DESTIN, Fla. - Houston Nutt was wearing a familiar straw hat and a not-so-familiar sports shirt at the SEC spring meetings this week.
The shirt's Ole Miss logo will take awhile getting used to on the longtime Arkansas football coach. Nonetheless, this could be one of the smoothest coaching transitions in SEC history.
Nutt's new Ole Miss contract surpassed his old one at Arkansas. His talent looks better. And his recruiting area won't change much.
Moreover, he's still in the SEC, where he coached the team he grew up with as a Little Rock native.
No wonder Nutt went from Arkansas to Ole Miss as fast as coach Bobby Petrino went from the Atlanta Falcons to Arkansas. His decision was as easy as it was quick.
"Arkansas really didn't want me," Nutt said. "Deep down inside, I felt that way. Ten years is a long time in this league."
Nutt's agent, Jimmy Sexton, informed him after last season he had three head-coaching opportunities. When Sexton told him one of them was Ole Miss, Nutt's eyes lit up.
He knew he didn't want to sit out of coaching a year. He also knew how much passion he had for SEC football.
"I'm pretty fortunate," he said. "It happened pretty quick, but it was a good fit.
"Ole Miss players needed me. And I really needed them."
Both have improved their situations. Ole Miss has made a significant coaching upgrade from rookie head coach Ed Orgeron, who recruited better than he coached, and Nutt has found a school that should celebrate the kind of success he had at Arkansas.
"I've reenergized, really fresh," he said. "I'm excited."
Ten years ago when Nutt signed on with Arkansas, he might have been the most energetic and enthusiastic football coach ever to come into this league. He didn't sound much different this week.
But he might be more realistic.
He talked about competing for a national championship at Arkansas. Although the Razorbacks never came close, they qualified for two SEC championship games. That would be heady stuff for Ole Miss, which hasn't played for a league title since the conference went to divisional play.
"We talked about that in one of our team meetings," Nutt said.
It doesn't take a team long to warm up to Nutt. He has that kind of personality. He's a hands-on coach, and not just as an offensive play caller.
Nutt always has prided himself in getting to know his players. That's why he visited them regularly in their dorms and apartments at Arkansas. He's doing the same at Ole Miss.
And if the players need an extra man for a pick-up basketball game, Nutt, who is a former high school All-American, can fill that role, too. Just make sure it's half-court.
"I gave up full-court about three years ago," he said. "I don't want to blow out an Achilles."
He might have given up full-court basketball. He has no intention of giving up play calling, as other head coaches have done recently.
"It's the best part of the game," he said. "You're in the game, chopping wood with your guys. I still will have time to be around the defense."
Nutt has no running backs like Darren McFadden or Felix Jones at Ole Miss, but he's hardly void of talent. Offensive tackle Michael Oher is expected to be a first-round draft pick next spring; Texas transfer Jevan Snead might be superior to any quarterback Nutt signed at Arkansas; and Shay Hodge and Michael Wallace are proven receivers.
"(Snead) can throw it," Nutt said. "He's tall, with a good, quick release."
Nutt has made friends with a couple of other Ole Miss quarterbacks, Archie and Eli Manning. Nutt credits Eli's presence for the attendance record at Ole Miss' spring game.
Archie made an impression on him a long time ago.
"I was about 8 or 9 when I saw him play," Nutt said. "I saw him with that cast (to protect a broken left arm)."
Nutt also remembers his father telling him what a great coach Ole Miss' Johnny Vaught was.
"When you think about it, there's really more tradition at Ole Miss than Arkansas," Nutt said. "They've won more championships."
The more he talked, the less out of place his Ole Miss logo looked.
Sports editor John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.