Heart of a Rebel: Bus driver extraordinaire Raymond Carter and his love for Ole Miss
OXFORD, Miss. — Raymond Carter, the beloved bus driver for the Ole Miss baseball team, has a rich and storied history as a Rebel that goes far beyond driving the national champions. The Rebel Walk recently had the honor of speaking with Carter to learn more about him and his love for Ole Miss.
Carter arrived at Ole Miss on a football scholarship in 1962 to play for head coach Johnny Vaught, and he immensely enjoyed that undefeated season with all of his teammates and classmates. He would have no idea back then just how much of a lasting impact the university would make on the rest of his life.
After Carter completed his Ole Miss football career in 1966, the Tupelo School District hired him to coach football and teach at Tupelo High School. It was during Carter’s second year of coaching that his team played Columbus where Billy Brewer was the head coach.
“I knew him from Ole Miss and we got to be good friends coaching against each other,” Carter recalls. “I later got into officiating and when Billy was coaching at Ole Miss, he asked me to come over to Oxford and work his scrimmages. That’s when I began going back to Ole Miss.”
One day at a scrimmage, Brewer told Carter, “The way you handle yourself, you need to get into SEC officiating and become a football official.” As a result, Carter applied and began working as an SEC official the following year and remained active in that capacity until 2004.
Becoming an Ole Miss driver
He recalled those officiating days fondly and shared how he came to be a bus driver for Ole Miss athletics.
“As an alumnus, I couldn’t call Ole Miss games but I could work their scrimmages. I did it for (Coach Tom) Tuberville, (Coach David) Cutcliffe, and all the Rebels’ coaches all the way through. I had called some Arkansas games, but by the time Houston Nutt came to Ole Miss, I’d retired from officiating. One day Houston asked me, ‘Why don’t you come over and work with me?’” Carter reminisced.
“One day during a scrimmage, some of the equipment people told Houston that I had my CDL license. Houston then asked me, ‘Why don’t you drive my team bus for me? I want somebody driving who knows the game.’”
And that’s how Carter’s bus-driving career at Ole Miss began.
“From that point on, I was driving the football team,” Carter explained.
“Later, I got involved with baseball and Mike Bianco. This is my tenth year with Mike. I drive for football in the fall, baseball in the spring, and volleyball and track, as well. I just can’t stay away from it. I’m seventy-eight years old now, but they want me to drive them, so I do and I love it!”
Raymond Carter on his love of driving for Ole Miss
‘It’s just a family’
Each season is different because of the players who make up the team, but some things are part of a routine that never changes. Carter explained how road trips work when the players ride with him.
“Mike is dedicated to doing everything right. Let’s say we’re getting ready to go to LSU. That’s a driving trip where the players and coaches ride along with me. They don’t fly first and then have me pick them up like they do on really far-away games,” Carter says.
It’s clear how much he enjoys his time with the team.
“It’s such a fun time when they are all on the bus with me,” Carter says happily. “I get to Swayze about an hour and a half before we leave so the bus can get loaded with equipment. Close to the time we leave, the players will start coming on the bus, carrying on and having a good time. We turn the MLB channel on and we head out.”
One of Carter’s favorite parts of a new season getting underway is the “freshmen project,” as he refers to it, that leaves everyone laughing and starting the year on a fun note.
As Carter jollily tells the story, “The best time of the year is the first road trip. On that trip, the freshmen have a project. They have to have a song prepared and then sing it. The coaches and everyone tell them in the fall that they are going to have to do it and to be prepared,” he begins.
“The freshmen each get up front and I give them the microphone, and they sing their song. It’s kind of a right-of-passage for freshmen. It’s the most fun! Some of them can really sing, but some are like me. They sing in the shower but they don’t want anyone to hear them. In the end, when everyone has sung, the team captain or somebody will get the players to vote. Whoever wins gets a title like the American Idol Award or something,” he adds.
The bus is equipped for players to do their schoolwork while traveling. Each seat has its own power outlet and USB port. Carter says that sometimes it gets really quiet when the players are busy. The players understand Coach Bianco’s rules and respect each other’s obligations.
“It’s just a family,” says Carter.
“That’s what I like about Mike’s program. The players understand that Mike means business. When Mike says, ‘Let’s have fun,’ then we have fun. When Mike says, ‘It’s time to get ready and get serious,’ that’s what they do. You can hear a pin drop going from the hotel to the field on the day of a game.
“The boys behave themselves. Parents always say, ‘If my boy gives you any trouble, let me know.’ I always tell them that I don’t have a bit of trouble with any of the boys. They’re all great kids.”
Raymond Carter on Coach Bianco and players
Life on the road
The job of a bus driver can be taxing with long trips, some of which Carter makes alone; however, he relishes the experience and enjoys every minute. “I’m a sports fanatic,” he tells us.
