Billy Brewer, with Chucky Mullins (38) beside him, leads the 1989 Rebels onto the field. Brewer’s handling of the tragic injury to Mullins was surely one of his finest moments in a Hall of Fame career.

(Editor’s note: The Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018 induction banquet is set for Saturday night at the Jackson Convention Complex. This is the first in a series of columns on the six new inductees.)

Billy Brewer won’t be present when he is inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night. No, Brewer, the former Ole Miss football hero and coach, died on May 12, about seven months after learning he had been voted into the hall.

But Brewer was in Jackson at the MSHOF museum last October when the Class of 2018 was announced, and nobody wore a bigger smile that day than the man Ole Miss fans lovingly called, “Dawg.”

Rick Cleveland

“You better believe I am happy,” he told this writer. “I am thrilled. This honor is on the bucket list of every coach who coaches and every player who plays in Mississippi.”

Brewer did both. A quarterback, defensive back and punter under Rebel legend John Vaught in the late 1950s, Brewer was named to the Ole Miss Team of the Century more than 40 years later. The Ole Miss teams he coached won 68 games and lost 55.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Brewer continued. “I thought it had passed me by. My attitude was always if it happens, it happens, but I was beginning to wonder if it ever would.”

No doubt, Brewer’s induction would have happened much sooner if not for the way Brewer’s coaching career ended. That was in 1993 when Ole Miss was placed on NCAA probation for the second time during Brewer’s tenure as the Rebel head coach and Brewer was relieved of his duties. Brewer was the SEC’s longest serving coach at the time of his dismissal. He later sued the university and won a $200,000 judgement.

The saying goes that time heals all wounds, and that surely seems the case with Brewer and Ole Miss. In recent years, Brewer has been a presence at Ole Miss football games where Rebel fans seemed to treat him with a certain reverence.

Many of Brewer’s former players do plan to attend the induction of Brewer and five others Saturday night. Wesley Walls, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer himself, is one. Walls believes that Brewer’s induction is long overdue. If a coach’s success is to be judged by the adoration and respect his players have for him, then Brewer is more than deserving.

“Everybody who played for him loved him,” Walls said. “He always had your back. He made you feel like you could do anything. He treated you with respect. He wanted the best for his players, all his players, no matter their abilities or their race or how highly they were recruited. At different times, he was like your father, like a close friend, like your brother or like your head coach. I’ll tell you this. He had so much to do with the player and man I became – whatever that is.”

Walls, whom Brewer recruited out of Ponotoc, was an All American, a player so talented he played on both sides of the ball, as a tight end on offense and a linebacker and end on defense. He was a big play pass receiver and a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks as a pass rusher. He was later named to the NFL Pro Bowl five times.

Another measure of Brewer’s lasting legacy at Ole Miss are the traditions he left behind. Here are two:

• At Ole Miss, jersey No. 38 is worn only by players who win the annual Chucky Mullins Award, which honors the late Roy Lee “Chucky” Mullins, who died as a result of injuries suffered in a 1989 game against Vanderbilt. In this writer’s opinion, the manner in which Brewer handled that tragic episode in Ole Miss history stands as his finest hour. Brewer’s love and compassion for Mullins was as unmistakeable as it was touching.

• In 1985 Brewer revived a long-gone tradition of Ole Miss players walking through The Grove en route to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for each home game. That tradition has become known as the Walk of Champions.

“Coach was trying to instill the pride and confidence Ole Miss players had during those glory years when he played,” Wall said. “The walk through The Grove was part of that and it worked. It still does.”

Coming Tuesday: Anna Jackson — legendary coach; winner of nine state championships.

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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.