Monday, November 07, 2011

Houston Nutt's inevitable 'resignation' is in

Houston Nutt's bizarre really-good-and-then-really-bad tenure at Ole Miss will officially end next month:

OXFORD, Miss. -- After more than a year without a Southeastern Conference victory, Mississippi coach Houston Nutt will resign.

The fourth-year Rebels coach will lead the team for the remainder of the season, athletic director Pete Boone said at a news conference Monday. Boone also announced that he will step down as athletic director by the end of 2012.

The lede pretty much tells the story. Ole Miss has won one conference game in the past two years, and that was against a mediocre Kentucky team last season. This year's much, much crappier version of Kentucky -- which hadn't come within two touchdowns of an SEC team all season -- beat Ole Miss 30-13 (!) on Saturday. That was Ole Miss' 13th straight conference loss, which seems bad enough even without factoring in the patheticness of the Kentucky debacle or the 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt in September. Losing to Kentucky and Vanderbilt in blowout fashion = coach done, and for good reason. This team is downright awful right now.

It'd be easy to say "umm Ole Miss is always awful," but that's not entirely true. They went 9-4 in each of Nutt's first two years ('08 and '09), and the '08 season ended with wins over Arkansas, Alabama, LSU and No. 7 Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl. The Eli Manning-era Rebels were pretty good too. It's definitely gotten harder given the way Alabama and LSU just completely and utterly dominate recruiting right now, but winning at Ole Miss is possible.

Nutt did it for two years, then started bringing in 37-player recruiting classes (lol) and losing in spectacular fashion. The karma is so karma-y.

The weird thing about the complete collapse over the past two years was the immediacy of it, especially for a guy with an extremely solid track record. Nutt had all of two losing years in his decade at Arkansas -- 2004 and '05 -- and he followed those up by hiring Gus Malzahn as OC and winning 10 games before insanity commenced and Arkansas turned into a punchline for about a year. He left with a career record of 75-48, which is pretty good considering the blah state the program was in when he took over.

Continuing to do the nine-win thing every year would've made him a hero at Ole Miss. Losing to Jacksonville State and becoming the clear-cut worst team in the SEC West? Not so much. He started 18-8 but is 6-15 the past two years, which gives him a seemingly respectable 24-23 record that's not really all that respectable given the directional trend.

There was a great quote from Don Nehlen (the West Virginia coach back in the day) in Three and Out about the stages of rebuilding: "You lose big, then you lose close, then you win close, then you win big." Makes sense, right? But Nutt went the exact opposite direction, although his winning was sort of in between "big" and "close." Last year's Ole Miss was bad but at least mildly competitive against good SEC teams; this year's version is getting crushed by everybody, including Kentucky. We're talking GopherQuest-level ineptitude here. Seeing Mike Stoops get axed at midseason was a reminder that a team getting significantly worse is a team that's about to be without a coach.

I appreciated this quote from Monday's presser:

"The thing about the SEC that I know," Nutt said. "They pay you to win."

Indeed. No point paying a guy $3 million a year* to go 3-9 (or worse), track record or no track record. At some point, what you did three years ago doesn't matter as much as being craptacular on the field.

As for Ole Miss, the next-guy question gets the same caveat as Arizona's: How desirable is a job that's one of the worst (Mississippi State is probably worse) in a ridiculously loaded division that's about to add Texas A&M and Missouri (or a roughly equivalent transfer from the East) to the LSU-Alabama-Arkansas grouping? SEC money talks, but walking into a place where .500 will be tough but Cotton Bowls will be the expectation seems dumb. I'm not sure Gus Malzahn jumps at that.

The other name I keep seeing is Larry Fedora from Southern Miss; he seems more plausible. He's only 39 and can coach an offense, and he'd probably be enticed by a shot at a legitimate BCS-conference school just a couple hundred miles away from his current locale. I'd think Rich Rodriguez would at least get an interview, but I guess that's for the Ole Miss search committee Archie Manning to decide. Same for Mike Leach. Desperation sometimes works for everybody.

*With a $6 million buyout, obviously.


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