University Of Southern Mississippi

1947 - 51 Golden Eagles
(Authentic Reproduction)





The jokes used to abound, portraying the University Of Southern Mississippi as a “hillbilly school” located in a backwater town. To many outside the southern states, USM had been disrespected, but after an arduous journey from its 1910 founding as the two-year Mississippi Normal College that held its first classes and fielded its first football team in 1912, USM has become a leader in a number of research based areas that make its academic qualifications quite unique. Football players and combat soldiers, for example, have been provided with enhanced head protection through the work of faculty members like Dr. Jeffrey Wiggins, the Director Of The School Of Polymers and High Performance Materials who has kept the department in the forefront of the development of high impact absorbing materials. Though most football fans might think “Brett Favre” when Southern Miss is mentioned, those in the know think “beautiful school with some absolutely great academic programs.” It has been an uphill battle though, for the university and the football program. Southern Miss has gone from its Normal College beginnings to State Teachers College, to Mississippi Southern College and finally, in 1962, to full university status as the University Of Southern Mississippi. Its football program too has grown from a regionally respected squad to a program that can and has continually backed up its slogan, “Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.” As State Teachers College the football program was better off than many. When the Depression swept through the land, all of the Mississippi public colleges were told to “pay as you go” and “spend only what you have.” The administration embraced athletics as a means to raise both money and the public profile of the college, and utilized their newly minted 1931 membership in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association to boost their reputation. The State of Mississippi also had an advanced junior college football and educational system in place, largely to accommodate the rural population of the state, and thus there was a fertile in-state recruiting ground.


A bit hampered by the schedule that grew from local high school and military school opponents to one of “small colleges,” State Teachers College became Mississippi Southern College in 1940, had its first undefeated football season in 1941, posting a 9-0-1 mark, and joined the Gulf States Conference in 1948. Their mascots and nicknames changed with each re-chartering of the college. In 1962, university status was finally achieved and the University Of Southern Mississippi could look back on The Normalites, Yellow Jackets, and Confederates as former nicknames and fully embrace Southerners until a vote of students and alumni ushered in the current mascot name of Golden Eagles in 1972. The hiring of Allison “Pooley” Hubert, a former Alabama All American who at times has been referred to as “The Greatest Defensive Back That Ever Played Football,” and a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame, gave Southern Miss a great foundation for the future. It was less his win-loss record of 26-24-5 notched between 1931 and ’36 that gives him such USM distinction, but rather his foresight in hiring Reed Green as an assistant coach. One of USM’s all time great players from 1930 to 1933, “The Leakesville Express” was at times an unstoppable runner and won ten varsity letters in football, basketball, and baseball. He became Hubert’s assistant upon his college graduation and when given the opportunity to accompany him to VMI when Hubert decided to take the head job there, Green campaigned hard to become the very young, new head coach of his beloved alma mater. He won his fight and hiring Reed Green as head coach in 1937 marks the ascension of USM football. Bernard Reed Green “was” Southern Miss, as a player, head coach, and ultimately as athletic director, almost single handedly bringing the college and its athletic programs into the modern age. His coaching record was a very respectable 56-21-3 but he was valued as a spokesman and representative of the growing program. At the outbreak of World War II, Green traveled to Washington D.C. to personally petition Mississippi legislators to establish an Army Administration Program on campus which allowed the university to remain open and guaranteed post-war funding. After playing a limited ’42 football schedule, all athletics were suspended and Green served on the USS Intrepid and overseas as a Lieutenant Commander. With only 350 students enrolled at USM upon his return, he again took personal responsibility for recruiting students to his university and re-established the athletic programs. When he stepped down as head coach after the 1948 season, he became the school’s first full-time athletic director, a position he held through 1973 and which allowed him to usher in the growth of all of the athletic programs. He was instrumental in forming the new Gulf States Conference in ’48 and successfully pushed his squad into games against the best of the Southeastern Conference teams and they often won. The schedule grew from regional “small” schools to those in the SEC, Atlantic Coast Conference, and major independents and again, USM often won. He oversaw the construction of M.M. Roberts Stadium which allowed his program to host the major schools and put a best foot forward to the nation. Green won many honors including induction to the Mississippi Sports Hall Of Fame and the USM indoor coliseum is named after him but one of the most important things he did was to bring Thad “Pie” Vann into the USM family.


Vann had been an outstanding tackle and captain of the Ole Miss football team as well as a catcher on the baseball squad, accumulating eight varsity letters for his efforts. He became a high school coach after his 1929 graduation and was hired by Green as his line coach in 1936. His tenure at USM was interrupted by the War and he spent three years in Europe in both field artillery and as a Special Services Officer, earning eight decorations during the invasion of Europe before his discharge as a Lieutenant Colonel. Green and Vann made for an effective duo and they truly gave Southern Miss a name. Both Green and Vann returned to campus after the War in 1946 and beat the bushes for football players, and put a team on the field in 1946, playing their inaugural game against long time rival Louisiana Tech. Dubbed “The Rivalry In Dixie,” the game immediately revitalized the program and the Southerners went 7-3 for the season. A finale against the University of Havana, played in Cuba and quickly named The Tobacco Bowl, marked the first college game involving a United States based squad played outside of the continental U.S. borders, and again piqued fan interest. By 1947, most of the team wore Green Bay gold plastic helmets and the schedule included games against larger Mississippi State, powerful Alabama, and Auburn. Another 7-3 season was highlighted by a 19-13 victory over Auburn, the program’s first win over a Southeastern Conference team, and an undefeated 5-0 conference slate despite not playing a home game until November 1st. Running back John Melvin “Bubber” Phillips who had been nationally recruited out of Macon, MS High School after scoring 235 points, was a rushing terror but the line was the strength of the team. Tackles William “Mike” Katrishen a Second Team Little All American played for the Redskins, and Robert Dement and Captain Jay Smith, a key receiver and Third Team Little All American, were drafted by NFL squads.


