John Bond

Words I never thought these fingers would type: “John Bond, former Mississippi State quarterback, will be named head football coach …”

Nevertheless, Friday morning, St. Joseph Catholic School in Madison will announce the hiring of the 57-year-old Bond as the school’s new football coach. Bond, who has never been a head coach, last worked in football as a graduate assistant at State under Jackie Sherrill in 1999.

Bond will replace Todd Lott, who had a 16-9 record over the last two seasons before apparently stepping down as coach recently.

“They hit a home run,” Sherrill said Thursday when he learned that St. Joe had hired Bond. “He’ll win there. He’ll win because he is smart and because of his ability to relate to kids and get kids to sacrifice and do what it takes to be successful. He’ll get them to do things they don’t want to do.”

Sherrill paused before asking, “Can he recruit at that school?”

It’s a private school. There’s no reason he can’t.

“Then he will be very successful,” Sherrill said. “As I said, John can really relate to kids. He’ll make it fun for them. I am really happy to hear John is making this decision.”

Rick Cleveland

A pertinent question: Why now? Why make this decision at this point in his life, after 15 years as the director of business development at Eutaw Construction Company and while co-hosting a sports talk show with Hal Mumme?

“Although I haven’t coached in a long while, I’ve never been that far from the game and I’ve always thought about being a head coach at some point in my life,” Bond said. “I’ve helped a lot of coaches at a lot of schools: Hal Mumme at Belhaven, Bob Tyler at Millsaps, several high schools.

“I’ve had head coaching offers before but it’s never been at the right place at the right time. This time, at St. Joe, it just feels right,” Bond continued. “I realize this may seem like a stretch to a lot of people but it’s not a stretch to me because I’ve always loved the sport and stayed close to it.”

Nebraska’s Toby Williams (97) and Dan Lindstrom sack Mississippi State quarterback John Bond during the Sun Bowl on Dec. 29, 1980 at El Paso. Bond lead the Bulldogs to a 9-3 record, a trip to the Sun Bowl and rarely missed a snap.

Long-time readers of this column will know that Bond and this writer go way, way back. My first assignment – at The Clarion-Ledger in 1979 – was as the Mississippi State beat writer covering Emory Bellard’s first Bulldogs football team. State went 3-8, despite a salty defense and some terrific offensive weapons. What was missing was a quarterback who could run Bellard’s wishbone offense.

Enter John Bond, who came to State in 1980, a slender, long-haired, free-spirited speedster, who most assuredly could run the wishbone. From 3-8, State zoomed to 9-3 with a victory over No. 1 ranked Alabama and Bear Bryant.

Bryant had tried to recruit Bond to Alabama, but State got him. Bond quarterbacked the Bulldogs to 27 victories over four seasons, including four straight over LSU.

As I typed before, Bond was free-spirited. (He may even have broken training once or twice.) Just the same, his coaches loved him and his teammates adored him and played hard for him. What casual observers at the time might have missed was Bond’s physical toughness. An option quarterback must possess several attributes to be successful: speed, dexterity and the ability to make quick, smart and sometimes painful decisions among them. The position demands toughness, the ability to hold the ball until the last split-second, knowing you are about to be slammed by at least one huge, strong defensive end or linebacker.

Bond was often bruised and bloodied – and surely was in that famous 1980 Alabama game – but he rarely missed a play. He was tough and he was durable. And did I mention he was fast? When, on occasion, the opposing defense screwed up and both the end and the linebacker went for the pitch man, Bond was off to the races and nobody was going to catch him.

Now then, how that translates into your first head football coaching job at the age of 57 – who knows.

For sure, it translates this way:

My first question: “John, will St. Joe run the wishbone?”

“Heck no, I woudn’t do that to any young quarterback,” John Bond answered, laughing loudly.

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.