By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The absence of an acceptable plan for improvement was the dominant factor in the decision to terminate David Cutcliffe as the Ole Miss football coach following the 2004 season.
Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone also cited a periodic lapse in motivation by players and coaches.
Boone returned to that theme Monday, saying he wanted to see more “fire” from the Rebels’ players.
“It’s not that I want to see a lot of fights out there, just (more) fire in the eyes,” Boone said.
Fire usually appears after a big play. There were flickers of light at Vanderbilt after key stops on defense, but big plays on offense have been missing.
Players say they believe they have the proper level of emotion, and the buzzword among them Monday was execution.
The offensive line is a long way from execution, however, and breakdowns up front affect everything.
Ole Miss has talent on offense. The offensive line is the first thing that needs to be fixed, and if it happens, confidence among other offensive players will grow, plays will be made. Attitude will follow, and the search for the end zone won’t look so much like the search for the fountain of youth.
If issues up front can be addressed, fire and execution will both follow.
You have to be careful with fire.
The search to replace Cutcliffe produced Ed Orgeron. There was a lot more fire, but Orgeron played with matches while the program burned.
He brought in talent, and for two years Nutt organized the talent and won. A decline of some degree was expected last year but not to the level that 2010 became.
After three games in 2011 there’s no evidence of real change. The defense is better, particularly the secondary, but the offense has sprung leaks. The Rebels have shown they can play close against a quality opponent – as they did last year against LSU – and that they have the potential to disappear – as they did last year against Tennessee.
Now they’re 1-9 in their last 10 SEC games, and Monday’s press gathering had the feel of an uncertain future.
Nutt has a reputation of interest in other jobs, his name connected with various openings his first two seasons at Ole Miss.
But as Boone and Nutt both pointed out Monday, it’s a what-have-you-done-lately business. If Nutt is asked to leave, what’s his next move? It’s probably not a soft landing.
If it parts ways with Nutt, Ole Miss will be starting over with its football program for the third time since Cutcliffe was fired seven years ago.
That’s not the stability you want when asking friends of the program to rise above a bad economy and donate $150 million to a vision.
There are nine games on the schedule, time enough for the season to be a salvage job or something more.
Nutt and Ole Miss will both be better off if they can make this work.
Parrish Alford (email@example.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.