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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Ole Miss hires former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt

Why leave a stable job at the University of Arkansas to accept a volatile and difficult position at Ole Miss? Are there certain qualities that Nutt possesses that will enable his team to resurrect their woeful play over the last several seasons.

By CHRIS TALBOTT, Associated Press Writer
November 27, 2007

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- One day, Houston Nutt was leaving Arkansas. The next, he was heading to Mississippi.

Ole Miss will introduce Nutt as its new coach Wednesday, ending a whirlwind hiring that began when he resigned at Arkansas on Monday and agreed to become the Rebels' coach about four hours later.

Mississippi was without a coach for less than three days. Ed Orgeron was fired on Saturday after three losing seasons.

Rebels athletic director Pete Boone said Tuesday he contacted Nutt on Sunday after hearing a rumor the coach would be resigning. Nutt didn't really want to talk then "because he had a job," Boone said. That soon changed.

"This all happened overnight with me," Boone said.
Nutt agreed to a contract Monday night, a four-year deal that will pay him $1.7 million to start and increase by $100,000 each year. He has an option for three more seasons as well, with the opportunity to earn more money with incentives.

"I think we were thorough in our discussions and covered all the things we needed to cover, but I felt like let's get this thing done," Boone said.

Nutt will be introduced at a news conference on campus in Oxford, ending a frenetic 48 hours for the school and its new coach.

"It's human nature not to like change, but I think in this case, change is going to be a good thing," fullback Jason Cook said. "Especially as a player, you get excited when a guy gets hired like coach Nutt. He's more than proven in the SEC and proven as a coach that he can take talent and work with it. We're very excited."

Nutt led Arkansas to an 8-4 record and a likely Cotton Bowl berth while the Rebels stumbled to a 3-9 finish under Orgeron and were winless in the SEC for the first time since 1982.

Ole Miss was searching for a proven winner after years of mediocrity. Nutt neatly fits the description.

He 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. The Little Rock, Ark., native revived the Arkansas program, going 75-48 since he replaced Danny Ford in 1997. Nutt was 42-38 in conference with one of his biggest wins coming last week when the Razorbacks beat then-No. 1 LSU 50-48 in triple overtime.

While the Razorbacks head into the postseason, Nutt will be going to the homes of recruits attempting to hold together the promising class Orgeron was assembling.

The 50-year-old Nutt said Monday he left Arkansas to help mend a split among fans after off-the-field problems were compounded by a difficult season. The Razorbacks started the year ranked and were expected to contend for the SEC West title.

Arkansas lost its first three SEC games and dropped out of the poll in September, fueling fan discontent over last year's transfer of quarterback Mitch Mustain and the loss of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left for Tulsa.

Calls to Nutt's agent, Jimmy Sexton, were not immediately returned.

Arkansas officials said they would not comment until after Wednesday's formal announcement.

Nutt takes over a program that's won four or fewer games a season since 2003's 10-win effort under David Cutcliffe. The Rebels won a share of the SEC West that season with Eli Manning at quarterback.

Since the Rebels are 14-32. Boone fired Cutcliffe in 2004 for not recruiting well enough. He had hoped Orgeron, who helped build two national title teams at Southern California as Pete Carroll's recruiting coordinator, would bring the kind of energy needed to compete in the tough SEC.

Orgeron finished 10-25 and was routinely the target of fan discontent.

Boone and Chancellor Robert Khayat endorsed Orgeron midway through the season, but decided to go in a new direction after the Rebels lost five of six to end the year.

The Rebels have been looking for a coach who can produce championships since Johnny Vaught retired in 1970. Vaught won three national titles and six SEC championships between 1947-63.

The school has fired six of the eight coaches who have come since and a seventh, Steve Sloan, likely would have been fired after five losing seasons had he not left for Duke.

The last three coaches have been assistants in their first job as leading man. Orgeron, Cutcliffe and Tommy Tuberville went 73-69 over the last 13 years.

Only Tuberville left on his own, taking the job at Auburn in 1998.


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