Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Nutt introduced, pledges to make Ole Miss a winner
OXFORD, Miss. -- In Mississippi, Houston Nutt is adored.
Nutt was introduced to 1,500 cheering fans during a news conference less than 48 hours after resigning at Arkansas and the day after Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone announced he'd hired Nutt to resurrect a football program that has lost its way.
"It gives me chills when you clap and applaud because it means you're hungry," Nutt said.
No doubt Nutt is wanted in Mississippi, where they embrace his winning record and have seen up close how good his Arkansas teams have been. Just five weeks ago the Razorbacks came to Oxford and beat the Rebels 44-8.
In Arkansas, many were glad to see him go. His relationship with some Razorbacks supporters had grown contentious. Some used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate his cell phone records.
In Oxford, about 500 Ole Miss fans had to be turned away at the door of the campus' Gertrude C. Ford Performing Arts Center, and Nutt had to pause through several ovations from the standing room-only crowd. Signs that the Ole Miss faithful approved of the hire were everywhere.
"One thing I love about Ole Miss is the tradition," Nutt said, naming past players such as Archie Manning and Frank "Bruiser" Kinard. "It's about tradition. That's the reason I am here. I feel like this place can be successful. I feel like this place can win."
Nutt agreed to a four-year, $7.4 million contract with options for three more years totaling $6.6 million. He appears to have the credentials required to turn around a program that hasn't been a force in the SEC since the 1960s.
He replaces Ed Orgeron, who was fired Saturday after the Rebels finished 3-9. The team went winless in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1982.
While Orgeron increased the talent level, he never fielded a winner in three tumultuous years and finished 10-25.
Boone said Nutt matches the description of the kind of coach he told chancellor Robert Khayat he was looking for: "I said, 'It's fairly simple. I'd like a proven Southeastern Conference coach.'"
Nutt's resume matches Ole Miss' needs. The 2006 SEC coach of the year led Arkansas to an 8-4 finish and a likely Cotton Bowl berth, the school's eighth postseason trip in Nutt's 10 years.
The 50-year-old is 111-70 in 15 years as a head coach at Arkansas, Boise State and Murray State, and he's been a winner in the SEC. He revived the Razorbacks after replacing Danny Ford in 1997, going 75-48. Nutt was 42-38 in conference and won three SEC West titles, though no league championships.
Nutt grew up in Little Rock, Ark., played for the Razorbacks for a season and was an assistant coach in Fayetteville. But his relationship with Arkansas had soured over the last year.
Nutt expressed hope Sunday that he could stay in Fayetteville but resigned Monday evening and was hired by Boone about four hours later.
Nutt went 10-4 in 2006 to win the SEC West, but he's been under fire since the January departures of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and quarterback Mitch Mustain. The Razorbacks lost their first three Southeastern Conference games this year, fueling more speculation about his job security.
The Rebels won six SEC championships between 1947-63 and haven't won another since. Nutt said it's his goal to bring championships to Oxford again.
"We want to win an SEC championship outright," Nutt said. "We want to do those things. But you're in the toughest conference in America. So it's going to take an unbelievable commitment by everyone."