Ole Miss football great Paige Cothren dead at 81: visitation, funeral arrangements

Published 4:10 pm Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ole Miss has lost another football legend with the passing of Jennings Paige Cothren, Sr..

Cothren, 81, died on September 1, 2016 at North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, Mississippi, after a brief illness.

Visitation will be at First Baptist Church, Houston, Mississippi on Sunday, September 4 from 1-3 p.m. The funeral will follow at 3 p.m., and burial will be at French Camp Cemetery, French Camp, Mississippi.

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Cothren is survived by wife, Daisy Yarbrough of Houston, Mississippi; daughter, Fran Cothren Woody of Knoxville, Tennessee;  son, Jay Cothren (Julie) of Collierville, Tennessee; step-sons, Phil Yarbrough (Felicia) of Jackson, Mississippi and Scott Yarbrough (Mary) of Nashville, Tennessee; nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren; sister Wanda Cothren Orr (Donald) of Vaiden, Mississippi; and his devoted aunt, Wanda Poole of Oxford, Mississippi.

As a fullback, kicker, cornerback and linebacker, Cothren was one of the most ver­satile players in Ole Miss football history, earning first-team All-America honors in 1956 and a second-team All-America selection in 1955.  He was named first-team All-Southeastern Conference in 1955 and 1956, while also being named to the All-South team in 1955.

Cothren is a member of the famous “Pooles of Ole Miss” family tree which produced over 50 University of Mississippi athletics letters. Three of his uncles – brothers Buster, Ray and Barney Poole – are all members of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, and Barney is in the College Football Hall of Fame.  “Poole Drive” on the Ole Miss campus is named in honor of the family.

Cothren, who was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1988, helped lead Coach John Vaught’s 1954 and 1955 teams to back-to-back SEC champ­ion­ships.  During his three varsity seasons (1954-56), Ole Miss posted a 26-6 overall record, including a loss to Navy in the Sugar Bowl and a victory over TCU in the Cotton Bowl.  He was the leading Ole Miss rusher in both bowl games.  In the 14-13 Cotton Bowl win against TCU, Cothren gained 79 yards rushing on 12 carries, including a three-yard touchdown.  He also had a key 13-yard reception on fourth down from quarterback Eagle Day on the game-winning drive and then provided the winning margin with his PAT kick.

Named to receive the Jacobs Trophy in 1955, symbolizing the best blocker in the SEC, Cothren led the SEC in scoring in 1955 with 74 points and also won the NCAA kick-scoring championship in 1955 with 38 points.

Cothren was named the Associated Press National  “Back of the Week” after the Rebels defeated Arkansas, 17-7, in 1955, while also being a part of the United Press International “Backfield of the Week” honor in that same game.

Following his 1956 senior season,  Cothren ran­ked second in Ole Miss career rushing with 1,390 yards on 272 carries, as he averaged 5.1 yards per carry and had 12 career TDs. He was credited with scoring 151 points during his three varsity seasons, including 12 touchdowns, 12 field goals and 43 extra points. His 79 career points by kicking ranked first in Ole Miss history at the time as he connected on 43 extra points and 12 field goals.  Cothren’s 20 extra points in 1955 ranked first in school history for a single season at the time and his 38 points by kicking in 1955 also ranked first all-time at Ole Miss following his final collegiate season of 1956.

While also playing cornerback and linebacker on defense during the two-way era, Cothren contributed to an Ole Miss squad which led the nation in total defense in 1954 as the Rebels allowed only 172.3 yards per game.  He also had eight pass interceptions and three kickoff returns during his playing days with Vaught’s Rebels.

Following his senior season, Cothren played in the North-South All-Star Game, Chicago All-Star Game, and the Hula Bowl.

Cothren, who was drafted by the National Football League Los Angeles Rams in 1957,

played two years (1957-58) with the Rams and then one year (1959) with the Philadelphia Eagles before retiring from professional football.  His 14 field goals in 1958 led the NFL as did his 56.0 field goal percentage (14-25).   He was 38 of 38 on extra point attempts in 1957 as his 100.0 percentage was tops in the league.

Although he had retired from the pro ranks after his 1959 season, on January 27, 1967, Cothren became the first player signed in New Orleans Saints history after the organization was awarded a franchise by the NFL on November 1, 1966.

Cothren played in 31 games during his three-year NFL career as he scored 180 points, connecting on 33 of 62 field goal attempts, while being a perfect 81 of 81 on extra point attempts.  His 71 points in his rookie season ranked him fifth in the NFL in scoring and his 84 points the next year ranked second behind only Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown.

Born on July 12, 1935, Cothren attended Crosby High School and then Natchez High School.  He earned All-Southern, All-Big Eight and All-State honors during his senior year at Natchez in 1952 and was also Team Captain of both Crosby High School and Natchez High. Cothren was one of the stars in the 1953 High School All-America Game in Memphis, scoring the first and third touchdowns for the victorious East team.

–Ole Miss Sports Information