1948 would result in a third consecutive 7-3 record, the attainment of the inaugural Gulf States Conference Championship, and be Green’s final year as head coach. Frank Spruiell ran well, though Phillips remained the vital rushing cog with 831 yards. Phillips had played in the Detroit Tigers minor league system over the summer of ’48 and thus was declared ineligible by SEC and other out-of-league opponents who did not allow an athlete to be a pro in one sport and an amateur in another. He was still a star, drafted by the AAFC Chicago Hornets though he chose to return to Southern for the remainder of his college eligibility. The offensive machine was moved impressively by Maxie Lambright who would later serve as offensive coach for USM and then ironically become the head coach of rival Louisiana Tech where he mentored Terry Bradshaw. Help came from slick receivers Henry “Hindu” Reynolds and Cliff Coggin. Al “Apple” Sanders led the line with Joe Morgan and earned a shot with the Steelers while Morgan stuck with the AAFC Forty Niners for the 1949 season. In January of ’49, Green moved to the athletic director’s chair on a full time basis and Pie Vann took over the on-field leadership role. In his inaugural game as head man, Vann put his team against Bear Bryant’s highly ranked Kentucky squad and got slammed 71-7 but the team rebounded with six consecutive victories and an overall 7-3 mark, led by the rushing of Spruiell and “Bubber” Phillips who doubled as a defensive back and set a school record of eight interceptions. Dubbed the Pony Express by local newspapers, they were often overshadowed by the pass-catch combo of quarterback Bobby Holmes and Little All American receiver Coggin, who set Southern Miss records that stood for decades. His fifty-three receptions accounted for 1087 yards and nine touchdowns, huge numbers for that era. His career marks were built on only two years of participation and the 1542 reception yards and 21.4 per catch average lasted into the mid-1990’s as school records. The 1950 season began much as ’49 had, with a beat down by a Southeastern Conference opponent. Tennessee performed the deed in 56-0 fashion but unlike the rebound of the year before, the Southerners struggled to right the ship and finished at 5-5. The uplifting events of the season were an appropriation from the State that allowed for stadium expansion and dorm inclusion, a 3-1 Gulf States Conference record that left Mississippi Southern with the crown, and the individual performance of Phillips. The MSC super star did it all as a Little All American, All GSC, and Senior Bowl choice, both on offense and defense before entering Major League Baseball. End Ivan Rosamond, another All GSC pick, and quarterbacks Tom LeGros and Bobby Holmes provided the support with center David Allen leading the line as an All Conference choice.




John Melvin Phillips, “Bubba” to the Major League Baseball world but “Bubber” to native Mississippians, firmly established his athletic career at MaconMississippi High School. As the top scorer in the nation, he had his choice of college scholarships but elected to attend closer-to-home Mississippi Southern College. He played both football and baseball at MSC and did so with a limited baseball background as the small school setting of high school left only softball as his spring option. Still he starred in both sports once in college. As a two-way back, he rushed for 2527 yards and twenty-two touchdowns in his thirty-two game varsity career which was limited in part by his contract to the Detroit Tigers and a summer of minor league baseball. His twenty-five career interceptions have stood the test of time, with eight of those coming in his junior season. He was accurately described as “arguably the finest football player in the history of Southern Miss…he had no equal as a broken field runner and a kick returner and a defender that single-handedly could take over a game.” He led the Southerners in rushing in all of his seasons and proved to be one of the most elusive kick returners in the country. Pursued by the AAFC San Francisco Forty Niners, Phillips instead chose a career in professional baseball, signing with the Tigers in ‘48 and entering their system in 1951. After a year of pro ball he served in the United States Army for two years, and then returned to the Tigers where he was the starting left fielder on opening day of the 1955 season. He played Major League Baseball for ten seasons, with the Tigers in ’55, the White Sox from 1956 through ’59, the Indians from 1960 to ’62, and closed his career with the Tigers in ’63 and ’64. Phillips was most often a starter in the outfield or at third base and a well respected utility player who mastered all aspects of the game well. However, at USM, he is best remembered as perhaps the finest football player of all time and is a member of both the USM and State Of Mississippi Sports Halls Of Fame.


Both Captain Phil “Moose” Musmeci and center David Allen were named to the 1951 AP Little All American squad and their teammates looked to them when it was time to take over a game. They opened holes for outstanding new fullback Bucky McElroy who set a conference rushing record with 856 yards, leading the team to a 306 point offensive output. The 6-5 record was offset by a 4-0 conference mark that left Coach Vann as GSC Coach Of The Year for the second consecutive season. Team MVP quarterback Tom LeGros and the rest of the squad still could not defeat their major college opponents but the focus of the program was to build towards that as quickly as possible.


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