By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Most who closely follow Ole Miss football expected some type of drop off in 2010 after back-to-back Cotton Bowl-winning seasons.
Heavy losses at the skill positions and natural attrition made it that way.
All coaching staffs experience that time in their second or third seasons when their inherited veterans are gone, most of their own signees still inexperienced.
But few, if any, expected a four-win season and a defense that allowed the most points in school history, giving up more than 30 points in seven of eight SEC games, more than 50 twice.
There were issues on offense, though fewer.
When the gap between expectation and achievement is so wide, the masses want retribution.
Assistant coaches are often the first available target, and the masses want someone to share in their pain.
That doesn’t mean the masses are right.
Nutt says his guys were good coaches last year and that the body of work should count for something. I agree.
There’s a nice body of work for the defense in two years under Tyrone Nix. The Rebels got better in 2008. They were pretty good in most games in 2009.
In 2009, the Rebels ranked No. 15 in the nation in pass defense. Marshay Green, Cassius Vaughn and Kendrick Lewis – senior defensive backs on that team – are on NFL rosters now. Green was a wide receiver under the previous administration and developed as a cornerback under Nutt’s staff.
This year, the pass defense efficiency rating of 151.3 was No. 109 out of 120 Division I teams.
Being competitive should not hinge on having NFL talent in three of your back four starting spots.
There were issues on offense and special teams, too. As is often the case at 4-8, causes are plentiful and spread in numerous directions.
Nutt will have to decide how important body of work is.
It was interesting to note the response at the University of Texas to its 5-7 season this week. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis resigned, two other assistants retired.
Davis had been with Mack Brown at Texas since 1998, the year the Longhorns faced Mississippi State in the Cotton Bowl. Under Davis, the Texas offense had the Big 12 player of the year five times with four different players. Three quarterbacks tutored by Davis are in the NFL right now.
Nutt has said he has no timetable for making a decision on his staff, and Ole Miss coaches are knee-deep in recruiting right now.
In 2004, Nutt agonized over assistants following a 5-6 season at Arkansas, giving deep thought to the impact on coaches’ families. Ultimately defensive coordinator Dave Wommack was fired.
If Nutt makes no changes at all he’ll bring his coaches’ work and his own into sharper focus in 2011.
He’ll also have a hard time convincing the masses that would be the best decision moving forward.
The will of the masses shouldn’t necessarily drive the decision-making process but can’t be forever ignored. The masses can cast a vote by their absence, and eventually economics comes into play. That was a factor in November of 2007 when they opened the gates at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium against Northwestern State and roughly 27,000 attended. Eventually former coach Ed Orgeron was dismissed, even though he’d received a vote of confidence from the administration that week.
That isn’t a discussion for Nutt right now, nor should it be. The biggest thing Ole Miss needs in its football program is stability at the top.
With the exception of an 11-year run by Billy Brewer, a favorite son, Ole Miss football had a new head coach every 4.4 seasons until Nutt took over.
But this is a different era than when Vaught coached. Salaries are through the roof, consequently so are demands, and patience is in short supply.
All decisions that affect the multi-million dollar industry that football has become are scrutinized, especially the tough ones like this.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.