Thursday, November 29, 2007

So Long Houston Nutt

As a Razorback, I can't help but comment on what I suppose happened between the University and Houston Nutt, former football coach. After months of saying he was staying at Arkansas and enduring fan and media criticism, Nutt abruptly resigned as head coach then, less than four hours later, accepted a new job with rival Mississippi.

Not having been privy to any communications between the U of A and Nutt, and not knowing the man personally, I can only speculate what may have transpired. So here's my take on the whole thing.

Let's go back to last year, the epicenter of all the disruption. Nutt had recruited a top rated quarterback, Mitch Mustain, from a local high school. Along with Mustain came his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, who became the offensive coordinator. It looked like Arkansas was gearing up for a strong pass oriented offense.

Then along came Darren McFadden. This guy could run like nobody's business, was a passing threat himself when in the Wild Hog formation and became a pass receiver, too. In short, he could do it all. When Nutt decided to build the offense around McFadden instead of Mustain, egos were bruised. Mustain asked for a transfer and ended up at Southern Cal. Malzahn booked it for Tulsa. And both men left a wake of media frenzy behind.

But think about it. Didn't Coach Nutt do exactly what he was paid to do by the University? He saw a good thing and wanted to build an offensive scheme with that good thing, McFadden, at the center. That's what coaches are supposed to do. Find talent and go with it. Neither Mustain nor Malzahn were going to be left out, it's just that their roles were going to change.

So the M&M boys depart and the media whips up story after story, emails are scrutinized and cell phone records are publicized. The fans react to the controversy and two camps emerge - those that want Nutt to stay and those that demand he leave. Nutt and the rest of the team have to put up with constant attention to the developing mess off the field. Quite a distraction for a team poised to do well in 2007.

We knock off the number one team in the country - LSU - but we lose four games during the regular season, two of those by a total of only five points. Planes fly over Razorback Stadium with banners calling for Nutt's dismissal, bleachers are peppered with the same message. Everyone, it seems, has joined the second camp and want his head on a platter. And the team has to try to ignore all that controversy and play ball in one of the toughest divisions in the NCAA.

All that leads up to Nutt finally deciding he had had enough and it is time for him to go. No matter what you think about the man, you have to realize he is a shrewed businessman. He timed the resignation when his stock was higher than it had been for over a year - after beating arch rival LSU. Although it was officially a resignation, the University dropped the repayments Nutt would had to have made under his contract. And the coach took a job at Ole Miss hours later, which means he had to have been talking to that school for a while, which also means the U of A had to have given Mississippi permission to court their man.

I think Nutt knew for a long time that this would be his final season at Arkansas. So he talked with University officials and made his plans clear some time ago. After beating LSU, he goes out on top despite the controversy and he has enough leverage to work out a sweet deal with Arkansas while negotiating an even sweeter deal with Mississippi.

Plus, if Arkansas wins its bowl game this year, part of the glory goes to the departed coach because he recruited and taught this team. If they lose, he shoulders none of the blame as he is no longer coaching. Smart man.

Too bad so much of the Arkansas press and so many of the Arkansas fans were down on this guy. Looks to me like he is the smart one and came out on top of the entire heap. And good for Houston Nutt.

A lot will be said about Nutt's style not fitting at the U of A and his coaching will be criticized, maybe even vilified. But he still had one of the best winning records at Arkansas, led the team to numerous bowl games in the decade he coached there and raised some fine football players in the process.

The poor start of the 2007 team has to be borne in part by the team itself and by the coaching staff. But I think it is in larger part due to the maelstrom of rumors and busted egos that set the fans and press about the business of tearing apart a good coach that really ended up costing Arkansas the season.