Well, a common copout in cases like this, designed to avoid evaluating coaches on their job performance, is "well if you fire him, who will you get to replace him?" In this instance, it is actually true. Since the early 1970s (they were actually pretty good from the 50s until the early 70s) ... they haven't done a whole lot. And in Nutt, they have a guy who has proven that he can recruit and win games in the SEC. Rather than firing Nutt, who did lead them to consecutive Cotton Bowl victories, the most success that Ole Miss has had in a LONG time - even Eli Manning/David Cutcliffe only led them to 1 really good season - maybe the solution is to force Nutt to hire a new offensive staff. Except that Nutt just brought on David Lee and Gunter Brewer very recently. It just makes no sense to run the guy off after letting Ed Orgeron go 10-25 against what was a far weaker SEC West. Unless Ole Miss is absolutely certain of their ability to attract a top guy that is willing to cross swords with Saban, Miles, Chizik, Petrino and even Mullen in that division, there is no reason to be excessively hasty in making a change.
Houston Nutt is in trouble. Coaches who follow up a 4-8 season with a 2-6 record to start the next year, find themselves answering questions about their job security. Ole Miss’ coach was doing just that yesterday.
“I don’t look at it that way, going into the office like, ‘Uh-oh, this could be it.’ I don’t look at it that way,” Nutt said yesterday. “I’m in charge or responsible for about 120 guys. I love it here. But I know this, they pay me to win. Right now we’re not winning”
“I’ll take every single day and give you everything I have,” Nutt added. “I’ve done that since the first day I got here, worked from daylight to exhaustion. Everyday, giving it. Trying to make a difference in a young person’s life and try to win football games. We haven’t done that this year. I don’t like that. I hate losing.”
So do boosters. And the must especially hate the Rebels’ 11 consecutive losses to SEC foes… the worst stretch in Ole Miss history. Nutt blames attrition for his program’s woes.
“A lot of it, when you look back, you look at guys that should be here. Guys like Clarence Jackson, a Patrick Patterson, Tig Barksdale. You look at guys that bottom line, for whatever reason, didn’t work out, hurt your numbers.”
In 2009, Nutt signed 37 players (which led the SEC to begin to cut back on oversigning). Of those 37 signees, only 15 are currently on the team and — according to The Jackson Clarion-Ledger — only seven of them have started multiple games this season.
But isn’t that on Nutt? He is the one who signed all of those washouts. Yes, surprises and disappointments occur. But to lose 22 of 37 signees? That suggests you’re taking a lot of chances on guys (something Nutt’s predecessor, Ed Orgeron, did as well).
Making matters worse is the Pete Boone situation. Following a 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt in September, Ole Miss’ AD said the performance was “unacceptable” and he held a special Sunday meeting with Nutt. Afterwards he said he wanted to see the Rebels play with more “fire.”
Since then, Ole Miss has gone 1-5.
But Boone himself is on the hot seat with many fans. The group “Forward Rebels” has run a Tea Party-esque grassroots media campaign to cost him his job.
What do head coaches do when the pressure gets to be too much? They fire assistant coaches. So it’s possible that Boone might be thinking that he can dismiss Nutt and when back some fan support — and booster donations — by bringing in a “name” hire (Mike Leach is sitting on the beach waiting for someone to give him a big check and a second chance).
From what we’ve been told, Nutt has made it clear to many that he’s not a fan of Boone’s difficult schedules and lack of support. Indeed, Boone refused to support his coach yesterday. “I think that we’re at the point in the season that we just let the season play itself out. I really don’t want to get into a week-to-week conversation about whether it is going well or not.”
To fire Nutt, Ole Miss would have to pay him a $6 million buyout. Do the Rebels have that kind of money to throw around right now? And if so, do they have enough to then go out and get a top-notch replacement for even more cash?
Nutt began his stay in Oxford with back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins. The past two seasons have been horrible. But if you look at Nutt’s track record at Arkansas, you’ll see a familiar pattern:
* 9-3 in 1998 and 8-4 in 1999
* a dropoff to 6-6 in 2000 and 7-5 in 2001
* a rise back to 9-5 in 2002 and 9-4 in 2003
* a fall back to 5-6 in 2004 and 4-7 in 2005
* another rise to 10-4 in 2006 and 8-4 in 2007 before moving to Ole Miss
Two years up, two years down. If history is any indication, the Rebels should be back in the eight- or nine-win range next season.
But will Rebel fans put up with such an up-and-down pattern moving forward?
Can the school afford to pay off Nutt and hire someone better? Are key boosters willing to chip in to make that happen?
And how does the pressure on Boone affect all of this? Would a solid coach walk into a situation where his boss might himself be ousted shortly?
There are lot of questions swirling around Oxford right now. The only answer we have to give is this — Nutt had better be glad he got a nice new contract after his Cotton Bowl appearances. Because if his buyout weren’t $6 million, his coaching grave would have already been dug.