Starkville as a bit of a mess. LSU’s Athletic Director Emeritus Carl Maddox was hired to put things back together. Tyler attended law school at Ole Miss and did scouting for the Dallas Cowboys before he returned to a combined athletic director and head coaching position at North Texas State in 1981. Unfortunately, his single season 2-9 record was not as damaging as what was quoted as his “evidence of previous overestimation of income, underestimation of expenditures.” The Board had to immediately find and shift money into the athletic budget, find a conference affiliation due to a loss in its 1-A status, and on June 9, 1982, Tyler resigned. He later coached at Northwest Mississippi Junior College and Oxford (MS) High School before becoming Director of Mississippi State Parks, Wildlife, and Fisheries. He returned to the sideline as the head coach at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS from 2000-2002 before retiring. Maddox brought in Emory Bellard who changed the helmet slightly by displaying a white diagonally arranged “MSU” logo on each side of State’s standard maroon shell while maintaining the white rear player identification numerals and white mask. He installed a 4-3 defense and his signature Wishbone Offense. As one of twelve children, Bellard was driven to be successful and played football at the University Of Texas as a freshman. He broke his leg during his sophomore year and transferred to Southwest Texas State before becoming a very successful high school coach and at two of the finest programs in Texas, he won three state titles. He compiled a twenty-one year high school record of 177-59-9 before becoming the linebackers coach at the University Of Texas in 1967. One season later, he was named offensive coordinator and developed his innovative offense after tinkering with the Bill Yeoman/Homer Rice Veer model of Houston. The Wishbone revived Texas football fortunes and he became the head coach at downtrodden Texas A&M for the ’72 season. His first two years were difficult as he recruited the personnel needed for his offense but he then reeled off 8-3, 10-2, and 10-3 seasons and three consecutive bowl game appearances. The Aggies began 1978 at 4-0 and a Top 10 ranking but lost two embarrassing games to Houston and Baylor where they were blown out by sub-par teams. Being told that win or lose, he would be gone by the end of the season, Bellard resigned as both AD and head coach after the sixth game and then took the Mississippi State job. Inheriting a team more suited for a wide open offense, Bellard’s 1979 squad went 3-8 and scored single digit results in all of the last five games of the season. As Bellard said of the team’s ability to roll up 264 rushing yards per game only to see scoring opportunities inside the opponents’ twenty yard line blow up with mistakes, penalties, and fumbles, “We had the opportunities, we couldn’t make the plays…” Injuries decimated the squad, with linebackers Johnie Cooks and Bo Robertson going out for the season in the first two games and running backs Len Copeland and James Doss out early. Quarterbacks Tony Black and Dwayne Brown were beat up constantly and the big blow came when halfback James Jones went out in the fourth game against Tennessee. This did reveal freshman Michael Haddix as a potential future star, especially with 240 pound fullback Fred Collins in front of him. Tight end Jerry Price played with Oklahoma of the USFL in ’84 and Tampa Bay in ’85. 6’7” defensive tackle “Too Tall” Tyrone Keys was a Second Team All SEC pick and safety Kenny Johnson completed his MSU career as the all-time interception leader with eleven picks. He played six-and-a-half of his ten year pro career with the Falcons and completed it with the Oilers. Lonnie Greene, moved from nose guard to tackle in the new scheme, and played with Oakland of the USFL. Linebacker John Miller who was always consistent, went to camp with the Colts in ’83, played with the USFL Generals in 1984 and ’85, and was with the Packers for one game in ’87.

