CANTON – During the next week, a Madison County Circuit Court jury will hear evidence on whether an NCAA investigation of former Mississippi State University head football coach Jackie Sherrill ended his coaching career.
The NCAA investigation did not result in any infractions against Sherrill, though, he never coached again.
Sherrill, who is still the winningest coach in school history, resigned from Mississippi State in 2003 in the midst of the NCAA investigation. Later, Sherrill filed a lawsuit saying the NCAA investigation defamed him in an attempt to drive him out of coaching. The lawsuit finally came to trial Monday before Judge Dewey Arthur.
It began Monday with jury selection and opening statements. The trail is expected to last about a week.
Tupelo attorney Rachel Pierce Waide, who is representing Sherrill along with her husband Jim, told members of the jury that after hearing all the evidence, “I think you will believe he was done wrong and want to make it right for him.”
Sherrill is asking for unspecified monetary damages.
Oxford attorney Cal Mayo, representing the NCAA and its investigators, said that the enforcement organization was only following its rules and did nothing wrong. Mayo said Sherrill, in reality, announced in October 2003 that he was retiring at the end of the season, and in a news conference said that his decision to step aside had nothing to do with the ongoing NCAA investigation. The alleged infractions were not released against Sherrill until later that year.
In the news conference, Mayo said Sherrill said the Mississippi State head coaching position was “his last rodeo.” Sherrill enjoyed unparalleled success at Mississippi State, including reaching the Southeastern Conference championship game in 1998. But in his final three seasons, his record was 8-27.
“It was time for Coach Sherrill to leave,” Mayo said. “The NCAA had nothing to do with that.”
Sherrill was accused of promising to provide a car for a recruit and of promising to help the family of another recruit. In 2004 the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions dropped the accusations against Sherrill for insufficient evidence, though, the university was placed on probation.
Waide said Sherrill’s 2003 retirement news conference was only “a face saving” effort and that he had no intent of retiring from coaching. She said he was trying to put Mississippi State, which was under investigation, in the best light possible.
Sherrill, age 75, who now lives in Wimberly Texas, began his head coaching career at Washington State University, he later coached at Pittsburgh and Texas A&M before accepting the Mississippi State job in 1991. He played high school football at Biloxi High and later played at the University of Alabama.
Sherrill originally named Madison County businesswoman Julie Gibert, an Ole Miss booster, in the lawsuit as part of an effort to defame him and end his coaching career. She could be a potential witness in the trial this week. During jury selection, potential jurors were asked about their possible allegiances to Mississippi State or to the University of Mississippi.
Before coming to Mississippi State, Sherrill’s Texas A&M team was placed on probation, though, he was not found personally guilty of any violations.
At Mississippi State, Sherrill was the subject of controversy early in his tenure when he had his team observe the castration of a bull before his team played and upset the University of Texas.
The lawsuit originally was filed in Starkville, home of Mississippi State, but later moved to Madison County.