BY PARRISH ALFORD
Pascagoula attorney Richard Scruggs, a noted Ole Miss contributor, says he once approached former Washington coach Rick Neuheisel about coaching the Rebels but not since the position actually came open.
David Cutcliffe was fired as Ole Miss coach Wednesday, and the search for his replacement is picking up steam. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and outgoing Florida coach Ron Zook are believed to be prominent candidates.
Neuheisel has also been mentioned. A source close to Neuheisel told the Daily Journal Friday that Scruggs – and a second unnamed Ole Miss booster had contacted Neuheisel about replacing Cutcliffe, a charge Scruggs strongly denied.
Scruggs says he has followed the Ole Miss coaching search only by news accounts and “word of mouth.”
“There is a lot of buzz about me being involved, but there's no truth to that at all,” Scruggs said. “It's a university decision, and I am not involved, other than to voice by two cents worth.”
Scruggs admitted contacting Neuheisel more than a year ago. Discouraged by the Rebels' slow start, he invited Neuheisel to be his guest at the Ole Miss-LSU game in Oxford last November.
He said he wanted Neuheisel there to send a message to Cutcliffe and his staff.
“I thought things were going downhill last year. We were 2-2, and it looked like it could be a lot worse. I thought a change at the end of the year might be appropriate. I wanted to put the heat on those guys that there might be a change … that there was a serious coach out there,” Scruggs said.
After starting 2-2, the Rebels went 8-1 the rest of the way to finish 10-3. Their only loss for the remainder of the 2003 season was the LSU game that Neuheisel almost attended. Ole Miss shared the Western Division title with LSU, and Cutcliffe was named SEC coach of the year.
After the Rebels started winning, Scruggs said his attempt to host Neuheisel “fizzled out” and that he had no further contact with Neuheisel.
“When we started winning, I didn't think it was very appropriate to have him there. I never followed up, and he didn't either.”
Scruggs said his contact with Neuheisel was done without the knowledge of Ole Miss officials. He said he has made no other attempts to contact football coaches on behalf of Ole Miss.
Scruggs said he will support whoever athletics director Pete Boone and chancellor Robert Khayat choose as head coach.
“It's not my place to choose the coach. That's up to Pete Boone and Robert Khayat. But I think Rick Neuheisel should be on whatever short list there may be.”