Where Are They Now?:

Houston Nutt impressed by Morris, enjoying CBS analyst role

By: Nate Allen
Published: Sunday, July 8, 2018
Former Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt speaks during the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame induction ceremony Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Nutt led four teams to the Cotton Bowl Classic and won the game in 2000, 2008 and 2009.
Photo by Melissa Macatee via Cotton Bowl Classic
Former Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt speaks during the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame induction ceremony Tuesday, May 8, 2018, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Nutt led four teams to the Cotton Bowl Classic and won the game in 2000, 2008 and 2009.

Houston Nutt knows Arkansas by heart as a Razorbacks player, assistant coach, head coach and head coaching opponent.

Now, as a CBS Sports Network analyst living in the Dallas area where Chad Morris coached the SMU Mustangs from 2015 until last December, Nutt knows Arkansas’ new head coach a little.

The little Nutt knows from meeting Morris tells his heart that the Razorbacks made a good choice in their fourth head coach since Little Rock native Nutt piloted Arkansas from 1998-2007.

“I’ve been to a couple of his practices during August and during spring in his first and second year and was really impressed,” Nutt said. “Very engaging with his team. Offensively, he’s going to be hands-on. I think Arkansas will enjoy his offense once they get the personnel in the right slots. They’ll be fun to watch.”

What about Morris especially impressed Nutt?

“Energy and hands-on on the field,” Nutt said. “And really involved in the offense and doing things to keep a defense off balance. And what you see when you go to practice is everybody was moving. The receivers, you could see improvement from year one to year two. They got better. That’s the most impressive thing. The involvement, he just did an outstanding job with the offense. The defense still had a way to go. But you did see improvement.”

Speaking of a way to go, that’s the situation that Morris inherits at Arkansas, Nutt believes.

“The bottom line, just looking from afar, it looked like there was some speed that was missing,” Nutt said. “That has to be their priority and that’s on both sides of the ball.”

Long-term, that can only be remedied through recruiting.

Morris has a reputation as an avid recruiter. As a native Texan with 16 years coaching high school ball there and recruiting Texas while the offensive coordinator at Tulsa and Clemson — and of course the last three years at SMU — he has a leg up in recruiting the state most important to Arkansas outside of Arkansas.

“Of course with his ties in Texas, I think that’s so important,” Nutt said. “It’s such an important state. Texas is going to get theirs and Texas A&M, but there’s enough. It’s a big, big state. If you go around and do a really good job of evaluation and have those relationships with the high school coaches, you’ve got a chance to go in there and get good players.”

Morris has never coached in the SEC, but the defensive coordinator he hired, John “Chief” Chavis, is regarded as the SEC’s chief coordinator — not just by nickname but by tenure.

Chavis has coached for 29 years in the SEC, the last 23 coordinating defenses at Tennessee (1995-2008 for Philip Fulmer), LSU (2009-2014 for Les Miles) and Texas A&M (2015-2017 for Kevin Sumlin).

Anything that Morris needs to learn about the SEC, Nutt presumes Chavis and his longtime Tennessee right-hand man — defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell — can provide.

Caldwell returns to Arkansas, where he coached Arkansas defensive ends for Bobby Petrino in 2010 and 2011 and for John L. Smith in 2012.

“I think with Chavis and Caldwell, those guys I’ve gone against, they are going to be very familiar with the league,” Nutt said. “They’ve had a lot of laps around the track. Caldwell is such an excellent recruiter. Just relentless. That’s going to be good.”

At Arkansas, Nutt called the offense against Chavis’ fabled Tennessee defenses.

“You always knew you were going to be in for a battle,” Nutt said. “You know how good those guys are. They would mix things up and keep you off balance. And always very sound and well coached and always very, very difficult. Coach Chavis always did a good job with that, being unpredictable.”

With his mother still living in Little Rock and so many lifetime friends throughout Arkansas, Nutt never entirely left his native state even after his lifelong “dream job” closed divisively and then spent four years coaching Ole Miss against Arkansas.

Vocal pro-Nutt and anti-Nutt camps marked his Arkansas tenure’s end.

But time between that December 2007 departure seems to have mellowed a greater appreciation of Nutt’s three SEC West titles — one shared and two outright — and 75-48 Arkansas record after Arkansas went 4-8, 3-9, 7-6, 8-5, 7-6 and 4-8 from 2012-2017.

“You know what, it’s much different now,” Nutt said. “It’s amazing how time does with everything. “We won three Western titles and went to a lot of bowl games. Man, those were really good days, I get that a lot and I appreciate it.”

Nutt’s good times at Arkansas and his first two years at Ole Miss were recognized by his May 8 induction into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Three of Nutt’s Arkansas teams played in the Cotton Bowl, highlighted by his 1999 Razorbacks trouncing Texas, 27-6, in the first meeting of the iconic Southwest Conference rivals after Arkansas left to join the SEC in 1992.

Nutt’s 2001 Hogs lost 10-3 to favored Oklahoma. His last Arkansas team played in the Cotton Bowl without him, the wind gone from their sails in a 38-7 loss to Missouri after Nutt’s negotiated Arkansas departure the Monday after his Razorbacks upset eventual 2007 national champion LSU in three overtimes in Baton Rouge, La.

