OXFORD – Meetings with the Ole Miss administration on Tuesday morning were “a listening deal,” not ones in which demands were made by either side, Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt said later in the day.
The conversations with chancellor Dr. Dan Jones and athletics director Pete Boone came after Nutt listened to inquiries of interest from University of Kansas officials about their coaching vacancy.
Nutt confirmed a report in the Kansas City Star on Monday that said he had spoken with KU officials. He described the conversation as brief.
Boone said Kansas athletics director Lew Perkins called and requested permission to speak with Nutt around 7 Monday evening. The initial contact with Kansas was made by Jayhawks basketball coach Bill Self, however. Nutt said he and Self are “personal friends.”
After meeting with Jones and Boone, Nutt released a statement through the university: “I continue to appreciate the ongoing support of Chancellor Dan Jones and Athletics Director Pete Boone. We came to Ole Miss committed to building the type program that our fans deserve. There are so many positives here, and we’re excited about the direction of the program.”
More talking was required – more confirmation of the direction – because of concerns Nutt has with the academic side of things.
During the season Nutt said he was unable to fully discipline players as he saw fit because of some academic policies in place. When players Bradley Sowell and John Jerry were suspended for the Northern Arizona game, Nutt indicated he would have preferred different methods.
“Our coaches have absolute discretion with how they want to coach, how they want to play players,” Boone said. “When it comes to the university, there are university rules.”
Academic policies at Ole Miss are “common to most universities” in that regard, Boone said.
After Tuesday’s meeting Nutt said he has a better understanding of the policies.
“I didn’t know everything. Now I’ll be much better prepared for the future,” Nutt said.
Nutt would also like to see expanded degree opportunities, in particular a degree for those interested in becoming coaches.
“When I got here, I didn’t know we didn’t have a coaching degree,” he said.
Boone said he sees progress being made in adding degree programs.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Nutt said.
Expanded degree choices could help the football program make certain it meets baseline requirements with the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate (APR). In 2009 the Rebels fell short of the minimum score, causing the school to lose three scholarships in the upcoming class.
Nutt “oversigned” in the 2009 class. Some of those players coming on board late, plus the scholarships lost leave Nutt with only 18 scholarships to offer in 2010.
“So many of our players want to go to the NFL, and I know sometimes the NFL means Not For Long. They have to have something to fall back on. They have to be able to stay on track, walk across that stage and graduate. That’s what you have to be able to say in those living rooms. We don’t want any more slip-ups,” Nutt said.
Following the 2008 regular season, Nutt signed a restructured contract to bring his base salary to $2.5 million plus incentives. The deal was announced roughly a year ago after Auburn had inquired about Nutt’s interest in replacing Tommy Tuberville.
State contracts can be no longer than four years in length, and Nutt’s deal includes an automatic “rollover” to the fourth year after each season unless the administration notifies him in advance that it will not extend his contract. That is not the case this season, and Nutt will receive the rollover and an automatic pay increase that was put in place last season.
Nutt, 52, is 17-8 overall, 9-7 in the SEC in two seasons at Ole Miss. In his 17th season as a head coach, Nutt is 128-79 overall, 51-45 in the SEC. He is a three-time SEC coach of the year, including last season when he led Ole Miss to a 9-4 finish and a No. 14 final ranking.
The Rebels went 4-4 in the SEC this season, 8-4 overall and are preparing for their second-straight Cotton Bowl.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal