After dismal season, Ole Miss tries to regroup

OXFORD — Two days after completing a dismal 4-8 season, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said he hasn’t decided if he will make changes to his assistant coaching staff.

“What’s tough in our profession is that this was a pretty good group for two years, and then you have a bad year and all of the sudden they’re bad coaches,” Nutt said during a Monday press conference. “… They didn’t become bad coaches overnight. But the bottom line is, we didn’t have a good year. and so you’ve got to look at everything and that’s just what we’re doing.”

The Rebels won nine games each in 2008 and 2009, including back-to-back Cotton Bowls. But Nutt’s third season in Oxford started in freefall with a shocking loss to Jacksonville State, a team that plays in the Football Championship Subdivision, and stayed that way as dismal defeats continued to mount.

Nutt’s 1-7 Southeastern Conference record was his worst in 13 seasons. He spent 10 seasons at Arkansas before coming to Ole Miss.

Mississippi athletics director Pete Boone said Nutt’s contract will automatically roll over through the 2014 season, which were the terms from a handshake deal when Nutt was hired in 2007. The deal calls for a $2.7 million salary next season, $2.8 million in ’12 and $2.9 million in both ’13 and ’14. The four-year deal is the longest allowed by Mississippi state law.

Boone, who met with Nutt on Monday morning for about an hour to discuss the direction of the program, said he won’t force his football coach to make any changes with his coaching staff.

“I would never do that,” Boone said. “I’m not going to get into those things. I look to the head coach to perform and he’s got to make those calls. For me to tell him to change somebody, that would be me telling him how to do his job and I’m not going to do that.”

Though Ole Miss had plenty of issues that contributed to the subpar season, the most obvious was bad defense. The Rebels gave up more than 35 points per game, which was last in the SEC by a wide margin. A few injuries — most notably season-ending knee surgery for senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett — were legitimate issues, but the Rebels were still starting seven seniors most of the season.

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix received a three-year contract and a raise to $500,000 per year last winter after leading the Rebels to two solid defensive seasons in 2008 and 2009. But he couldn’t find the right formula this fall as the Rebels gave up loads of big plays nearly every game.

“You go back to that work ethic,” Nutt said. “You go back to that attitude. You go back to those players who make a complete commitment. It’s not easy being a collegiate football player in the SEC. It takes an unbelievable love for it. It’s dedication. It’s discipline.”

Boone said there were several factors that led to the disappointing season, but echoed Nutt’s evalutation that one of the causes could have been a lack of intensity surrounding the program.

“Maybe a little casualness from our coaches after two nine-win seasons that I’m sure they won’t repeat,” Boone said. “And maybe a little arrogance from some of the older players after two nine-win seasons. Hopefully they’ll learn you’ve got to earn your stripes every day.”

Both Boone and Nutt said despite the recent issues, they were confident the program would rebound quickly.

Nutt promised an intense offseason workout program that would weed out troublemakers. The Rebels constantly battled off the field issues this season — with multiple players suspended from issues ranging from academics to theft.

“This will be a season — an offseason — where they find out if they truly love football,” Nutt said.

Ole Miss head football coach Houston Nutt had a season ending press conference today in Oxford. Here are quotes from

Opening Comments:

“When you had a year like we just got through having you start all over. You go back to the beginning and evaluate everything. It starts with myself and goes from there. I can’t wait to talk to them at our team meeting this afternoon. We will talk about the road map and which way we are going. We will start work tomorrow. We will tighten up our shoes a bit better. We will pay attention to detail. There was one thing that really had an effect on us. When Benny Abrams passed away in January, it was a tough way to start our off season. It affected us a great deal. It affected us as coaches. It was the first time we experienced that. You have a tendency to pull back a little bit after experiencing something like that. Our thoughts were with Benny’s family. We wanted to dedicate the season to him and we didn’t do a very good job. I bring that up because we demand a high level of work ethic. This is only my third time to experience this. It is frustrating because this is the time you get excited about. It’s right before finals. It is about getting young people a lot of work. We will miss the scrimmage time and developing those guys. Now it’s more on their own. They have to take the responsibility to go to work on their own. It’s what you do on your own. It is catching those extra balls, getting the pass rush and doing those things. It takes a lot of discipline. I’m excited about the guys we have coming back. I’m excited about our program. I got a call last night from my wife asking if we were going skiing in Colorado. A lot of the rumors are ridiculous. We are ready to get going, roll up our sleeves and go to work. We are excited about the future.”

On coaching rumors:

“Jimmy Sexton gets a bad rap. He has more to do than worry about me. The rumors are not true. They are so far from the truth. I’ve had one thing on my mind since the last second ticked off, and that was how we are going to get better. You have to think about recruiting and staff. We have to evaluate everything we’ve done this past year. It is so easy to go on the internet and say things like “He’s going there and having a press conference today.” It’s so untrue. It’s ridiculous. Jimmy Sexton doesn’t work that way. He is a professional and a great guy. He gets a bad rap. There are so many things that get thrown out there and it’s sad. It’s just not true.”

On staff changes:

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and soul searching. I don’t know that yet. I’m still working hard in that area to look at what we’ve done. The thing that is tough is that this was a pretty good group for two years. Then we had a bad year and all the sudden they’re bad coaches. It’s hard for me because I know these guys and I know what they’re about. They are good people and good family men who are trying to make a difference in kid’s lives. They didn’t become bad coaches overnight. The bottom line is that we didn’t have a very good year and you have to look at everything. The one thing we have now is time because we aren’t going to a bowl game. We’re looking at recruiting and that is number one. We have time on our side. Evaluating our staff is the most difficult thing there is in my spot. It is much more than that. It is family and people that you know and love. It is hard to separate that and do what is best for Ole Miss. I look at it as what is best for Ole Miss and how we are going to get to Atlanta and win an SEC Championship.”

On meeting with Pete Boone:

“I met with Pete Boone this morning. We talked about the season and lot of things about our program. We talked about everything from the training room to academics.”

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Read more in Tuesday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.

David Brandt/The Associated Press

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