Nutt’s 2008 and 2009 Ole Miss teams celebrated Cotton Bowl conquests over Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, completing his Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame resume for his favorite bowl.

“(Cotton Bowl executives) Rick Baker, Charlie Fiss, (a UA grad originally from Springdale) those guys are so good,” Nutt said, noting that win or lose, every Cotton Bowl week was a great one for his teams, which he told then SEC Commissioner Mike Slive who passed away just May 16 after a lengthy bout with prostate cancer.

“I remember Commissioner Slive in Destin said they are going to be adding some bowls and what have been your bowl experiences?” Nutt recalled. “The first thing I told him was, I think the best thing to do with if they are starting a new bowl is go spend three days with Rick Baker and his staff. Because what they do with hospitality for players, coaches and their families, it is just the best.”

So was the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame ceremony, he said.

“They did it right,” Nutt said. “Rick Baker and his crew just knocked it out of the park again.”

While it ended somewhat acrimoniously at Arkansas, the bitter aftermath to Nutt’s Ole Miss tenure didn’t get resolved until an Ole Miss public apology last October.

Ole Miss officials, incorrectly as NCAA documents proved, initially portrayed the NCAA investigation, which resulted in sanctions that the Rebels still are under, as more related to transgressions under Nutt’s regime than his successor, Hugh Freeze.

Through attorney Tom Mars, Nutt sued Ole Miss.

The lawsuit ultimately revealed Freeze’s phone records disclosing calls to escort services on his university phone leading to his Ole Miss termination.

To Nutt, Ole Miss issued this public apology: “Certain statements made by University employees in January 2016 appear to have contributed to misleading media reports about Coach Nutt. To the extent any such statements harmed Coach Nutt’s reputation, the University apologizes, as this was not the intent. The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations dated January 22, 2016, did not name or implicate Coach Nutt in any misconduct, and it would have been inappropriate for any University employee to suggest otherwise.”

Nutt now considers the matter closed and himself vindicated.

“Tom Mars, he was remarkable,” Nutt said. “He did a magnificent job and I feel good about how everything ended. No hard feelings. Last thing I wanted to do was get anybody run off. I just wanted to make sure that my name was cleared. I got tired of hearing about it for three or four years there.”

Being cast those years under the Ole Miss cloud likely diminished Nutt’s chances to coach again. Odds already were working against that with Nutt now 60.

“While I had always thought of getting right back in it, it’s more difficult once you’ve been let go,” Nutt said. “Man, its just hard. I think the ones will tell you who just get fired, it’s hard to get back in. Especially once you get 60 years of age. Because that hot, young offensive coordinator, he’s the next guy.”

Would he take a coaching job if offered?

“It would have to be the right one,” Nutt said.

It would also have to be with the right athletics director. For 10 years he had the right AD, Nutt said, with the late Hall of Famer Frank Broyles at Arkansas whose last active year as Arkansas’ AD coincided with Nutt’s last UA year.

“I really miss Coach Broyles,” Nutt said. “That’s the thing that I had. You take for granted when you have a relationship with an athletic director that’s in the foxhole with you.”

Obviously, Nutt did not have that relationship with former Ole Miss Athletic Director Pete Boone.

“When you don’t have that, it’s different,” Nutt said. “I had a good one at Murray State and at Boise State (Nutt’s first two head coaching spots before Arkansas). But with Coach Broyles, I had 10 years and of course knowing him as a player, I knew exactly what Coach wanted and was about. I was in his office every Monday. So we had a great relationship.”

While not coaching, Nutt’s analyst job keeps him in the game.

“I’m enjoying it,” Nutt said. “When the game is over, you don’t ever lose. I appreciate CBS. I get to watch a lot of ball and get to work with some really good people.”

And work for some really long hours, plus weekly in-season commuting from Dallas to New York.

“Monday and Tuesday, I do radio and prep work,” Nutt said. “I’ve really learned to have a lot more respect on the media side. We’ve got researchers who start sending you stuff Sunday night. You prep hard Wednesday night and have Thursday and Friday night shows, and then Saturday you’re on as long as there is a game. It can be a long, long night by the time those West Coast teams play. You get to that hotel room at 1:30 or 2 in the morning sometimes and leave Sunday morning at 6:30 or 7 a.m. and back here by 11 and then get ready to do it again for about 15 straight weeks.”

But Nutt loves it, particularly the one game he knows he personally attends.

“I’ll tell you the biggest thrill,” Nutt said. “I am on the site of the Army-Navy game. I tell you what, what an atmosphere! They aren’t the big-time, 5-star guys, but they lay it on the line. The seniors that are graduating, they are going to protect the country for you. Man, it gives you the chills with all the atmosphere, from the parachuters coming in with the football and the B-1 bombers going across the stadium. All the things that are just phenomenal.”

The Army-Navy atmosphere never changes.

Neither, Nutt said, despite all its innovations, do the basics most determining who wins football games.

“The team that wins championships, when you break everything down, is the one that is the most physical,” Nutt said. “It’s the team that runs the football the best and stops the run the best. You got to have a little more variety, no question. You do see teams that are spreading the field, but that part doesn’t change even as teams tend to have more no-huddle and up-tempo. The bottom line is you’ve got to be able to run that ball and you’ve got to be able to stop that run.”

This article originally appeared in the June edition of Hawgs Illustrated

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