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Houston Nutt's dream job gone wrong

BY BERRY TRAMEL, Staff Writer, btramel@opubco.com Published: December 25, 2009
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st game (in ’07), beat LSU, third Cotton Bowl, still some people are upset, because of the handling of Mitch Mustain.

"We thought, ‘It’s probably time. Probably time to make a move.’”

Nutt said he felt pressured to hire Malzahn but stands by his decision not to completely revamp the Arkansas offense with Malzahn’s hurry-up spread. Instead, Nutt stuck with a run-oriented attack.

"Look, I can’t do that,” Nutt told detractors. "I’ve got (Darren) McFadden and Felix Jones. That gives us the best chance to win.”

Nutt said he knew things had changed on Nov. 4, 2006, when he benched Mustain in favor of Dick, who led the Hogs to a 26-20 victory at South Carolina.

"I knew by the looks and expressions,” Nutt said. "That’s when it took off.”

After that 2006 season, Malzahn left for the University of Tulsa and now is offensive coordinator at Auburn. The Springdale 5 dispersed. Lineman Bartley Webb transferred to Notre Dame, receiver Andrew Norman to Tulsa and receiver Damian Williams and Mustain to Southern Cal. Only tight end Ben Cleveland stayed at Arkansas.

And only Williams has played much. Mustain, the nation’s No. 1 quarterback recruit in 2006, has been third-team at USC.

Nutt said Mustain is the biggest victim of the Arkansas troubles.

"I feel sorry for the student-athlete,” Nutt said. "Feel sorry for Mitch. Really good kid. I begged his mother, don’t transfer.”

The truth is, Mustain probably wasn’t as good as advertised. He would have been better off following Malzahn to Tulsa, where he likely would have been playing the last two years rather than sitting on the Southern Cal bench.

Ironically, in the same recruiting class as Mustain was Ryan Mallett of Texarkana, Texas, just across the Arkansas line. Mallett attended Nutt’s summer camps and was interested in the Razorbacks. But the signing of Mustain sent Mallett to Michigan.

Mallett eventually transferred to Arkansas, where he is a passing star and top-shelf NFL prospect under coach Bobby Petrino.

"I think it all worked out,” Nutt said. "They’ve got a good coach there. They want to throw the ball, which they are.”

But there was collateral damage. Mustain and Nutt’s family.

"It was pretty hard,” Nutt said. "My kids were in school. It was pretty difficult, having those things said about their dad. It was a nightmare.”

Even after Nutt’s departure for Ole Miss, there was one more hurdle. The return to the Ozarks. On Oct. 25, 2008, Mississippi played at Arkansas.

"Much more difficult than I thought,” Nutt said. "Taking the team back to Fayetteville. Really, really strange. So many cheers we had heard. All of a sudden ... tough, tough day.”

Ole Miss won 23-21. The Rebels also beat Arkansas 30-17 this season in Oxford, Miss.

Said Nutt, "We thought we would be there a long, long time.”


The Houston Nutt Story
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, whose team plays his alma mater Oklahoma State in the Jan. 2 Cotton Bowl, has had quite the football career. Today, The Oklahoman continues a three-part series on Nutt.

Thursday: Nutt’s Oklahoma State ties run deep.

Friday: Arkansas seemed the perfect job for Nutt.

Saturday: Can Nutt be Ole Miss’ messiah?

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