Friday, February 25, 2011
Timing was right for Lee, Nutt reunion
By Chris Low
After 13 different coaching jobs in college and pro football, David Lee wasn’t necessarily looking to make another move.
But he can take a hint.
In this case, the hint was Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross flying out to the West Coast to court Jim Harbaugh in early January and also reaching out to Bill Cowher while Tony Sparano and his staff were still intact in Miami.
David Lee did not hesitate to leave the Miami Dolphins and reunite with Houston Nutt at Ole Miss.
Lee was a member of that staff as the Dolphins’ quarterbacks coach, and it was about that time that old pal, Houston Nutt called and wanted to know if Lee had any interest in reuniting with him at Ole Miss as offensive coordinator.
Not only that, but Nutt was offering a chance for Lee to call the Rebels’ plays.
“There was a lot of turmoil in Miami, and it was unsettling, especially with the lockout looming,” said Lee, who did two different stints under Nutt at Arkansas. “Houston came to me and said there was going to be an opening and wanted to know if I would be interested.”
It didn’t take Lee and his wife long to make a decision.
“Of all the coaches I’ve worked with, I didn’t enjoy working with anybody as much as I did Houston,” Lee said. “He has the ability to make it fun, and that’s very, very rare. Plus, I really enjoy coaching this age group.
“I feel like I’ve been rejuvenated and am jumping out of bed every morning to help get this program turned back in the direction we all want it headed in.”
Lee will call the Rebels’ plays next season, and that’s significant. That’s typically been Nutt’s baby. But in 2007 at Arkansas, Nutt’s final season in Fayetteville, Lee also called the plays, and the Hogs averaged 38.8 points and 457.4 yards per game in total offense.
With Darren McFadden and Felix Jones lighting up opposing defenses that season, Arkansas rushed for an average of 286.5 yards per game, which was fourth nationally.
Lee won’t have McFadden and Jones at his disposal next season, but he does like what the Rebels have returning in the way of a running game. Brandon Bolden, who rushed for 976 yards and averaged 6 yards per carry while also leading Ole Miss in receiving with 32 catches, was one of the most underrated players in the SEC last season. He returns after scoring 17 touchdowns in 2010.
“It looks like the strength of this team is at running back, and I like what I see on tape,” Lee said. “Both Brandon Bolden and Jeff Scott make things happen running the football. So if you ask me right now what we’re going to be on offense, we’re going to pick up on doing what they did best, which is run the ball, and try to be really good at play-action.”
Lee said the Wild Rebel formation, along with other direct-snap packages, would remain a big part of Ole Miss’ offense.
He concedes that his greatest challenge this spring is developing a couple of quarterbacks.
“We have our work cut out, but we have some guys who do different things,” Lee said.
Mackey, who redshirted last season after coming over from junior college, will be limited during the spring after undergoing surgery to remove cartilage in his knee. Brunetti will be there, but he still needs a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to be eligible next season.
“You’d love to have one guy who can do it all -- go under center and make it happen in the drop-back game and also get in the shotgun and run some of the zone read option,” Lee said. “I don’t know if that guy is here. We have to find out. We may have to play two quarterbacks. I don’t want to, but have done it before.”
Lee had some other opportunities come his way the past few years, but turned them down.
The fact that it was Nutt reaching out this time made it different.
“Houston and I have a lot in common,” Lee said. “We grew up riding in the back of the bus, shooting baskets in the gym. He was a quarterback, and I was a quarterback. We both have a strong faith. It’s hard to find somebody like that in this profession that you can relate to, relax and be yourself.
“It came at a good time.”
Plus, Lee figures he owes Nutt.
“He helped rescue me from Rice (in 2000 as Arkansas’ quarterbacks coach),” Lee said. “I wanted to do what I could to help him this time.
“By not having to call plays, it gives him a chance to spend more time than he has in the past with the defense and in other areas. When you’re running the offense and calling plays, that’s where you are 90 percent of the time. This way, he gets to spread himself around a little better.”