IRVING, Texas – In an age when the dynamics of the coach-player relationship in athletics may be changing, there is one approach that Houston Nutt believes will keep him out of trouble.
Be yourself, the Ole Miss coach says.
The Big 12 Conference was rocked Monday with the news that Texas Tech coach Mike Leach had been suspended by his university for alleged abuse of a player by isolating him in close quarters for an extended period of time.
Leach, whose team lost 47-34 to Ole Miss in last year’s Cotton Bowl, was seeking an injunction to coach against Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl when he was fired on Wednesday.
Earlier in the month, Big 12 member Kansas fired coach Mark Mangino for a history of alleged abuses.
The coaches in Saturday’s AT&T Cotton Bowl were asked for reaction in Wednesday’s news conference, the final media availability before Saturday’s game.
Nutt cited a number of coaches from both high school and college, both football and basketball, who have influenced his style.
“They all had their way, and you take a little bit from all of them, but ultimately, you have to be yourself,” Nutt said.
It’s one more similarity in style between Nutt and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who was the OSU quarterback when Nutt was an assistant coach in Stillwater.
“I think young men today want discipline. They want structure and accountability. You can coach them as hard as you want if they know that you care about them, want to make them a better person off the field and bring them along on the field,” Gundy said.
Coaches were long given almost total control in dealing with their players. Books have been written, movies made, of demanding workouts – too demanding some might say – when coaches would take their players away for “camps” at the beginning of a season.
Part of the legend for Alabama coach Bear Bryant was his preseason retreat his first year at Texas A&M.
Closer to home, the coach-player relationship was at the epicenter when Tupelo High School and former coach Eric Collins parted ways.
“Our staff, we want to be difference-makers,” Nutt said. “I won’t hire anyone unless I would want him to coach my son. I tell our players all the time, ‘We’re going to coach you very very hard. Off the field we’ll talk about fishing, girlfriends and family, but on the field we’ll coach you, and we want you to have the attitude of, ‘Coach me.’ We want you to be able to take discipline, structure and constructive criticism. It’s a pretty simple recipe.”
But not always a simple process, especially in the information age with which Bryant never had to contend.
The explosion of communication through the internet has changed the way college athletics is covered.
Ultimately, the confirmation that the “tough love” approach is working comes from how your players sell the program, Gundy said.
“You take notice of recruiting when young men visit. If the best recruiting you have is what is said by the players on your team, then we’re doing the right thing in our opinion.”
Contact Parrish Alford at firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal