1980-81 Delta Devils
(Authentic Reproduction)

For fans of college football and its historical evolution, there are eras marked by specific offenses or defenses, great players, or immortal coaches. Certainly there are immediate associations made, for example, with “Tailback U” and USC, “Three Yards And A Cloud Of Dust” and Ohio State, or “The Wishbone” and Texas. The offenses that truly changed the game however, are more significant because changes in offense lead to alterations of defense and thus, a noticeable shift in the way the game is played. Thus all historians recognize Walter Camp as originating the T –Formation in the 1880s and Clark Shaughnessy’s “modern version” of the 1940s. Missouri’s Don Faurot introduced the Split – T, Dave Nelson the Wing – T, Bill Yeoman and Homer Rice are usually given credit for developing the Veer at Houston, and Texas coach Emery Bellard with the blessing of Darrell Royal gave football the Wishbone. The wide-open modern passing game that now dominates the college game, although strongly influenced by the 1972 through 2000 BYU offense of LaVell Edwards, Don Coryell’s work at San Diego State, and the Bill Walsh years at Stanford, can be most credited to a coach and a school that perhaps would be far down the list of “All Time Innovators.” The all-game-long no huddle, two minute offense run with an empty backfield, double slots, and four-stacked receivers, an offense that produced more than 640 yards and sixty points per game in one season, was the brainchild of Coach Archie “Gunslinger” Cooley at the very less than big time Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Who? What? Where?

While the rise in both the visibility and notoriety of the brand of football played by the “Historically Black Colleges” located in the southern states in the mid to late-1960s can be attributed primarily to the influx of players to the NFL that came from Grambling University in Louisiana, it was Cooley’s Delta Devils that gave us “Basketball On Grass.” If there was ever a coach who actually reveled in what should have been the criticism that the “Black Schools play street ball,” it would have been The Gunslinger. His legacy is distinctively two – sided; an offensive genius who altered the future of the game of football and slick con man who operated rather far outside the agreed upon ethics of the college game. At Mississippi Valley State, the success of the great Jerry Rice begins with Cooley’s innovations. He was their head coach from 1980 through ’86 and the distinctive Forest Green helmets with the contrasting red mask, black clips, and identifying “State V” decal on both sides of the shell marked his first three years there. As a former defensive player at Jackson State and defensive position coach at Alcorn State and Tennessee State, he was an unlikely subject to change the scope of college offensive football but he did. He tinkered and he experimented and by the time his offense came to fruition, the Devils had switched to white shells but the dominant school colored helmet is the one most frequently associated with the “Gunslinger’s” offense and the emergence of receiver Jerry Rice.

With the hard-working Rice setting the pace for the entire team and quarterback Willie “Satellite” Totten at the controls, the so-called “Satellite Express” offense took off in 1983 with an offensive output of 463 yards per game and fifty-six touchdowns. Rice scored fourteen of those TDs and caught 102 passes for 1450 yards with Totten passing for 2566 yards and leading the team to an improved 7-2-1 mark. Eyes were opened but it was the 1984 senior season for Rice that sealed his greatness and tilted the college landscape as MSVU finished the regular season at 9 – 1 before losing to Louisiana Tech in the first round of the Division 1 AA Playoffs. In the process, the 640.1 yards and sixty-plus points per game, and Rice’s record setting performances that resulted in new Division 1 AA marks for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions produced a ground swell of interest that made a number of prominent coaches think, “They’re doing something down there I may have to look at or even copy.” Many did as Cooley incorporated the ideas of Mouse Davis, Hal Mummie, and what seemed to be playground basketball games into what has morphed into the modern offenses of today.

Totten was one of the first quarterbacks to return to the premise of calling his own plays but did so at the line of scrimmage on every snap. “Rapid fire gun slinging” which of course related to the head coach himself, was the description and Totten, although overshadowed by Rice, left MSVU with fifty-six NCAA and thirty-six Southwestern Athletic Conference passing records, completing his career in ’85 with the distinctive nickname that became the moniker for the entire offense. As a pro prospect, some NFL scouts had reservations as “what his receivers didn’t catch, defenders did” as Totten was picked off twenty-two times in ’84 and was hit for another twenty-nine in ’85. The quarterback’s response was “I’ll give up three interceptions for six or seven touchdowns anytime.” A previous knee injury didn’t help his cause and he spent but two seasons in the CFL before serving as a replacement player in the NFL’s 1987 strike affected season. After Arena football, he turned to coaching, eventually returning to Mississippi Valley State as the head coach from 2002 through 2009. He has served as quarterbacks coach at Alabama A&M since 2014 and the field at MSVU is named after him and former teammate Rice, both members of The College Football Hall Of Fame.

Jerry Rice of course will go down as one of the greatest receivers of all time at both the collegiate and professional level, has the Hall of Fame credentials to prove it, and remains legendary. Cooley, despite having sanctions brought upon him for illegal recruiting practices and violation of NCAA rules at more than one of his coaching stops, remains one of the most influential coaches in the modern era, although many fail to recognize the pioneering work done at Mississippi Valley State University.