Photo courtesy of MSU Athletics

By Billy Watkins

       George Ranager was in church last Sunday when he received a text from a former high school teammate: Their coach, the legendary Bob Tyler, had died that morning at his home in Water Valley. He was 91.

       “That was a sad, sad day for me,” said Ranager, a star on Tyler’s first Meridian High School team in 1966 who went on to play for Bear Bryant at Alabama. “Memories of that time came flooding back to me. I only played for Coach Tyler that one season, but he had a big impact on me.”

       In coaching stops at his alma mater Water Valley, Okolona, Corinth, Senatobia, Meridian and Oxford, Tyler compiled a staggering 94-19-6 record.

       But it was in Meridian where he made the rest of the state take notice. In two seasons, his teams went undefeated — the only blemish a 14-14 tie with Columbus in 1967. 

       The Wildcats won back-to-back Big Eight Conference titles, recognized back then to be state championships. The league possessed the most stars and some of the state’s top coaches, including Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductees Jack Carlisle and Billy Brewer. Tyler joined them in 2022.

       “My sophomore and junior seasons, we had really struggled,” Ranager recalled in a phone interview Tuesday. “Coach Tyler was hired after we’d already had spring training prior to my senior season. He didn’t even have a chance to look at us in pads.

       “But he came in with some fresh ideas and fortunately we had some really good athletes. He put together a great staff. He had a strenuous summer program, which we all fell in line with. He believed in conditioning.

       “He was a good judge of talent and character. We did a lot of ‘skeleton drills’ that they call seven-on-seven these days. He saw that we had guys who could throw and catch the ball, and that’s the sort of offense he put in.

       “Back then, it was unusual to throw it a lot. But we’d throw it on first down — and we’d throw it deep. People hadn’t seen much of that.”

Bob with wife, Dale and sons Breck, Cam and Drew

       Bob White, who signed with Ole Miss, was the starting quarterback. Ranager, David Bailey (who would later join Ranager at Alabama) and speedster Grady Coleman (Delta State) were the wideouts. 

       That first team went 10-0, averaged 30.9 points per game and allowed just 4.9. Meridian defeated Jackson Provine in the championship game 34-0 at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson. The game was televised statewide.

       “But Coach Tyler did more than just coach the team,” Ranager said. “He went out and talked with people in our community. He helped start up the school’s booster club again.”

       Three or four games into the season, Meridian’s iconic Ray Stadium, which opened in 1937 and had a capacity of 14,000, was packed again on Friday nights.

       “My wife (Beth) was a year behind me in school,” Ranager said, “and she told me later how much the students and fans looked forward to the games. They would have three or four busloads that traveled with us on the road.”

       A weekly statewide poll, which was considered the true measure of teams at that time, “didn’t even have us on the radar at the start of the season,” Ranager said.

       It had Tyler’s Wildcats No. 1 at the end.


       In the summer following that first season, Tyler coached the North squad in the Mississippi High School All-Star Game.

       White was the starting quarterback. But at the request of Ole Miss coach Johnny Vaught, a stringbean quarterback from Drew was also added to the team. Tyler had never heard of him. Neither had most of his all-star teammates.

       That quarterback, of course, was Archie Manning.

       “I was thrilled to be there and just hoping to play some,” Archie told me once.

       He caught Tyler’s eye during practice with his arm strength and tight spirals. And when White went down with a career-changing knee injury in the first quarter, Tyler called on Archie, who threw for four touchdowns and ran for another. Ranager caught three of the TD passes.

       Final score: North 57, South 33.


       In 1968, Tyler joined Vaught’s staff at Ole Miss — his alma mater — during the Archie-era as the wide receivers coach.

       When health problems forced Vaught to retire following the 1970 season, Tyler seemed to be the odds-on favorite to become the next head coach. In fact, he was hired for at least a day or two. But athletics director Bruiser Kinard, one of the school’s greatest athletes from the 1930s, changed his mind and hired his brother, Billy Kinard, instead.

Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame

       That move sent Ole Miss into a football tailspin. Billy Kinard’s first team — stacked with Vaught recruits — went 1o-2 and won the Peach Bowl. Over the next 11 seasons, which included three head coaches, the Rebels did not appear in a bowl game.

       One of the burning questions that will never be answered is: What if Tyler had been Vaught’s successor?

       Ranager, who spent 33 seasons as an SEC football official, has an opinion: “I don’t think Ole Miss would’ve missed a beat. He was a winner, and I think they would’ve kept winning just as they did when Coach Vaught was there.”

       Tyler spent a year as an assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama. In 1973, he was named head coach at Mississippi State. His ’74 team went 9-3 and won the Sun Bowl. It was State’s second bowl game since 1941.

       “And to show you how adaptable Coach Tyler was, even though he loved to throw the football he saw the talent he had and basically ran the ball that year.”

       Quarterback Rockey Felker and tailback Walter Packer were a tough tandem to handle in the Veer offense.

       Tyler’s final three seasons as a head coach were at Millsaps from 2000-02.

       His interest in conservation led him to the position of Director of Parks for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. He helped start the archery program in high schools across the state.

Photo courtesy of George Ranager

       When asked the effect Tyler had on his life, said Ranager: “He prepared you for the next step, whether that was football or to just go to college and get an education. He instilled in me determination, organization, the importance of hard work. He believed in doing things the right way.”

       Tyler was laid to rest Wednesday in Water Valley. He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Dale; sons Breck, Cam and Drew; eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.