Hey, Ole Miss — still in love with Nutt?
Just three years ago, Arkansans were described as some of the worst fans in the world. Why? Fans griped regularly about Houston Nutt — the coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks at the time — and were described in the national media as being everything from insane to ungrateful.
The 2007 season, indeed, was contentious. For the most part, the only national press the Razorbacks received centered on disputes between Nutt and allegedly insane Hogs fans. Meanwhile, Nutt turned in another 4-4 SEC record, made it to another minor bowl and then headed to Oxford to coach the Ole Miss Rebels.
Ole Miss fans treated Nutt’s employment as something of a coup and it didn’t help things when the Rebels came to Fayetteville in 2008 and beat Arkansas. The “we love you, Houston!” signs were on display at that game and (annoyingly enough) on cars as Ole Miss fans made their way home across Arkansas after the game.
Nutt’s time at Oxford has looked remarkably similar to his first three seasons in Arkansas. He took a floundering Ole Miss team and led it to a couple of Cotton Bowls. And the fans loved him for it.
Now, Ole Miss is 1-5 in Southeastern Conference (SEC) play (its sole conference win this year is against Kentucky) and 4-6 overall. The team started off the season with a loss to Jacksonville State, a victory against Tulane and then another loss to the perennially bad Vanderbilt (a team that is now 1-6 in conference play). We Arkansas fans love the irony of the Jacksonville State loss — that team is lead by Jack Crowe, who was run out of Arkansas after the Razorbacks’ season opener (and first appearance as a full-fledged SEC team) in 1992 after a mind-boggling loss to the Citadel.
Do we Razorbacks fans feel vindicated? A lot of us do, frankly. Nutt was a rotten coach here and he’s proving himself to be as bad in Ole Miss. There’s a reason we didn’t much care for his time here — he couldn’t recruit to save his life, ruined quarterbacks and had trouble putting together a team that could compete in the SEC.
Want proof? Nutt was here to 10 years and, during that time, managed to put together a 42-38 record in the SEC (median record of 4-4). Meanwhile, the Razorbacks became the regular whipping boys for the likes of Georgia and Florida. His record improved to 75-48 when you throw in non-conference opponents and postseason games, but the SEC record tells the tale. Why? Those non-conference opponents were, by design, typically less than stellar.
Throw in a couple of embarrassing SEC title games and inconceivable losses in the Las Vegas Bowl (against UNLV? Seriously?) and the Music City Bowl, and you’ve got a coach who is fair-to-middling at best.
We got all of that dandy fun, of course, after Nutt’s two first seasons at Arkansas when the Razorbacks actually did pretty well. The decline started in the third year and continued after that. It appears the same pattern is repeating itself at Ole Miss and those who don’t believe its coming should take a look at what happened in Arkansas under Nutt’s tenure. If one disappointing season after another, coaching decisions that are downright bizarre, a divided fan base and a coach who resorts to acting confused and dancing like a scalded chicken on the sidelines when his team is getting hammered is your idea of great football, then Nutt is your man.
History has shown that Nutt tends to do fairly well when taking over players another coach has recruited, but is inconsistent when it comes to drafting his own team. Want proof? Nutt went 6-2 in the SEC in 1998 with Danny Ford’s recruits and the team was amazingly inconsistent after that start (4-4 in the SEC the next season, 3-5 in 2000, etc.) Bobby Petrino didn’t have much to work with when he took over in 2008 and had to field Nutt’s players, but has recovered since — Arkansas is now 13th in the nation and has an 8-2 record (4-2 in the SEC). In other words, Nutt ran into trouble during his third season here while Petrino is starting to shine.
Will Arkansas be a consistent, top-20 team? Only time will tell. At least we’ve got hope now, whereas all we looked forward to under Nutt was the occasional bowl game and those off years when the Hogs did something other than languish in the middle of the SEC West.
Frankly, I’d love to see Nutt spend years at Ole Miss as that team is a rival in the SEC West and knowing they’ll be handicapped by poor coaching and rotten recruiting is somewhat comforting. Still, Ole Miss has some great fans — they deserve better than the Nutt.
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.