Former MSU coordinator, Ole Miss head coach Dunn dies at 75

Published 5:52 pm Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Joe Lee Dunn, a former football coach at Ole Miss and Mississippi State who rose to fame as one of the sport’s top assistants in the 1990s, died Tuesday at the age of 75.

The cause of death was not reported.

Dunn coached at 10 different colleges in a 41-year career that spanned from 1971-2012. He was the head coach at New Mexico from 1983-86, and then at Ole Miss in 1994, but was perhaps best known for his stint as Mississippi State’s defensive coordinator from 1996-2002.

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The Ozark, Ala. native was a finalist for the Broyles Award, which honors the nation’s top assistant coach, in 1999 when he helped Mississippi State to a 10-2 season and a victory over Clemson in the Peach Bowl.
Dunn was also the defensive coordinator in 1998 when the Bulldogs won the program’s only SEC West championship.

Dunn is credited as one of the originators of the 3-3-5 defense, which uses three down linemen, three linebackers stacked behind the linemen, and five defensive backs, in the early 1990s.

At Memphis from 2003-06, Dunn helped a unit that was ranked 101st in the nation in rushing defense and 57th in total defense in 2002 to rankings of 18th in rushing defense and ninth in total defense in 2003. In 2004, four members of the Memphis defensive unit earned All-Conference USA honors. In 2005, the Tigers led Conference USA in rushing defense.

“He’s done some things on defense that you don’t see every day,” former Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning said before a game against Dunn’s Memphis defense in 2003. “If you watch enough film on it, you get used to it and you understand who each player is and whether he is a linebacker, defensive end or a safety.”

During his long coaching career, Dunn only spent four seasons as a head coach and compiled a 21-37 record. He went 17-30 in four seasons at New Mexico, and 4-7 in his only season leading Ole Miss’ program.

Dunn became Ole Miss’ interim head coach when Billy Brewer was fired just before the 1994 season. He had been the Rebels’ defensive coordinator in 1992 and ‘93.

Dunn’s other coaching stops included Chattanooga, South Carolina, Arkansas, Memphis, New Mexico State and Division III McMurry.