The Associated Press
OXFORD — Houston Nutt came to Ole Miss with the goal of becoming the first coach to lead the Rebels to the Southeastern Conference championship game.
It didn’t happen, far from it. Over the past year, the Rebels couldn’t win a single SEC game.
“The thing about the SEC that I know,” Nutt said. “They pay you to win.”
By that standard, he didn’t earn his salary over the past two seasons. That’s why Nutt said Monday he wasn’t surprised he was asked to resign at the end of the season.
The Rebels have lost 12 consecutive Southeastern Conference games, including Saturday’s 30-13 loss to Kentucky. Mississippi is 2-7 this year, 0-6 in the SEC. Nutt is 24-23 in his four years in Oxford.
He’ll stay to lead the Rebels for the season’s final three games, beginning with a home contest against Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Mississippi athletic director Pete Boone announced the move during a press conference with members of a somber coaching staff filling the back of the room.
Boone also said he will step down as AD by the end of 2012.
“I wanted to be the first coach to take them to Atlanta. One of the best venues out there,” Nutt said. “We fell short of that goal. But I think we’ve made significant progress.
“I believe our program is in better shape than it was when I arrived.”
Nutt is making approximately $2.7 million this season. Boone said the coach has a $6 million buyout clause in his contract. However, if no one on Nutt’s staff is retained by the next coach, the total buyout will be about $8 million.
“I’m grateful to coach Nutt for his commitment to our university and his commitment to our football program,” Ole Miss Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones said. “I know we’re all disappointed in the lack of success over the last two years.”
Boone said he didn’t make an emotional decision about Nutt’s future, but instead weighed the total decline of the program during the past two seasons, which have produced a combined 6-15 record.
“Our goal is to compete for championships,” Boone said. “And we are not making progress in that regard.”
Ole Miss hosts Louisiana Tech on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before ending the season with two conference games against LSU and Mississippi State
Nutt’s stunning fall was hard to fathom just two years ago. The 54-year-old coach came to Oxford after a 10-year tenure at Arkansas and immediately led Ole Miss to an 18-8 record over his first two seasons, including back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
It was the Rebels’ best back-to-back seasons in nearly 40 years.
But those victories came with recruits brought to Ole Miss by former coach Ed Orgeron, who was widely seen as a terrific recruiter but terrible game-day coach. Once the roster started filling with Nutt’s recruits, the talent level dropped noticeably.
The downfall began in the 2010 season opener, when Ole Miss was stunned by lowly Jacksonville State 49-48 in double overtime. It was the first time in program history that Ole Miss has lost to a team from the Football Championship Subdivision level.
Things never improved from that point. The Rebels finished with a 4-8 record last season and have been even worse this year. Though Ole Miss has a core of encouraging freshmen, including receivers Nickolas Brassell and Donte Moncrief, it wasn’t enough to win an SEC game or persuade the Ole Miss administration that Nutt was the right person for the job going forward.
“This is the toughest conference in America,” Nutt said.
Ole Miss has been a largely mediocre program for decades, but the Rebels’ recent troubles were particularly embarrassing. The 12 straight SEC losses are the most in program history and Nutt has lost two straight to rival Mississippi State. A fan-based group called Forward Rebels bought several full-page advertisements in area newspapers, criticizing the administration and calling for new leadership.
The next coach will be the Rebels’ fifth since 1998 and third since 2007.
Boone has been the Ole Miss athletic director for 14 years over two separate tenures. His last two football hires — Ed Orgeron and Nutt — have not turned out well.
Jones said that former Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning and FedEx executive vice president Mike Glenn will lead the search for both a new football coach and an athletic director. Jones will have the final decision on both hires.
Jones said hiring a coach before an athletic director would not be an ideal situation, but was confident the university would make good decisions. He said he hadn’t put together a list of qualifications for a new coach or athletic director.
“I’m anxious to sit down with the committee and see what they have to say,” Jones said.
Ole Miss assistant coaches and players streamed through the football facilities on Monday afternoon, but most didn’t know until just before the announcement. Nutt said he would address the team later Monday afternoon.
Nutt said his immediate focus would be on beating Louisiana Tech, but after the season he wanted to continue his coaching career.
“I’ll try to sit down with (my wife) and drink some iced tea,” Nutt said. “And then we’ll see what happens.”
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From Ole Miss Media Relations …
OXFORD – University of Mississippi Athletics Director Pete Boone announced today that the 2011 football season will be the last for head coach Houston Nutt.
“Our goal is to compete for championships, and we are not making progress in that regard,” said Boone. “It’s time for our team to have new leadership and a new direction.”
Nutt will finish out the season with the Rebels, a decision that Boone says was made in the interest of continuity and stability for student-athletes as they near the end of the semester and end of the season.
“My time at Ole Miss has been very special, and I’ve enjoyed working with a wonderful group of athletes and the Ole Miss community at large,” Nutt said. “Change is never easy, but I understand why it’s necessary. My attention is on finishing out the 2011 season and winning this Saturday.”
Boone also announced that he would be stepping down as athletics director within the next year.
“When Coach Nutt arrived four years ago, I said publicly he would be the last coach I would hire. I meant it,” said Boone. “On several occasions over the past year, Chancellor Jones and I have discussed what would happen if a disappointing football season resulted in a coaching change, including whether a change would affect my timetable as athletics director. When I decided we need new leadership in the football program, I knew it was also the right time for new leadership in the athletics department.”
Jones praised Boone for his leadership and commitment to Ole Miss.
“Pete Boone loves Ole Miss. I am grateful to Pete for his leadership of athletics, including his selfless decision to announce his plans for the future,” Jones stated. “There will be other opportunities to acknowledge his contributions to the university, but I know we all recognize the significant progress in facilities we have made under his leadership and the vision he has provided for financing the next phase of facility improvement.”
During Boone’s two stints as athletics director, the department has seen significant growth and expansion, with annual expenditures increasing from less than $10 million in 1995 to approximately $50 million this year. Over that same period, Boone has spearheaded more than $150 million in improvements to athletics facilities.
“The Ole Miss family has accomplished a lot during the time I’ve been here,” said Boone. “We have one more step to take – completing the Forward Together campaign. We will then have some of the best facilities in the nation, across all sports, for our student-athletes, coaches, and fans.”
Jones says he looks forward to the next chapter of the Rebels’ storied history.
“We are committed to excellence in everything associated with Ole Miss,” said Jones. “In the context of athletics, excellence includes winning the right way and competing for championships. The Ole Miss family will work together to ensure a smooth transition for our football team and our athletics department.”
The process to choose the next head coach will be directed by a five member committee including representatives from the faculty, the Athletics Committee, the alumni and the M-Club, with the assistance of a national search firm. Ole Miss great Archie Manning and FedEx Executive Vice President Mike Glenn will serve as co-chairs of the search committee. The committee will make a recommendation to Jones, who will make the final decision. Boone recommended this process to Jones last summer as a part of routine succession planning in the event a coaching change was necessary during the last few years of his tenure.
Although a specific timetable for the athletics director search has not yet been determined, that search will also be directed by a committee co-chaired by Manning and Glenn.
Chancellor Jones expressed gratitude to Manning and Glenn for agreeing to lead both searches.
“We are fortunate to have these men co-chair both of these committees,” Jones said. “No one in America is more connected in the world of college athletics than Archie Manning. And no one is more trusted in the Ole Miss family. Mike Glenn is a highly respected executive in the world of sports, overseeing FedEx’s sports marketing activities which include sponsorship of the NFL, NASCAR and the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup. I am personally grateful for their willingness to take on this responsibility.”