PARRISH ALFORD: Nutt facing tough off-season decisions

OXFORD – Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt hasn’t made a decision on what, if any, changes he’ll make on his coaching staff in the wake of a 4-8 season, a 1-7 and last-place finish in the SEC West.
Nutt went 18-8 in his first two seasons at Ole Miss and identified 2010 as a challenging year. So had many others, but few here expected a free fall to the bottom of the league.
There were off-field distractions. There were injuries. But there were also experienced players among the front seven on defense, talent at running back and a quarterback that went 20-6 as a two-year starter at Oregon that landed in the midst.
In a business that demands immediate gratification, what level of drop is acceptable when attrition causes programs to shift?
I don’t know what the answer is, but I know what it isn’t, and now Nutt is trying to decide if the fall-out from his worst SEC season is enough to cost assistant coaches their jobs.
Football is a multi-million-dollar business, and when it comes to running the business there are multiple seats at the table.
First-class stadium amenities that have become expected and the ever-increasing coaches salaries aren’t provided without private contributions. Contributors will make sure their voices are heard. The athletics director has been heard. Ultimately, the decisions will fall to Nutt, and the decisions he makes may impact his own level of support.
They aren’t easy ones, but decisions within a multi-million-dollar business rarely are.
Dealing with staff is a complicated issue for Nutt. Relationships are important to him, and he has a pre-Ole Miss connection with almost everyone on his staff. Add to that the fact that his defensive coordinator and running backs coach are brothers.
Cornerbacks coach and recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn and tight ends-special teams coach James Shibest have been with Nutt for 11 years. Co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Mike Markuson has been with him for 18 years.
“The thing that’s tough in our profession is this was a pretty good group for two years,” Nutt said. “And you have a bad year, and all of a sudden they’re bad coaches. That’s what’s really hard for me, because I know what these guys stand for. I know what they’re about.”
Similar but different
Staff was an issue in 2004 when David Cutcliffe was not retained after he followed a Cotton Bowl championship with a four-win season. That is one similarity between then and now, but there were other issues in play.
Athletics director Pete Boone says his role is not to instruct coaches on how to handle their assistant but to act as a “sounding board” for coaches when they ask. And Nutt did ask, Boone said.
Boone pointed out improvement along the offensive line and had some pointed remarks for the play in the secondary.
The Ole Miss assistants didn’t forget how to coach overnight, but coaching is easier when talent is better. Cornerbacks Cassius Vaughn and Marshay Green and free safety Kendrick Lewis are on NFL rosters this season. They were in the Ole Miss secondary last year when the Rebels were sixth in the SEC, 15th in the nation in pass defense.
Part of coaching is the procurement of talent. Another part is development, and another part is keeping young guys away from home for the first time in a straight line.
Linebacker Clarence Jackson and cornerback Tony Grimes, both freshmen who could have helped defensively, were on the suspended list.
No doubt it was disappointing to put them there, but they were decisions Nutt felt had to be made, more cut and dry than the ones he faces now.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal