Jesse Oliver Branch (1941–)

Jesse Branch served as a college and professional football player, football coach, and college athletics administrator. His athletic abilities and knowledge took him from playing fields in Arkansas and Canada to the coaching and administrative ranks in Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, and Oregon.

Jesse Oliver Branch was born on February 1, 1941, in the small community of Sulfur Springs (Jefferson County) near Pine Bluff (Jefferson County). His parents were George Branch, who was a farmer, and Ada Branch, who was a homemaker. He graduated from Watson Chapel High School in Pine Bluff in 1959.

Having distinguished himself on the high school football field, he received an athletic scholarship to the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). During his college football years as a Razorback from 1959 to 1962, he played as a halfback for head coach Frank Broyles. Branch played in the Sugar Bowl during this senior year, earned two letters as a two-way player, and was named All-Southwest Conference at the half-back position in 1962.

He had planned to work as a high school football coach and math teacher after graduation. However, he was courted by professional teams including the Houston Oilers and St. Louis Cardinals. Ultimately, he chose to play for the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders (1963–1964) and the Edmonton Eskimos in 1965. In Canada, he played as a punt returner for Calgary. At one time, the Stampeders were playing the Toronto Argonauts when Branch ran a punt back for 105 yards. That feat remains a record for Calgary. A dislocated shoulder essentially ended his time in Canada after three years. One of his teammates in Canada was fellow Arkansan Wayne “Thumper” Harris.

Returning to UA to pursue a master’s degree, Branch worked as a student coach with the 1964 National Championship team and the 1965 team, which finished 10-1. Moving his sights from high school coaching to the college level, Branch served in assistant coaching roles at Mississippi State University, the University of Oregon, and Kansas State University before returning to UA in 1975 as an assistant coach at the request of Frank Broyles. Between 1975 and 1985, he served under three head coaches for the Arkansas Razorbacks: Broyles, Lou Holtz, and Ken Hatfield. During that era, the Razorbacks played in nine bowl games and won Southwest Conference championships in 1975 and 1979.

Branch was tapped for the head coaching position at Southwest Missouri State University—now Missouri State University (MSU)—in Springfield, serving in that position between 1986 to 1994. His fifty-five victories for the MSU Bears represent some of the most wins for a coach in school history, as well as the thirty-one conference victories for teams he coached there. His successes at MSU earned Branch the title of NCAA Regional Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1990.

Branch returned to his home state in 1995 to work as the associate athletic director at the University of Arkansas with athletic director Broyles until 2000. Branch accepted the position of head football coach for the Reddies of Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (Clark County) in 2001. There, he coached forty-three games with a record of twelve wins and thirty-one losses before retiring in 2004.

During his career as a head coach, Branch compiled an overall college football record of sixty-seven wins, seventy-five losses, and one tie. Branch has attributed his time at UA with his many successes, saying, “It’s not the team with the most talent that wins games, but the ones that eliminate mistakes.” Sportswriter Nate Allen said that between his Arkansas playing, coaching, and administrative tenures, “nobody wore more Hog hats than Jesse Branch.”

In 2017, he was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

For additional information:
Allen, Nate. “Branch a Connection to Broyles Era.” Arkansas Online, May 23, 2020. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/may/23/branch-a-connection-to-broyles-era-2020/ (accessed April 5, 2022).

“Jesse Branch.” Official Website of the Missouri State Bears. https://missouristatebears.com/news/2008/2/4/Jesse_Branch#:~:text=Jesse%20Branch%20served%20nine%20years,100%2Dgame%20SMS%20coaching%20stint (accessed April 5, 2022).

“Missouri Sports Hall of Fame Inductee Jesse Branch.” Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. https://mosportshalloffame.com/inductees/jesse-branch/ (accessed April 5, 2022).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 04/19/2022

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