Editor’s note: On July 30, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inducts its Class of 2022. What follows is Part IV of a series detailing the achievements of the eight inductees, today featuring coaching legend Bob Tyler.
Soon-to-be Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Bob Tyler gained his most fame as the program-reviving head football coach at Mississippi State in the 1970s, but some older experts believe Tyler might have been the state’s greatest high school football coach.
Mac Barnes, who qualifies as an expert having won more 333 games himself as a high school coach, is one of those. Barnes played one season for Tyler at Meridian High School.
“In my opinion, Coach Tyler earned Hall of Fame status before he ever became a college coach,” Barnes said. “He turned Mississippi high school football upside down. He really did change the landscape. He showed everybody how it could be done.”
What Tyler did was win. He spent his last three years (1965-67) as a high school coach at Meridian. His Wildcats for those three seasons won 38 games, lost zero and tied one. Nobody’s perfect.
While 99% of Mississippi high school teams in that era ran the ball 90% of the time, Tyler’s Meridian teams threw it all over the field.
Said Barnes, “Nobody could stop us. Coach Tyler was light years ahead of everyone else in terms of offensive scheme and preparation. He was the smartest coach around.”
Barnes went on, “You know in high school, there’s no draft and you don’t recruit or you’re not supposed to. You have to play with the guys you have. Coach Tyler didn’t have just his system and make his players adjust to that. He adjusted his coaching style to the players he had.
“At Meridian, we had guys who could throw it and catch it, so that’s what we did.”
The only blemish on Meridian’s record over three seasons was a tie with Columbus in 1967. Said Barnes, “They left the field slapping each other on the back, celebrating. We left the field crying.”
Barnes says he used many lessons he learned from Tyler to become the head football coach at Meridian at the age of 26 and to continue coaching and winning in high school football for the next 40 years. “What I saw with Coach Tyler was the influence he had on a community, on his players and his coaches,” Barnes says. “I saw the love he had for his players and how he treated them. This was back at a time when most high school coaches wouldn’t let their players have water and had them taking salt tablets before every practice and game. He changed all that. In many ways, he changed the way high school football was coached in Mississippi.”
Tyler had a lasting influence on his players, even one he coached for only one game. That player’s name: Archie Manning. Tyler coached Manning in the 1967 Mississippi High School All-Star Game after Manning had coached tiny Drew High School to a 5-5 record his senior year.
Tyler’s Meridian High quarterback, Bob White, was also a quarterback for the North team in that game. Manning didn’t know how much he would even get to play, but said, “I was excited anyway because I knew we were going to throw the ball. Plus, even though Bob (Tyler) had his quarterback there, he treated me great.”
For his part, Tyler had not heard of Manning before he helped select the roster for the team, but he got a call from Ole Miss coach John Vaught asking him to please consider choosing Manning. Said Tyler, “When Coach Vaught asked you to do something back then, you just did it.”
Long story short: White, a high school All-American, who had also signed with Ole Miss, started the game but suffered a career-altering knee injury in the first quarter. Manning came off the bench and threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in the North’s 57-33 victory.
Manning and Tyler have been friends ever since. In 2017, 50 years after the memorable all-star game, the North team held a reunion at Millsaps where they had stayed and practiced the week of the game. Says Manning, “We had a blast. I think Bob had more fun than anyone.”
Vaught created a position of wide receiver coach at Ole Miss for the 1968 team. He hired Tyler to fill it. Said Manning, “I thought Bob really improved us at that position. We had great ones, you know: Floyd Franks, Vernon Studdard and Buddy Jones.”
Tyler moved to Alabama to coach for Bear Bryant in 1971. That Bama team won 11 games and the SEC Championship. Then, Tyler spent the 1972 season as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State before becoming the head coach. His 1974 Bulldogs are fondly remembered by State fans. State finished 9-3, trounced Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl and then beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl.
Later on, Tyler also coached at North Texas and at Millsaps, where his 2000 Millsaps Majors defeated Mississippi College 20-19 in the first-ever Mississippi Backyard Brawl.
Tyler, who turned 90 on July 4, has long since retired and is living in Water Valley where he was born and where he was hired for his first high school coaching job in 1957 – the beginning of career that saw him when 95 games while losing only 28 as a game-changing high school coach.
The 2022 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Induction Class includes Tyler, golfer/golf commentator Jim Gallagher, football great Eric Moulds, world swimming champion Maggie Bowen-Hanna, basketball coach Kermit Davis, Sr., baseball standouts Barry Lyons and David Dellucci, and football coach Willis Wright.
For MSHOF Induction Weekend event and ticket information, click here.