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Tuesday, April 13, 2004
Updated: April 14, 3:15 AM ET
Offer amount disputed

Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt testified under oath in February that he had a non-written offer of $2 million from Nebraska, but in similar testimony the Cornhuskers athletic director said salary discussions never grew larger than $1.5 million.

The Arkansas coach and Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson both gave depositions about the Cornhuskers' courtship of Nutt from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3. The depositions were taken in a lawsuit filed by former Razorbacks basketball coach Nolan Richardson against the university over his dismissal.

The depositions were made public Monday when Arkansas filed motions seeking to bar Richardson attorney John Walker from asking questions about Nutt's discussions with Nebraska once the trial starts May 5.

Walker asked Nutt if he had been offered $2.8 million or $2.5 million to go to Nebraska and Nutt said "No" to both questions.

Walker then asked if Nutt had been offered $2 million by anyone representing Nebraska.

"Counting incentives and everything, yes," Nutt testified Feb. 6 at the University of Arkansas administration building in Fayetteville.

"By whom was that offer made?" Walker asked.

"Steve Pederson. He talked to (my agent) Jimmy Sexton," Nutt said.

Nutt said the offer was never put into writing and when asked about the base contract, he said it was "right around $1.8 million."

Pederson gave his deposition on Feb. 17 in Lincoln, Neb., in front of a lawyer for his school, University of Arkansas lawyers, Nutt and Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles. Walker joined the deposition by phone

Pederson, who flew to Fayetteville for a 2{-hour meeting with Nutt at his home on Jan. 1, said he never offered that much money to Nutt.

He said he didn't even discuss money with Nutt and said he told Sexton on Jan. 2 that salary would be in the range of $1.3 to $1.5 million for six or seven years.

Pederson released a statement Tuesday repeating his claim that $2 million was never offered.

"I find the statements attributed to Houston Nutt interesting," Pederson said. "(On Feb. 17), Nutt commented to me on the ridiculous nature of the $2 million figure and indicated he was not aware of the origin of that number. He also joked that if he had been offered a job like that, he would have been in big trouble at home if he had not taken it."

"In my deposition, I testified that I only discussed salary ranges of between $1.3 to 1.5 million a year with each potential candidate. I have no idea what might be going on in Arkansas, but the University of Nebraska should be left out of the issue."

Pederson also said in his testimony that the job had never been offered to Nutt and he asked that Nutt not term it that way to the media. Pederson said a contract couldn't be offered until Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman had interviewed a candidate.

"I told the chancellor we were being manipulated somewhere with regard to salary, but I don't recall making a specific statement about who I thought it was," Pederson said.

Pederson said Sexton, Nutt's agent, first contacted him about Nutt on Dec. 1, after Frank Solich was fired on Nov. 29 following a 9-3 season. Pederson said Sexton called to say he had two coaches interested in the job. The second Sexton client was not named in Pederson's testimony.

Pederson said he spoke with Sexton on "numerous occasions" in December, but could not recall a specific number. The first time Pederson talked to Nutt was by phone after Arkansas' 27-14 victory over Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 31. That win gave the Razorbacks a 9-4 season.

Pederson said the last time he spoke with Nutt about the job was on the afternoon of Jan. 2. Later that night, Nutt decided not to get on a plane Nebraska had sent to fly him to Lincoln and on Jan. 3 he left a phone message with Pederson taking himself out of consideration.

Pederson hired former Oakland Raiders coach Bill Callahan on Jan. 9 and gave him a contract worth $1.5 million.

Chris Mortensen, a pro football television analyst for ESPN and father of Arkansas quarterback signee Alex Mortensen, also gave a deposition, in Georgia. Chris Mortensen said he called Nutt in early December after hearing from Buffalo Bills team president Tom Donahoe that Pederson was "intrigued" by Nutt.

"I told Houston that something like that might happen," Mortensen said. "He basically said that would bother him because Frank Solich had been fired after 9-3 and he had just gone 8-4."