A VERSATILE LIFE
Tyler’s 50-year career is one for the storybooks
BY JAKE THOMPSON | PHOTO BY BRUCE NEWMAN
Sitting in his house and looking back over the past 60 years of his life, Bob Tyler has to take a minute.
It’s not because he cannot remember certain moments, his memory is sharp, but when asked to think about all he has accomplished in his adult life it causes Tyler to pause for a moment.
“It was almost like that I didn’t do it myself,” Tyler said. “It was almost like providence had me by the collar saying you’re going to do this. Because I’ve had such an exciting, adventurous life.”
That life began in Water Valley where Tyler grew up and went to high school. He was an usher at the Grand Theatre and would watch newsreels before the film and at the end of those newsreels they would show football highlights.
It was those highlights, which included West Point’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis, Army’s Arnold Tucker and Notre Dame’s Leon Hart, that put the idea of coaching football into young Tyler’s head.
Once in high school, Tyler would meet his wife, Dale, and the two would sit on the steps everyday at school.
“It was there that I decided I was going to coach,” Tyler said. “Sitting there in 1950 I decided I was going to coach and I wondered if I would ever get a job.”
Finding one job was not going to be an issue for Tyler, what came after that first job is where the adventure began.
While attending Ole Miss Tyler started coaching junior high football at Water Valley. Upon graduation he became the head coach of the Blue Devils varsity team and held that post from 1957-59.
Tyler did not play college football as he went into the Army and noted he was ‘learning as I went’ during his time at Water Valley. During his tenure the Blue Devils upset some of their better opponents in their conference.
Once his time in the Valley had come and gone Tyler picked up and moved to Okolona where he coached the Chieftans for four years, where they won the Big-8 conference title his final season. Tyler then took his winning ways to Senatobia for a season winning the conference title. Then went undefeated his two seasons as the head coach of the Meridian Wildcats. He led Meridian to back-to-back state championships. As a high school coach Tyler earned a win-loss record of 94-19-6.
Tyler was an Ole Miss fan growing up and being 20 miles south of Oxford meant finding ways to get to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to watch football in the Fall. His way was to hitchhike to campus. Once there, he, along with several others, would go under a fence near the railroad track to slip in and catch the game.
It was there he met a man he calls an ‘icon’ to this day, John Vaught. Then, years later on a fateful Saturday morning coach Vaught called Tyler when he was coaching at Meridian and offered Tyler a position on his staff. He accepted and two weeks later was in Oxford working with the receivers and tight ends.
An issue Tyler had to overcome once working side by side with a man he revered was trying to not be star-struck.
“I had to get over the icon thing because I’m working with (Vaught),” Tyler said. “At first it was almost like I was visiting, but then I got going with him pretty good. It was always, and today, in my mind is just a fabulous human being and coach.”
The greatest athlete I ever coached
After the second season at Meridian Tyler was named the head coach for one of the teams in the annual all-star game. Tyler had already put a team together, with his All-American, state champion quarterback from Meridian named the starter. Vaught called Tyler up and asked if he could add another player to the roster.
“(Vaught) said ‘can you put this Manning boy from Drew on the all-star (team),’” Tyler said. “I said ‘coach, he’s already on there by this phone call right here.”
From there the relationship between Tyler and Archie Manning grew. Manning would eventually find his way to Oxford and become one of the greatest quarterbacks the Rebels have ever had and Tyler was able to witness this all from the sidelines.
“I saw this guy from Drew release that pass and that thing, as we coaches say, such a tight spiral,” Tyler said. “It looked like the lacings were all around the ball. It was so fast. …When I started realizing what I was watching down there at Memorial Stadium (in Jackson) and knowing where he was going. It was a great, great discovery for me. Archie was the greatest athlete I ever coached.”
Their relationship still lives on today and they grew so close that Tyler named his middle son – Oxfrod’s boys basketball coach Drew — after Manning’s home town, Drew, Mississippi.
Tyler was often kidded by people that it was Archie who hired him at Ole Miss and made him his assistant.
Working with the Bear
During Manning’s senior year Johnny Vaught had a heart attack. When Tyler and the Rebels returned from the Gator Bowl Vaught informed him he was going to become the athletic director and wanted Tyler to become his successor as head coach of Ole Miss.
That agreement lasted for about five days and Tyler had even called another coach to leave his current job and come to Oxford to join his staff. But that did not last as the train that was on the track of putting Tyler in charge had a full stop. While meeting with the chancellor, Tyler received a phone call from Bear Bryant, Alabama’s legendary head coach. He wanted Tyler on his staff and wanted him to meet in New Orleans at the Southeastern Conference meeting that night.
So, much like Tyler accepted Vaught’s offer via a telephone call and packed up for Oxford, Tyler said yes to Bryant’s offer and took off for New Orleans.
“I told the chancellor thank you, but I’m gone,” Tyler said.
Tyler coached receivers at Alabama under another coach he viewed as an icon. That was where the similarities ended between Bryant and Vaught. Vaught was silent during practices, always watching. The Bear would watch from his infamous red tower.
“He was distant, but hands on,” Tyler said of Bryant.
Bryant would assign his staff specific teams to scout for the season. Tyler was given Ole Miss for the obvious reasons of his knowledge of the team. When the two met in Birmingham to play it was a special moment for Tyler.
“When I saw those (Ole Miss) uniforms come out of the tunnel it really meant something to me right then,” Tyler said.
Wrap it in Maroon and White
Tyler finally got the call he had wanted his whole life when Mississippi State offered him a job to be the head coach of an SEC football team. Tyler led the Bulldogs for seven seasons and also became the athletic director. It was a fixer-upper job and in his first season Mississippi State went 4-5 but in 1974 the Bulldogs went 9-3 and won the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
“Coach Bryant didn’t mind someone leaving for a promotion, but he did not want you to leave laterally,” Tyler said.
Tyler convinced Bryant he was leaving for Starkville to be an assistant for one season then taking over as head coach the following year. The Bear approved.
Tyler has coached in both sides of what has become one of the greatest rivalries in college football, The Egg Bowl with Ole Miss and Mississippi State. As head coach of the Bulldogs Tyler went 4-2 in the Egg Bowl. Tyler’s oldest son, Breck, also holds the distinction of playing for both Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
The athletic director at the time passed away and Tyler was named his replacement as part of a new four-year contract with Mississippi State. But the president that made the decision retired and the new president came in. The two did not mesh well and Tyler resigned from his post in Starkville.
Since then Tyler coached for a year at North Texas, helped with player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys and even coached at Millsaps from 200-03. Now he and his wife live in her old family home on Main Street in Water Valley where he spends his days as the Director of the Yalobusha County Economic Development District and a consultant to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Nowadays you can find Bob Tyler sitting his office upstairs — his grandkids call it ‘the cave’ — where he is working on his own autobiography. It’s a project that is years in the making but it is helping him remember some aspects of his career that he may have locked away deep in his mind.
“I’ve just been blessed in so many ways,” Tyler said. “A lot of it was learning as I was going. But, I knew not to reveal I didn’t know certain things. You just go on. It’s been a lot of bumps in the road, but coaching is problematic. The winner is going to be the guy who overcome more bumps in the road than the other guy does.”