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Carmody honored

By RICK CLEVELAND

The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Jim Carmody, renowned as a defensive football coaching wizard, played major roles in many of the most monumental victories in Mississippi history and he did so at three different universities.

Twice.

That’s right: Carmody coached in two different stints at Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State and was part of huge victories each time. Such a record has landed Carmody in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, where he will join many of the players he coached.

“That’s fairly unique I would say,” Carmody said. “Two different times at all three schools. I guess it shows I didn’t burn any bridges.”

Whether you like him or loathed him, Carmody’s track record was impossible to ignore. His was a case of: If you can’t beat him, hire him. Here’s just a sampling of his achievements:

— As the first-year head coach at Southern Miss, in 1982, his Golden Eagles, led by Reggie Collier, defeated Bear Bryant and Alabama in the legendary coach’s last home game at Tuscaloosa. The 38-29 USM victory ended a 59-game Alabama home winning streak and marked the first time a visitor had won there in 19 seasons.

— As the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss in 1977, Carmody designed the game plan that helped the Rebels defeat eventual national champion Notre Dame 20-13 at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Hall of Famer Jack Carlisle was an offensive assistant on that Ole Miss staff but says his lasting memory of the game will be the inspired play of the Rebels’ defense.

“Jim Carmody’s defensive plan was masterful,” Carlisle said. “His players knew just what to do.”

— After signing Brett Favre at USM and then coaching him in Favre’s first season, Carmody wound up coaching the Mississippi State defense against Favre twice. Both times, the Bulldogs were victorious before capacity crowds in the last two games of that series.

In Carmody’s 10 games against Mississippi State as a head coach and defensive coordinator at USM, the Golden Eagles were 8-2. In two games as defensive coordinator at State against USM and Favre, Carmody was 2-0.

Coincidence? Hardly.

Even later in his career, Carmody came back to haunt State, this time at Ole Miss. In 1992, the Rebels won 17-10 when Carmody’s defensive front held State out of the end zone on 11 plays inside the 10-yard line on three separate goal-line stands.

“That was unbelievable, really,” Carmody said. “I had never seen anything like that before and I haven’t seen anything like it since.”

But Carmody has seen plenty.

In his first stint at Mississippi State (1964-66), he helped the Bulldogs to their first victory over a Johnny Vaught-coached Ole Miss team (20-17 at Oxford in 1964).

“Man that was a big deal back then,” Carmody said. “The game was on national TV and Vaught had just dominated State. It was a such a big deal the president canceled classes the following Monday. I remember that.”

Carmody was again part of Mississippi football history in 1987 when his USM Golden Eagles defeated Jackson State 17-7 before a packed house at USM’s Roberts Stadium in the first football game that matched historically black and white Mississippi universities.

Carmody pushed for the game to be played because of his respect for Hall of Famer W.C. Gorden and his Jackson State program and because he knew the game would be a badly needed sellout.

At USM, Carmody’s defenses became known as the Nasty Bunch and he was called “Big Nasty.”

“That was the players’ idea,” Carmody said. “Hanford Dixon, J.J. Stewart and Cliff Lewis all came to me with the idea and I told them, it was OK with me, but they better live up to it. Call yourselves whatever you want to as long as you live up to it. Over the years, I really believe they did.”

Ben Williams, another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, played for Carmody as a defensive tackle first at Ole Miss and later for the Buffalo Bills.

“Jim came in at Ole Miss my junior year, and we got better real fast,” Williams said. “He was great on techniques and teaching you how to play.”

Williams became an All-American and was voted Colonel Rebel.

Later, when Williams was playing in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills, then Buffalo-head coach Chuck Knox was looking for a defensive line coach. This was 1981. Williams suggested Carmody.

“I told Chuck Knox, you hire Jim Carmody and we’ll go to the playoffs,” Williams said.

Knox hired Carmody away from USM where he was the defensive coordinator.

Buffalo not only made the playoffs, the Bills led the league in defense and set an NFL sacks record. Williams made All-Pro.

Nowadays, Carmody and Williams have a running joke. Williams says he made Carmody a great coach; Carmody fires back that he made Williams a great player. Funny or not, there’s probably some truth on both sides.

After one season in the NFL, Carmody came back to USM to replace Bobby Collins. There, he coached his son, Steve Carmody, who was then a standout center for the Golden Eagles and is now a lawyer in Jackson.

“He treated me the way he treated everyone else,” Steve Carmody says. “It was fun to see your dad at work every day. Not everybody gets a chance to do that. I thought he was successful because, No. 1, he was so smart, and No. 2, nobody was going to outwork him. He was always thoroughly prepared.”

There’s a photo both Carmody men treasure. It’s of Jim Carmody shaking hands with Bear Bryant after the 1982 USM victory. In the background, Steve, No. 51, is shaking hands with then-Alabama assistant coach Paul Davis, who had hired Jim at Mississippi State way back in 1964, the year Carmody started making Mississippi football history, so much history.

These days, Jim Carmody is retired and living in Madison where he plays some golf, watches grandchildren play sports and enjoys the memories.