Adams: Nutt quick-change artist as a Rebel

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 adamsj@knoxnews.com.

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Comments » 18

slambob2#228938 writes:

Nice article. Ole Miss and Nutt are a perfect fit and could bring the glory years back. I still can't believe Arkansas let him go.

Bobby Petrino will be the loneliest guy in America if he loses a football game this year.

arkyvol writes:

the hogs are just glad he didn't let the doorknob hit him in the you know where.

Bigger_Al writes:

I can see Tuscaloosa John down in Destin following Saban around like a love-struck puppy dog. "Me and yous pals, right Coach? How about an interview?"

Pullingguard writes:

Very good article... And Nutt will improve the football status of O/Miss... Oregron brought in talent at O/M and Nutt will take advantage of that and produce a very competitive team this year. Why all the negatives on Adams for this article, very informative about SEC school and guys you have to look farther than your back yard to get the full picture of SEC.

pdhuff#552644 writes:

Yep, I perused Hogcall at www.2arkansasonline.com some last year.

Ol' Nutt was not widely loved on that site. I'm sure he thought the he would be the next Broyles, ala Fulmer/Neyland.

But if steam is coming out from under the hood, don't wash the windows. Fix it!

But sometimes the best laid plans.........

arkyvol writes:

i've lived through the whole nutt saga at arkansas. my prediction: in three, maybe five years, he'll be history at ole miss. rah rah b.s. will only take you so far, then you've got to have that elusive something that seems to frequently drop in on coaches named bryant, paterno, mckay, and so on. i've never seen it in nutt.

TommyJack writes:

When he starts losing skollys in big numbers, he will bail. Orgeron left Ole Miss decimated with respect to graduation rates.

Hogules writes:

Nutt's a used car salesman at best and he will do FAR more damage to Old Myth than he'll ever do good.
In other words, I'm extremely happy for the Rebels and hope that Nutt remains their head coach for many years to come.
The vast majority of Razorback fans were way past ready to see him leave and who wouldn't rather have a Bobby Petrino, as opposed to some Nutt?

KYorangeblood writes:

Houston Nutt is one of the finest coaches in the SEC and has always left a program in better shape then when he got there.

Even those idiots in Arkansas, look at the 10 years before he came there.

I have followed his career from Murray State Univ to Ole Miss. He is not only a great Coach, but also a Heckav' nice guy.

murrayvol writes:

KYorangeblood: I know him as well and he is a nice guy. The term "great coach" is reserved for a precious few but he's a helluva lot better than Orgeron.

As someone mentioned earlier Ole Mess is going to hit the APR wall pretty damn quick. Remains to be seen how that plays out but it could be double ugly w/Auburn, LSU, & a rising Tide on the annual dance card.

gohawks1 writes:

Sometimes you feel like a Nutt, sometimes you don't.

bigdeal writes:

Coach Nutt. We Miss You. Come back home !

bigdeal writes:

Coach Nutt will have Ole Miss turned around in 5 years. Not only will they compete in the SEC title game, they will make their fist BSC bowl appearance within 5 years

gohawks1 writes:

I'll have what bigdeal is having. It seems to be some very strong ale.

Warchief writes:

Actually when the SEC released it's APR standings about 3 weeks ago Ole Miss football was in very good standing. I can't remember the exact numbers but they're nowhere near losing schollys or anything of that nature. The Ole Miss/Arkansas game will be very interesting from here on. Seems to be a lot of bad blood there, both from Arkansas toward HN and vice versa.

TheVolMan writes:

Hey Weenies, great boycott of JA! LOL...

As always, great article John. Just continue to laugh at the Weenies who boycott you by reading your work.

Hogpuddin writes:

Well written article, but it and the comments are full of mistakes. Not all John's mistakes, but Houston's and the writers' of some of the replies.

According to College Football Data Warehouse Nutt is wrong. Arkansas is ranked #26 all time best football program (tradition) and Ole Miss is ranked #31. [40 MofS]

A few years before Nutt came to Arkansas The RAZORBACKS did have a down spell. It must be noted that Houston took over a recruiting class from Danny Ford that was ranked in the Top 5 in the Nation. Once that class was gone, Houston struggled to put together a winning program. Only players (Matt Jones, Shawn Andrews, Darren McFadden, and a handful of others) that stated that they would have came to Arkansas regardless of who the coach was saved Houston's job...and his meager winning percentage.

Is Snead better than any quarterback that Houston ever signed? Well, technically that could be correct. Gus Malzahn, in strong theory, was the coach that signed Mitch Mustain, rated the Number 1 player coming out of high school in the nation according to many media outlets. Houston did run Mustain off though...to the University of Southern California; I am sure that we have all heard of this program and its coach. A coach that is greatly impressed with Mustain.

Arkansas has gotten close to playing for a National Championship in the recent era: once with Danny Ford's players (you Vols should remember that season...and that game). Then again two years ago when Nutt did assemble some talent but ruined any opportunity by texting like a mad man and refusing to sign a great kicker with the hope of getting a different great kicker the following year. The two losses for Arkansas late in that year can all be attributed to placekicking if broken down. It is very plausible to argue that placekicking kept Arkansas out of the BCS.

And a comment was made about Arkansas' previous ten years before Nutt's arrival. I guess winning the SWC repeatedly over Texas was of no value. Playing in the Cotton Bowl (a major bowl at the time...still considered to be by some) repeatedly was below mediocre when compared to Houston's Music City Bowl, Las Vegas Bowl, and other bowl debacles. Yes, Houston could beat Mack Brown and Tommy Tubberville, but he struggled to beat Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and top coaches across the SEC.

This is just the tip of the iceburg for Arkansas Fans; the details get worse.

Before the ire of others gets too high, Ole Miss, take these thoughts with you: Can Snead hand-off? 3rd and long in Nutt's offensive system...smoke draw, baby, smoke draw!

twin942 writes:

Hogpuddin, THAT is a great post.

I still believe that Nutt is a very good coach. He motivates better than any coach I've seen, seems to be a good game day coach, and seemed to be a good ambassador for the program. You are right about his recruiting deficiencies (Tennessee routinely pulled major talent from Arkansas - Cedric Houston, Roshaun Fellows, Bret Smith to name just a few), but he had good game day plans and had his talent focused. His big problem, I believe, is he coached in the SEC. There is the elite (LSU, Georgia, Florida), the mid-pack (Bama, Tennessee, Arkansas) and the historical dregs (Vandy, Kentucky, Miss State). You'd better be at least top of the mid-pack (Tennessee, Auburn) or your SEC career will always be questioned, as it was for him for the last several years.

He will improve Ole Miss, but I don't think they'll be looking at BCS bowls or unseating LSU anytime soon. My suspicion is that he'll be there a while, unless they pull a Cutcliffe on him. Personally, I'm glad to see him in the SEC still.

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