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Kicking it with Houston Nutt, Part 1

8/16/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

OXFORD, Miss. -- To say Houston Nutt looks happy these days is quite the understatement. Always bubbling over with enthusiasm and can-do exuberance, Nutt is starting over at Ole Miss this year after a bitter divorce from the school he thought he'd never leave. Things got so nasty last year at Arkansas that fans were filing open records requests for Nutt's cell phone records, as well as e-mails that had been forwarded to people by Nutt's wife, Diana. Arkansas' administration made an attempt to keep Nutt following last season and offered him an extension. But after 10 years, he'd had enough of Arkansas and the Arkansas fans had apparently had enough of him. The rest is history. He walked away and landed at Ole Miss a few days later. Here's Part 1 of my Q&A with Nutt, who still brings it the way a Southern Baptist preacher does on Sunday mornings. Check back later for Part 2, where Nutt shares some of his feelings about the whole Arkansas situation:

One of your best players, defensive end Greg Hardy, had surgery earlier this week to repair a stress fracture in his foot. What's the latest on when he might be back?

Houston Nutt: I think we caught it in time where it was more of a hairline stress fracture, so we're thinking that by our first conference game [Vanderbilt on Sept. 20] he'll be ready. He'd snapped the other one in the 11th grade and was running great and practicing great the first five days. Then the first day in pads, he couldn't put weight on it. It was sore, and the doctor put his hand in there and it was really painful. They did the X-ray and there was a little bit of a stress fracture. They went ahead and put the screw in it. We're hoping four, five, six weeks at the most.

What's the latest on defensive tackle Ted Laurent's knee injury?

HN: Hopefully, by the second game, he'll be ready to go.

With all the newness on offense -- new system, new coordinator in Kent Austin and new quarterback in Jevan Snead -- how has everything progressed?

HN: We've gotten a lot better. Thank goodness Jevan Snead is here. I think he's improved. Kent's really taken him to another level. But, again, [Snead] hasn't played in a long time, under the pressure, the blitzing and all that staff. We've done a lot of good against good, first team against first team. Maybe we haven't done as much tackling, as far as taking people to the ground, but we're trying to match the speed of the game and get his mind going again. Boy, he's got a strong arm, though, and has been doing great.

What's your greatest challenge with this program?

HN: It's very simple, the mind of an 18, 19, 20-year-old that hasn't had much success. When you look at the last four years, not one young man in that meeting room raised his hand and said, "I've experienced a bowl game." And then last year, not one guy can say, "I won an SEC game." That's a very big hurdle.

What is coaching at Ole Miss like compared to how you viewed the program from afar the last 10 years?

HN: I've always had an awesome respect for Mississippi from the other sideline, all the great players and the tradition looking back. Once you get here, it's unique. It's a heck of a little town, and these people are hungry for football. They're starving for a winner. You feel that, and that motivates you. The location is awesome for recruiting. I'm familiar with the coaches and have recruited all the other states around Mississippi.

If you're going to win at Ole Miss, other than this state, where else do you have to go to get players?

HN: It's vital for us that you get a few out of Louisiana, a few out of Alabama and Georgia, too. We'll go into Florida some and then from Little Rock I-40 east all the way through West Memphis and Memphis, we're going to get two a year.

What have been your impressions of freshman tailback Enrique Davis?

HN: He's had a really good camp. The grind of it has hit him a little bit and the speed of the game. But, boy, they just fall off of him. There were a couple of scrimmages where you were, "Wow." He has a very strong lower body.

You've coached a bunch of good running backs. Two weeks into camp, has Davis demonstrated some of the qualities that all the great ones have?

HN: No doubt about it. He doesn't look like a freshman. His body is very mature. Now he's got to bring the mental part of it to the practice field.

How much has this league evolved over the last 10 years, and do you think we'll see many more unbeaten league champions?

HN: If we do, it will be every so often. You might have a run like Auburn [in 2004] and Tennessee [in 1998], but I think it's going to be one out of every five years or one out of 10 years, something like that.