“I’ve coached football, baseball, track, and wrestling throughout my life. So as soon as the players get off the bus and I get parked, I go watch the game. Sometimes I can park right next to the stadium. At LSU, I can park right on the third base line. Other times, like at Vanderbilt, I have to go to a parking lot away from the stadium. As soon as I can get my bus turned off, I head back to the stadium. I go to batting practice and the game,” he says.
There’s one occasional drawback, however, to being the Rebs’ driver.
“The only problem is sometimes I have to leave in the bottom of the eighth inning to get the bus and get it ready,” Carter explains.
“I may miss the end of a close game. If I do get back and we are batting, I’ll get out of my bus and go watch. I don’t ever just sit on my bus. I’m at every game, watching as much as I can from beginning to end. I love it!”
Carter does drive for Ole Miss football as well, and that season is fun for him because he gets to visit with the officials he knows and do some reminiscing. “I get to see a lot of the officials I worked with,” he says.
“They may walk by before a game or maybe during a timeout, and we’ll visit. Now it’s gotten to the point where the oldest officials who are calling the games were the rookies who I helped train. It’s just a great life being a part of Ole Miss sports and I can’t wait to get started back each year.”
Throughout his time as an SEC official and traveling with Ole Miss sports teams, Carter has seen many stadiums. When we asked him which stadium he remembered the most, Carter related quite a story.
“I have seen a lot of them (stadiums) while officiating,” he says. “Every stadium has its own unique part about it. As far as the loudest and the best, Tiger Stadium at LSU is hard to beat,” he notes.
“I had one game, though, that was louder than even Tiger Stadium, and that was a double overtime game in Knoxville between Tennessee and Florida,” Carter remembers. “There were 108,000 people there. Tennessee won the game but what was so memorable was it was so loud I couldn’t hear my own whistle. When I would blow my whistle, I couldn’t hear the sound of it in my own ears. That’s one time a stadium was was louder than LSU.”
The COVID season
Looking back over his years with Ole Miss baseball, Carter gets nostalgic. When recalling 2020, the year baseball season was cut short because of COVID, Carter describes the events leading up to the end of a season that left Ole Miss fans wondering about what could have been had the season not ended so abruptly.
“It was probably the worst season since I’ve been driving them. We were tearing it up and undefeated,” Carter recalls.
“We had gone over to play in Monroe, Louisiana, and were headed back home and about to play LSU. When we left Monroe, I remember Mike standing down in the well of the bus by the door so he could hear while talking on his phone. That’s a dangerous place to stand while riding a bus. Mike said, ‘Raymond, I’m going to need to stand here a little longer. I’ve got an important phone call from the SEC that I’m about to get.’”
What came next was hard to imagine.
“That was an unreal trip because everything was happening with Covid,” Carter remembers.
“Then, Mike told the players what was going to happen when LSU came to Oxford. At first they said we would play with a few fans. Then it was no fans. We got back from Monroe that night, and we still thought LSU would be headed over the next morning. Then that Thursday, LSU was on the buses ready to pull out when the SEC canceled all the games. We didn’t play another game that year,” he says sadly.
‘Don’t let the Rebs get hot’
Thinking back, Carter equates the Rebel baseball team of the Covid year to the Rebels of this past year in how they “got hot.”
“That year felt like the end of this past year. We had a team we could win with. This year (2022), though, we started having trouble,” he began to explain.
”One of the worst trips I had with the team was the one to Hammond, Louisiana (Southeastern Louisiana) where we got beat badly mid-week and then headed to Auburn. After Auburn, we won some and things started looking better, but you could tell the guys weren’t playing well,” he said thoughtfully.
“We got to the SEC tournament and got beat and had to turn around and leave the next morning. You talk about a sick feeling driving home. The only thing we could do was sit and wait and see if we made the tournament,” Carter remembers.
“We got back to Oxford and I dropped the team off. Mike said, ‘Well, I don’t know whether we’ll need you again or not, but I hope to see you after Memorial Day.’ I said, ‘Coach, I’ll be watching the television.’ That was the worst time driving home because I knew that I may never see them again because the players go their different ways.
“Then we watched the show and we made it in. I got a call that said, ‘We need a bus!”
Raymond Carter on making the 2022 postseason
Listening to Carter recall that moment, you can hear the pride in his voice for the players and coaches. But a difficult task lay ahead and not just for the team. Carter had a two-and-a-half-day drive ahead of him on his bus that was loaded with equipment bound for Coral Gables, and he had no one but himself for company.
“I can only drive ten hours,” Carter said as he explained the driving rules. “I have to stop and wait eight hours before I can drive again. I had to leave before the players so I could be there to pick them up at the airport in Miami.”
Once the players arrived in Miami, Carter could tell a difference. The Tim Elko motto of, “Don’t let the Rebs get hot” took hold.
