By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
It’s been almost a month since the University of Mississippi announced major change within its athletics department, the firing of football coach Houston Nutt, the open-ended resignation of athletics director Pete Boone after a very public newspaper ad campaign calling for his ouster.
Boone says nothing has changed in his present management of the department and talks in this interview with Ole Miss beat writer Parrish Alford about football, Forward Rebels, his staff and retirement.
Q: Since your decision to step down was announced, what’s changed? What are day-to-day operations like?
A: “We’re full speed ahead. We still have a lot of things not only going on but still planning, still put things in place that we’ve planned previously.
“Certainly we are supporting Mike Glenn and Archie in this search process. It’s really business as usual.”
Q: What is your involvement with the search committee?
A: “It’s really very little, and I think that’s by design, by their design and mine. What I’m here for and my staff is here for is to provide them with information, make sure they’re covering all the bases that would come somewhat natural to an athletic director or an athletic department regarding steps you have take from the Black Coaches Association report card to things like that. We’re just making sure they’re aware of all those things and providing them with information about things like salaries, incentive plans and things like that.”
Q: Have they sought much information from you?
A: “They have not sought much information. We are working with Lee Tyner (university attorney) and going over the things we know they’ll need at some point. So I really haven’t had much interaction with Mike or Archie on specific issues.”
Q: The last two searches have produced an assistant coach and a head coach. Obviously, you’re not involved in this decision, but what do you think works best?
A: “Well, I think it’s all about the person with the experience level, the maturity. For example, I’ll just go back to Tommy Tuberville. When we interviewed him, he had a game plan. He had never been a head coach, but he had organizational skills. He was very confident in what he could do, of course a lot of them are, but that indicated to me that he would be a good administrator of a program. That could come from a coordinator or a head coach, and the opposite of that could be from either one of those two.”
Q: Looking back at the decision to retain Houston Nutt for the final three games after his dismissal was announced, was that a good decision to make?
A: “There’s no sense in going back and trying to review decisions that were made. I think it was made at the time for the right reasons. That’s all you can do, make those decisions at that time, weigh the facts and evidence you have, and move on.”
Q: When a new coach is hired, will the administration encourage that Gunter Brewer or any other staff be retained?
A: “We will not. If asked by the head coach, we will certainly … two things. If an assistant coach has asked us to make sure the new head coach knows that they would like to stay, we will do that. We will inform the new head coach. If the head coach asks us about assistants we will certainly inform him of what we know.”
Q: What is Brewer’s role in the transition?
A: “Gunter controls several different areas. One is keeping our recruiting going, making sure we’re compliant, that we’re touching the bases we need to touch in the interim. We’ve still got 75 scholarship athletes, about 55 or 56 that will hopefully be returning. We’ve got to make sure their academics are taken care of, and they understand those kinds of things. If there are any issues that come up regarding players, he’s the go-to guy.”
Q: Who is helping him?
A: “We’ve got several full-time people who are still on the staff who are involved in recruiting and are helping organize and make sure communications continue to get out. I think, and I’m not in that day to day, that at least one other coach has indicated a desire to help recruit on the road. We hope that will be … the hope is that before the break for Christmas that a new coach will be in. It would be logical.”
Q: There seems to be a fans’ preference for a spread offense. Do you need something like that to win at Ole Miss?
A: “I really just think the right person with the right attitude and the right approach can be successful at Ole Miss regardless of a particular kind of offense or defense. There certainly is a theory regarding a spread with ball control and short passes and trying to put the defense in a position where they’re not really sure. A lot of that goes on along the defensive side too. I watched a game last night with New England and Kansas City. A lot of defenses now are three down linemen, and then a lot of people are moving around. I think innovation is important on both sides of the ball, because everybody is trying to innovate those kinds of things. I’ve also heard, and coaches talk about, that defenses catch up so fast with offenses in the SEC that it really comes back to fundamentals anyway. Who knows?”
Q: From facilities and salaries, are the resources still here for a football coach to be successful?
A: “We’re competitive. There’s no question about it. Our budget is about 30 to 40 percent below the average in the SEC, our total budget. Having said that, we have some of the best facilities, some of the newest facilities, and we continue. For example, we’re looking at building a university cafeteria within the field house for nutrition, but it would be open to everybody. Those are some of the tweaks. Other than that, I’m not sure where else we’d go.”
Q: Do you share Nutt’s opinion that the talent is very good here, and there’s a strong foundation?
A: “Out of his first 75 that actually came in August, we’ve lost about 30 percent of those. That’s a high number. We might have some talent there, and I think there is some. I don’t think there’s much depth there. I would still think it’s going to take a couple of years for us to be as competitive as we want to be in the SEC.”
Q: When you made the decision to step down, did Forward Rebels win?
A: “My decision to step down was not a knee-jerk decision at all. Part of what I do is plan. I go through ‘what ifs.’ My background is in credit administration in banking. When you make a loan you have to plan on ‘what if?’ My whole thought process is, ‘What if this happens or that happens, what if we’re there, how does this work?’ You always have to have an exit strategy and succession plan.
“Everywhere I’ve worked I was told early that if you want to get promoted, you better have somebody that’s groomed to take your place. There’s always a succession plan out there. My decision to do this was purely time and circumstance.
“When Houston was hired, I felt like we had put our best foot forward and that if that didn’t work out I was going to be really shocked, but if it didn’t, then it was probably time for fresh blood. Really none of that changed in four years. I felt like when the last two seasons started going down hill, and the program really looked like it was not getting better, if anything getting worse, the decision was made that Houston would not be retained, it was a logical step for me.
“On the other side, anything I might say about that group might appear to be self-serving, but I will say this as an Ole Miss fan, and I can say it, because I’m not going to be the AD, it’s absolutely devastating to have the Ole Miss fan base divided. We’re not big enough to have that sort of divisiveness. We’re competing with schools that have 25, 30 and 40,000 students, 300,000 active alumni, $100 million budgets … and we’re going to split up? It’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of.
“But I will say this, at this point and time, there’s absolutely no reason for that, for having a group out there that’s separate from what Ole Miss is trying to accomplish. If we can’t get together, as a fan base and all be supportive of the new coach coming in, of the new AD coming in, even though you may not agree with the choice, with either choice … back off. Let them do their job, and let’s support them. Things will work out. I promise you they will. We’ve got some great opportunities here. But if we keep finding ways to split our emotions, it’s going to have a devastating effect on the program going forward.”
Q: Administrators have come under fire at other programs. Had you seen a newspaper ad campaign like that before?
A: “I had not seen it, but I’d really never looked at it. That money could have easily been spent for good things for Ole Miss athletics or the university.”
Q: Looking at the AD search, are there staff members here who are qualified and would be good candidates for the committee?
A: “We’ve got a great staff. They’re self-starters. I know they’re very good in what they do, but I’ll let the chancellor and his committee decide what’s best for Ole Miss.”
Q: What will you do in retirement? Will you live in Oxford?
A: “Oh, I’m going to live in Oxford. I’ve always liked that country song that says, ‘What are you good at?’ and the song says, ‘I’m pretty good at drinking beer.’ That’s probably not what I’m going to do, but I really haven’t thought that much about it. We’re certainly going to live here. We’re going to support the university, and we’re going to be the biggest cheerleaders you can find. I’ve got some plans, some thoughts, but I’d rather them get more firm before I talk about them.”
Q: Is there another book on the horizon?
A: “Oh yeah, and I’ve got a couple of good subjects. It would have to be something that would be fun, energetic to write about and would have a broader appeal than for just someone who is interested in Ole Miss athletics.”