1980 would prove that Bellard’s Wishbone was viable as there was immediate improvement to 9-2 with a 5-1 conference record, victory over Ole Miss, and a Sun Bowl game finish with Nebraska. Despite dropping the bowl game 31-17, Bulldogs fans were delighted with the huge rushing numbers that placed them seventh nationally as freshman quarterback and former Valdosta, GA High School All American John Bond had 1569 total yards, and a fourth in the SEC 720 yards on the ground. Halfback Haddix was third in the conference with 724 and fullback Donald Ray King added 611 more in the final eight games of the season. Running behind All SEC guard Wayne Harris and center Kent Hull made the pass-inclusive “Wing Bone” go. Not to be forgotten, All American receiver Mardye McDole was worked into the plan and completed his MSU career with 19.1 yards per catch, a MSU record 2214 career reception yards, and is still the only State receiver with a 1000 yard season. He was drafted by the Vikings and spent three seasons with them, and was a 1985 member of the CFL Calgary squad and USFL Memphis Showboats before becoming a high school coach and physical education teacher. Defensive tackle Earnie Barnes had a year with the Colts but was overshadowed on an excellent defensive line. Tyrone Keys, the former High School All American and State Of Mississippi Defensive High School Player of The Year, completed a great career at MSU as a three time All SEC defensive lineman with twenty-six career sacks. His fumble causing tackle on Alabama’s Don Jacobs with four seconds left in the game, recovered by MSU’s Billy Jackson, who distinguished himself with a State record seventeen sacks, sealed the amazing 9-6 upset win that broke Bama’s twenty-eight game winning streak. This game remains as one of the greatest in Bulldog history. He played with the CFL BC Lions in ’81 and ’82, with the Chicago Bears 1983 through ’85 and was the keyboard player in the semi-famous Super Bowl Shuffle video, Tampa Bay in ’86 and ’87, and finished with the Chargers in 1988. In his retirement from football, he has raised over $20 million to provide community service in the Tampa, Florida area. The other defensive standouts were a healthy linebacker Cooks who made 116 tackles, twenty-four in the Auburn game, and defensive tackle Glen Collins. Safety Larry Friday was drafted by the Browns, played in the USFL for the ’84 and ’85 seasons before playing a strike year game in ’87 for the Bills and completed a pro career with three seasons of Arena Football.

1981 was not quite the success that ’80 was, especially as the pre-season choice of many to be the SEC Champions. Still, the 8-4 record included a 10-0 Hall Of Fame Bowl win over Kansas. The defense was the team’s showpiece holding eleven opponents to an average of eighty-eight rush yards, 261 total yards, and less than twelve points per game. Linebacker Cooks was an All American, finished his MSU career with 373 tackles, went on to a ten year professional career primarily with the Colts, and was inducted to the State of Mississippi and MSU’s Halls Of Fame. Also an All American, defensive lineman Glen Collins joined Cooks in the awards line as another inductee to the MSU Sports Hall Of Fame and as the Bengals first round draft pick, playing with them for four years and another with San Francisco. Defensive end Billy Jackson and safety Rob Fesmire were both All Conference choices. Fesmire became a successful dentist in his native Tennessee and his son Ryan was an outstanding baseball player for the Bulldogs. Haddix and King again spearheaded the attack with Bond at the controls. The offense started off well, and even tagged Colorado State with 526 rush yards. Credit the offensive line with Jacobs Blocking Award winner (best blocker in SEC) and All American and All SEC guard Wayne Harris and All Conference fellow offensive line standout Kent Hull.  After their victory over Auburn, the Bulldogs spent the week of October 26 ranked nationally at number seven, the program’s all time highest. Unfortunately, squaring off against number eight Alabama and losing close by 13-10 seemed to take the fight out of the squad, and they limped towards the schedule finale, losing to Ole Miss.


Johnie Cooks was considered a “helmet splitter” coming out of Leland (MS) High School where he won letters in football, track, and basketball. At MSU he filled out to a 6’4”, 250 pound linebacker who covered the entire field and insisted that his teammates play hard enough to do the same. He was relentless and expected the same effort and intensity of everyone around him. By the time he graduated with a degree in Physical Education, he had earned a place on the Bulldogs’ All Century team, two years of honors as an All American, the 1981 Southeastern Conference Defensive Player Of The Year Award, accolades as the 1978 Second Team All SEC and ’80 and ’81 First Team All SEC linebacker, and the acknowledgement that he was MSU’s Team MVP in ’81 and the key to the State defense when he was on the field. He later earned a Masters Degree in Sports Administration but not before becoming the second pick in the entire 1982 NFL draft, going to the Colts and making the NFL All Rookie Team as their middle linebacker. Moved to the outside the following season, he better utilized his range and remained there until 1988 when he became a N.Y. Giant. There he was a member of the Super Bowl XXV team and a key element in their defensive mix. He completed his professional career with Cleveland in 1991 but multiple injuries forced him to retire. In retirement, he worked for the Starkville Boys And Girls Club but had increasing difficulty completing his duties because of chronic and debilitating low back, knee, and vision problems that resulted from football related trauma. The lack of financial support from NFL related insurance benefits forced Cooks to pay for many of his necessary surgeries. He was in time, working in the fund raising area for Alcorn A&M University. To many, Cooks remains one of the elite collegiate linebackers, worthy of mention with the likes of Butkus, Nobis, and Singletary.

The Hall Of Fame Game that ended the ’81 season gave a lift going into 1982 but the team fell to 5-6 with six consecutive mid-season losses. A significant number of defensive unit injuries put inexperienced players onto the field. All SEC defensive end Billy Jackson suffered an ankle injury but still made fifty-two stops and safety Kenneth Johnson, the former walk-on, led the team in interceptions for the second season. Secondary mate Steve Johnson managed three seasons in the CFL. While the pre-kickoff brawl with Southern Miss and victories over LSU and Ole Miss were highlights, the excellent offensive line led by Wayne Harris and Kent Hull allowed for an SEC best 4142 total yards performance, a first for a Bulldogs team. Harris was named All Conference for a third year and as he did in ’81, was the Jacobs Blocking Award recipient. He played with the USFL Generals for their three seasons and with the Bills in ’86, later becoming a bank president. Hull had a less distinguished college career but a lengthy and decorated professional one with the Generals and Bills. Both are in numerous Halls Of Fame in Mississippi. Quarterback John Bond threw for 1591 and ran for 609 yards and often found his favorite receiver Danny Knight who caught for a huge 208 yards against Florida. The Wishbone/Wingbone rush game was carried by fullbacks Al Rickey Edwards and Henry Koontz but Michael Haddix was the big stick gaining 813 yards. He played six seasons with the Eagles as their first round draft choice and another two with the Packers. His son was a college basketball player who had a try-out with the Buffalo Bills.


At 6’5”, a gangly Kent Hull played football and basketball at Greenwood (MS) High School and certainly looked more suited for the latter sport, especially as his father Charles had played the game at Mississippi State. Kent did prove his football acumen quickly however, named to the All SEC Freshmen Team as a center in 1979, was Second Team All SEC in ’80, and led the MSU offensive line with Wayne Harris his entire four year career. His level of intelligence became a hallmark characteristic throughout his collegiate and professional careers and earned him entry to the MSU and State Of Mississippi Halls Of Fame, as well as a place within the Bulldogs Ring Of Honor. The NFL overlooked a gem and Hull signed with the USFL New Jersey Generals, paving the way for Herschel Walker’s phenomenal performances and making the All USFL Team in ‘85. When the league folded after three years, Hull joined the Buffalo Bills, playing with four consecutive AFC championship teams, being named as All Pro center four times, to three Pro Bowls, starting 121 consecutive games in his eleven years with the Bills, and serving as a seven year team captain. He and Jim Kelly were the first of the Super Bowl Bills to be named to the Greater Buffalo Hall Of Fame, and he is on the Bills Wall Of Fame. Hull was honored as a member of the Bills 50TH Anniversary Team and was named to the MSU All Century Team. Hull returned to his family’s cattle business in Mississippi but tragically died on October 18, 2011 of gastrointestinal bleeding. The Kent Hull Trophy is given annually to the Mississippi State Outstanding Offensive Lineman in his honor.

With Tulane as the opening game of the ’83 season, things got started in a slapstick fashion as a Tulane assistant coach was caught spying on Bulldog practice from a clump of bushes. The disregard for the rules and sportsmanship did not help the Green Wave as MSU kicked off the season with a 14-9 victory. The schedule however, consisted of five consecutive Top 10 opponents and six total that received bowl bids. This led to a 3-8 record with only one SEC victory. Once again the offense put enviable statistics into the record books with quarterback John Bond completing his career as only the second in NCAA history, to Wichita State’s Prince McJunkins, to exceed 4000 yards passing with 4621, while also running for more than 2000 with his 2280. Favorite target Danny Knight finished his MSU career with 21.9 per reception, a school record and played with the USFL Generals for two seasons. Rushers George Wonsley, Henry Koontz, and Al Ricky Edwards handled the running game despite entering the season with a new offensive line, and Wonsley played pro with the Colts for five years, finishing with the Patriots in 1989. The defense had its moments behind Billy Jackson, a career standout who finished with a school record forty-nine sacks and is a member of the MSU All Century Team. He briefly played in the CFL. Linebacker Calvin Zanders proved to be Jackson’s equal, recording a record 186 tackles and safety Kenneth Johnson completed an excellent career, landing with the USFL Generals for ’84 and ’85, and playing with the Packers in 1987. Fellow secondary member Cookie Jackson enjoyed a USFL season with Washington as did Tim Cutts who punted for the Generals before becoming successful in the logistics industry. Despite a number of individual stand-out performances, the overall inconsistent play of the team was starting to wear on the faithful. In what must have been a blow to his ego Coach Bellard scrapped his Wishbone in favor of the I-Formation entering the 1984 season, and brought in former MSU great Tom Goode as offensive coordinator. He had to replace eight offensive and eight defensive starters and hired Melvin “Mad Dog” Robertson from private business to again be his defensive coordinator. In the same role at A&M under Bellard, Robertson’s defense was number one in the nation in 1975. Fullback Sammy Williams tragically drowned over the summer, putting an immediate damper on what was expected to be a difficult season. Quarterback Don Smith got the ball rolling in the opener against Tulane, directing the squad to 509 total yards and Illinois transfer running back Jim Cumberbatch was an immediate hit until injured in the Kentucky game October 13. Losing him to a knee injury put more pressure on Smith and backs Glen Robertson, Kenny Rogers and Mikel Williams and inexperience led to a multitude of mistakes and fumbles as the year progressed. Opening with wins and ending the season with multiple losses had become “the usual”, even though many of the games were close. The improved 4-7 record was damaged by a 1-5 SEC slate, with many of the contests lost in the late stages of the game. Tackles Pat Swoopes and Elvis Butler, and linebacker Aaron Pearson were prominent on defense but there were disciplinary problems and alumni complaints about the direction of the program.

The 1985 season would be Coach Bellard’s last at MSU. The overall 5-6 record was one-step up from the previous season, but the 0-6 SEC record was not acceptable. Senior tackle Elvis Butler was suspended for the year during camp and there was a lack of unity on the squad and among boosters. At the end of the season Emory Bellard was replaced by former MSU quarterback and assistant coach Rockey Felker who became the youngest major college football head coach in the nation. Bellard came out of retirement to coach the Houston area Spring Westfield High School team in 1988 and took them to the playoffs four times in six seasons. He died at the age of eighty-three of ALS but left a legacy not only for the innovative offense he created, but for developing the segmented daily practice schedule. His greatest contribution may have been his willingness to actively recruit large numbers of African-American players to Texas A&M at a time this was still controversial. His integrity and beliefs changed the culture and make-up of the Southwest Conference and he was beloved and respected by former players and coaches. MSU played inconsistent football but has had many highlighted moments during the tenures of Jackie Sherrill, Sylvester Croom who was the first African-American head coach in the SEC, and Dan Mullin who had the Bulldogs ranked at number one in the nation during the 2014 season. The program is on solid footing and the Bulldogs have become nationally respected.

If interested in any of these Mississippi State helmets please click on the photos below.