“It was like turning a light on. From the first game, I could tell they were playing well and were relaxed and having fun. You could just feel it.”
Raymond Carter on the Regional in Coral Gables
For Carter, it is not just his job to drive players around. The team becomes like family to him. He says the hard part is saying goodbye to the seniors who are graduating and to the juniors who are moving on to the professional league. “I most likely won’t see them again; that’s the sad part.”
However, the coaches remain each year and Carter has a special affinity for Mike Bianco.
Carter related his relationship with Bianco.
“Mike told me, ‘Raymond, I’ve fired drivers over the years for things I didn’t like and that’s why I like you. I can trust you.’ In 2012 or 2013, I drove for Mike one time because another driver couldn’t. Mike and I hit it off. He loves me and I love him and his family. I’ve told him, ‘Unless you fire me, I’ll drive for you until I die or I can’t drive anymore.’ We are just real close.”
Carter on his relationship with Coach Bianco
Carter says he always tells new parents what a great choice they made in supporting their son’s decision to play for Ole Miss. He believes that Mike Bianco’s program not only hones players’ baseball skills but also prepares them for life outside of baseball.
“I always tell new parents that Mike has the best family plan of taking their son and treating him like a human being and also like an athlete and teaching him life facts, not just baseball,” Carter says.
“When their son leaves Ole Miss, he will be as good of a person as possible. I tell them that Mike will take care of their son, carry him through, and make him a better man. The boys love the coaches. They may get disappointed sometimes because they aren’t playing, but Mike tells them that if they keep paying attention, they’ll get their chance.”
Carter on Coach Bianco
The 2022 baseball season brought a momentous occasion for Carter, not only in seeing the team win the national championship, but also in the sense that Carter checked off a bucket-list moment. Starting with the Western Division Championship at Texas A&M in 2014, Carter has jumped in every post-game dogpile with the players he holds so dear.
Carter’s excitement rings through as he tells the story.
“The guys asked if I was going to jump on the dogpile if they won at A&M (in 2014) and I was like, ‘What do you mean?’ They said, ‘Come jump in with us.’ So I did. Then we won the super regional in Lafayette and I jumped in that one, too. When we won the SEC tournament, they showed this old man on television jumping on the dogpile.”
That man was Carter.
“He’s more than a bus driver, he’s a part of the team.”
Meet Raymond Carter, the man who drives the bus for @OleMissBSB. pic.twitter.com/6AbbvxWJkE
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 21, 2019
“So I’d jumped on all of those, but there was one left — the national championship,” he says fondly. “The players started talking about jumping on the dogpile if they won in Miami. I told them that I wasn’t jumping on another one until Omaha at the national championship and that ‘you guys are the ones who are going to make it happen!’”
And the Rebels did!
Carter spent two glorious weeks in Omaha with the team and wouldn’t trade it for the world. “Those guys are like my sons,” he says.
There was no way he was going to miss the championship dogpile. Carter mapped out a plan which included navigating security to be at just the right place to storm the field when the Rebels won.
“They had security and I had an all-access pass. You had to get through all these tunnels, though, to get to the right spot. At the top of the eighth inning, I was standing by the tunnel at the dugout. As soon as they got the last out, I ran out on the field,” he remembers excitedly.
“The players asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to get in this?’ I told them, ‘Man, I’m going to be there,’ and I jumped on top and dug myself down. I wanted to be in the bottom with them all piled on top of me because it was my last dogpile. You can’t do any better than the national championship dogpile. That’s a thrill being able to do stuff like that. It topped the cake.”
Carter on the championship dogpile
Carter is the gentleman on the left in blue jeans and a blue shirt.
Carter passed his required yearly physical in December of 2022. For the foreseeable future, he says he will continue driving for Ole Miss athletics.
“I’ll stay until the good Lord tells me I can’t drive anymore, either by not passing my physical or other health issues that could keep me from driving,” he says. “I’m seventy-eight-and-a-half-years old. I plan on driving two more years and maybe beyond that. Right now I’m healthy, but I won’t ever take a chance. When it’s time, I’ll go.”
Heart of a Rebel
Raymond Carter is the epitome of what Rebel fans hold dear. He is a true testament to the love of sports and how that love can bring joy to life while creating opportunities for lasting relationships.
If you ever see Mr. Carter at a game, speak to him, shake his hand, and thank him for having the heart of a Rebel. He just may have another interesting story or two to share with you.
From all of us who love Ole Miss, thank you, Raymond Carter, for being a true Rebel. And we’re betting you still have another dogpile or two coming your way!
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Donna Sprabery is a former teacher, graduation coach, and academic coach for boys basketball. She graduated from the University of West Alabama with a major in business education and from Arkansas State University with a MA in Educational Leadership. A native of Meridian, MS, Donna enjoys traveling, gardening, writing, volunteer work, and cheering on the Rebels.