|Nutt's hire at Ole Miss increases tension in taught SEC West|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 29 November 2007 01:23|
Remember the date: Oct. 25th. That's when Nutt will lead Ole Miss against Arkansas, the team he coached for a decade before resigning Monday and jumping to the Razorbacks' Southeastern Conference Western Division rival.
Ready to stick it to 'em, coach?
``I love Arkansas,'' Nutt told a crowd of 1,500 at a pep rally-style news conference Wednesday. ``I am from Arkansas. But today I am an Ole Miss Rebel, and I am excited to be here.''
As if the Western Division of the nation's most competitive conference needed anything else to heighten the tension on Saturdays, Nutt's shift to Ole Miss completes a circle of interrelated coaching changes that should heighten the dislike in some of the Deep South's nastiest feuds.
Arkansas fans, bereft of a true rival since the dissolution of the Southwestern Conference, will hate Ole Miss with a passion after the school spirited away Nutt less than four hours after his resignation Monday.
In turn, Ole Miss fans can't stand Tommy Tuberville, who pledged his faith to the Rebels, then bolted for Auburn a few days later.
The win over Alabama coach Nick Saban gave fans of his old team, LSU, serious pleasure this year.
And even Mississippi State's Sylvester Croom, beloved former player and assistant coach at Alabama, has hurt his old team, winning two straight against the Crimson Tide and helping end Mike Shula's tenure.
Nutt said he had no regrets about leaving Arkansas after 15 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
``It was time,'' Nutt said. ``We knew it in our heart. There needed to be change.''
Nutt sidestepped questions about whether his move was a jab at his old team, saying, ``I have no revenge.''
Yet there's no question the entangled emotions will heighten the interest.
``If it will sell tickets in Oxford, I'm all for it,'' Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone said.
Selling tickets and winning championships was exactly why Boone pursued Nutt, hiring him three days after firing Ed Orgeron. The Rebels were 3-9 and winless in the SEC for the first time since 1982.
Rebels fans have seen up close how good his Arkansas teams have been. Just five weeks ago, the Razorbacks came to Oxford and beat the Rebels 44-8.
In Arkansas, many were glad to see him go. His relationship with some Razorbacks supporters had grown contentious. Some used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate his cell phone records.
In Oxford, about 500 Ole Miss fans had to be turned away at the door of the campus' Gertrude C. Ford Performing Arts Center, and Nutt had to pause through several ovations from the standing-room only crowd. Signs that the Ole Miss faithful approved of the hire were everywhere.
``It gives me chills when you clap and applaud because it means you're hungry,'' Nutt said.
Nutt also made an impression on players who just suffered through a difficult season.
``I really felt like the stuff he just told me in there was great,'' left tackle Michael Oher said following a team meeting with the new coach. ``I could have fun and I really believe we could win here. That is a big change and I'd love to play for him.''
Nutt agreed to a four-year, $7.4 million contract with options for three more years totaling $6.6 million. He appears to have the credentials required to turn around a program that hasn't been a force in the Southeastern Conference since the 1960s.
His resume matches Ole Miss' needs. The 2006 SEC coach of the year led Arkansas to an 8-4 finish and a likely Cotton Bowl berth, the school's eighth postseason trip in Nutt's 10 years.
The 50-year-old 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. He revived the Razorbacks after replacing Danny Ford in 1997, going 75-48. Nutt was 42-38 in conference and won three SEC West titles, though no league championships.
Nutt expressed hope Sunday that he could stay in Fayetteville, but resigned Monday evening and was hired by Boone about four hours later. Any doubts he might have had about the move were wiped away by thunderous applause.
``Right now, today is the best day of my life,'' Nutt said.