There’s an old saying that goes, “There are lies. There are damn lies. And there are statistics.”
Well, in the case of one college football coach, I’d like to twist that around a bit. In this case, “There are certainties. There are damn certainties. And there is Houston Nutt being fired at Ole Miss.” What’s seemed inevitable for weeks became official Monday morning, as its being reported by many news outlets that Nutt will be relieved of his duties at a 3:00 p.m. EST (2:00 p.m. Oxford time) press conference today.
So brings the end of one of the most bizarre courtships in modern SEC history.
To look at Nutt’s overall record, you’d think that if anything, Nutt did pretty well at a program that’s been a traditional SEC doormat for decades now. As things stand, his record is 24-23 at the school, with two Cotton Bowl wins on his resume.
However, to go back to the opening of this column, it’s clear that the statistics on Nutt are most definitely “damn lies.” His record sits at one game above .500 thanks to two 9-4 seasons to open his time in Oxford. Both of those successful years were buoyed by the abundance of talent left to him by his predecessor Ed Orgeron.
To get a better gauge of Nutt’s true coaching abilities in Oxford, it might be better to look at his record since the beginning of the 2010 season. Since then, it has become clear that if Nutt isn’t the worst coach of any automatic qualifying conference member, he’s damn close. The Rebels went 4-8 in 2010, with just one win over an SEC foe (Kentucky at home), and have gone 2-7 in the 2011 campaign, with their only victories coming against Southern Illinois and Fresno State. (Not exactly the kind of stuff they make Disney movies over, huh?)
Dig even deeper though, and the win-loss record is even more embarrassing. It truly started early last September, with a season-opening loss to- of all teams- Jacksonville State. Yes, that’d be FCS school Jacksonville State, which finished the 2010 season with three losses in the mighty Ohio Valley Conference. Yet they were 1-0 in the SEC.
In addition to that embarrassing defeat, Ole Miss has also back-to-back losses to SEC bottom-dweller Vanderbilt, and is coming off a 34-13 laugher at Kentucky, which entered Saturday’s game winless in the SEC. And oh by the way, Ole Miss is also carrying a two-game losing streak to cross-state rival Mississippi State, heading into their matchup later this month. Should the Rebels lose (which seems likely at this point), it’d be the first time since the 1940’s that they lost three-straight Egg Bowls.
Beyond just the embarrassing losses on the field, are the significantly more embarrassing blunders off of it. Crystal Ball Run has already documented those at length, so quite frankly, there is really no need to expound on them here. Just know that losing to Vanderbilt and Kentucky is one thing, but it’s quite to have those losses in conjunction with so many embarrassing issues away from football. As we’ve mentioned in previous columns, most stem around top recruits' run ins with the law, and even more so, because of Nutt’s gross oversigning of high school players, which turned both him and the school into a national punch-line.
Of course with Nutt’s departure, the bigger question becomes what’s next?
The logical place to start would be with his successor, but quite honestly it might not be that simple. As upset as Ole Miss fans are with the last few years of the Nutt era, they are equally upset with the state of the program and how it relates to Athletics Director Pete Boone. Boone took over in 2002, and has presided over the last two coaching hires, which have produced Orgeron (who finished 10-25 at the school), as well as Nutt. It is now being reported that Boone will step down alongside Nutt at this afternoon’s press conference, meaning that in all likelihood, before Ole Miss can figure out who their next football coach is, they must first find an AD.
But when that new coach is hired, it’ll be interesting to see what direction the program goes. Currently, there is a divide amongst Ole Miss fans about whether they should pursue an offensive innovator, or someone with a bit more of a defensive background. The short list of names that seems to be associated with Ole Miss includes Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, and former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach. In addition, Larry Fedora, who currently has Southern Miss at 9-1 this season seems like a logical candidate as well.
What would be most interesting to see is whether or not either Malzahn or Smart would be interested in the job if offered. Each is amongst the well-respected coordinators in the sport, and more importantly, currently the highest paid coordinator on their respective side of the ball in college football too. Would the title of “head coach,” and a big, but not huge pay bump (Malzahn makes $1.3 million a year and Smart roughly $850,000), be enough to leave relatively stable position for the uncertainty of Oxford? Especially given the fact the massive rebuilding project that could be underway in the SEC West? A division which is the toughest in college football, could crown a third straight National Champion this year, and is welcoming Texas A&M into the fold next year?
It's tough to say.
But just as uncertain as the present is at Ole Miss, the future is just as uncertain as well.
For all his columns, articles and opinions on college football, follow Aaron Torres on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.