Football Coach, 1986-94
Inducted February 6, 1999
Jesse Branch served nine years as the SMS Bears’ head football coach, guiding the SMS gridders from 1986 through 1994 and recording the third highest win total in Bear gridiron history as he finished with 55 wins, 44 losses and one tie for his 100-game SMS coaching stint. Branch took over the SMS reins in what was the Bears’ fifth season competing at the NCAA Division I-AA level and the second SMS season as a charter member of the Gateway Football Conference. By the time he stepped aside from his post following the 1994 season, he was the only grid coach in SMS history to record multiple conference championships, as he took the Bears to back-to-back Gateway titles in 1989 and 1990. The Branch era at SMS saw the Bears enjoy a period of success, particularly at home, which sparked a sustained boost in interest and attendance in the program and ultimately led to a substantial renovation and expansion of the SMS stadium. From 1988 until 1993 the Bears were 27-3 at home, and the string of five winning seasons from 1989 through 1993 matched two earlier periods as the longest stretches of consecutive winning seasons in SMS football history. After a 5-5 record in 1988 in his third season at SMS, Branch took his charges to a banner year in 1989 as the Bears won the Gateway title at 5-1 and finished the regular season 9-2. The Bears hosted and won the first postseason home game in SMS football history as they slipped past Maine 38-35 in the first round of the I-AA playoffs. The Bears, getting as high as fourth in the national rankings during the season, suffered a 55-25 setback at Stephen F. Austin in the playoff quarterfinals to finish the season with a 10-3 record which matched the school’s best one-year win total. In 1990, SMS again went through the regular season at 9-2 and shared the Gateway title with Northern Iowa. The Bruins suffered a first-round playoff setback to Idaho in a 41-35 shootout which gave SMS a final season mark of 9-3 in a year in which the Bears had gotten as high as second in the I-AA national rankings. SMS put together a 6-4-1 season in 1991, finished 6-5 in 1992 and was 7-4 during the 1993 season, including two ties for second in the league standings in 1992 and 1993. At the time he stepped aside from his position at the conclusion of the 1994 season, Branch had the best win total of any coach in Gateway Conference history. Branch came to SMS in 1986 after 21 years as an assistant football coach at four colleges, with most of that time spent at his alma mater, the University of Arkansas. He left SMS to return to Arkansas to a position as associate director of athletics.