Houston Nutt: End of Days?
Is the end near? In our time here in the Natural State, we’ve witnessed only one exchange in Hogland that generated as much attention as last week’s print/radio exchange between Arkansas Democrat Gazette Sports Editor Wally Hall and Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt. It was the now infamous “pay me my money and I’ll leave” statement former basketball coach Nolan Richardson proclaimed at a press conference at the end of a tumultuous season.
But unlike Nolan, who during his time at Arkansas won a National Championship, played for a second, and went to a third Final Four, not to mention numerous Southwest Conference and Southeast Conference championships, Houston Dale hasn’t won anything worthy of national recognition.
Oddly enough, Nutt’s latest tirade didn’t have to do with winning or losing. Instead, it had to do with another poor recruiting year and the coverage that followed from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, a newspaper that has been overly generous to Nutt throughout the years. Mr. Hall, who was before this year Nutt’s chief defender – during losing seasons, poorly coached games and declining recruiting – seems to have turned to the “darkside” if you want to use message board lingo.
For what it’s worth, Mr. Hall’s column was a breath of fresh air. For the past nine seasons we’ve had to endure his bad writing, lame excuses, and pathetic analogies. It’s about time the sports editor for the state’s only state-wide daily started playing the part of someone who takes objective looks at the program. But at the same time, we’re not gullible enough to think that Mr. Hall, after years of blindness, suddenly sees Houston Nutt as a coach incapable of running a major college football program. As a matter of fact, it’s almost a certainty that the only reason Wally suddenly started writing negatively about Nutt this year is for some perceived slight given to him by Houston. Wally’s columns are always all about Wally. If he likes you, you’re golden. If he doesn’t, you’ll never get a fair shake. Ask Nolan.
Which makes it sad when you listen to drive time and callers long for good ol’ days when Wally and Houston were buddies, and Randy Rainwater and Marcus Elliott wish aloud that they would return. We don’t. We wish we’d get a real sportswriter, with actual talent and some understanding of sports, who will write objectively and understand that he is paid to cover the program, not be a part of it.
But Wally’s journalistic shortcomings aren’t the story. It’s how Nutt’s latest public relations debacle continues to demonstrate that he lacks the class to be a top tier college football coach. For so many years, Houston and Frank Broyles have strutted through life in their self made ivory tower that they can’t stand any real criticism. Broyles proved it in Dallas when he passed out a bush league flyer of program happy facts and announced that Arkansas wasn’t good enough to get a big name coach to come to the University. I bet that got the alumni digging deep for cash. And Houston proved it by calling into a morning radio show to make himself feel better (“I’m a winner. I’m a fighter") and “refute” three or four of the two dozen or so criticisms Wally wrote in his column.
As Dennis Dodd, national college football columnist for cbssportsline.com noted,
“Houston Nutt has melted down on Arkansas radio after a column written by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Wally Hall. . .Maybe it's me, but I can't picture Joe Paterno calling in to a radio station to defend his recruiting class.”
It’s funny that the national media are the ones that have to call Nutt for being classless, while several in the Arkansas media lot sit around and makes excuses for him. The reason is simple. They lack objectivity because they’re too close to the coaching staff.
For example, Clay Henry, who runs Hawgs Illustrated and manages its premium insider board, is the same son of Orville Henry who argued quite eloquently against hiring Houston Nutt in the first place. He didn’t have a body of work that evidenced success, Orville argued. He was right then and he’s still right today. But Clay’s still up there in northwest Arkansas pumping out propaganda and banning alleged “darksiders” from his message board. He’s his own William Stoughton adjudicating a Razorback football fan’s version of the Salem Witch Trials.
And he’s got Chuck Barrett, host of the radio program Sports Rap, by his side. Just this week he called Mr. Hall’s column “trash” on the air. Mr. Barrett’s a defacto U of A employee, mind you. He calls the baseball games and works the halftime show during the football games. But there’s no inherent bias, of course. (Wonder if Chuck had that play-by-play football announcer job on his mind.) Here’s the interesting part though: we’ve never heard those who claim Wally’s column trash go through it line by line and offer facts as to why it’s wrong. Or ask Houston if everything is incorrect. Instead, they figure if they claim foul loud enough people will quite wondering if it’s true or not.
But the real problem Houston has is that his credibility with the fans and the media continues to slide, and this years’ poor instate recruiting effort reflects that. Recruiting is the lifeblood of the program because solid recruiting leads to winning. Dennis Dodd, again writing for cbssportsline.com, performed a statistical analysis that confirmed that the schools consistently in the top 10 in national recruiting are the ones that win championships.
“CBS SportsLine.com went back to 2002 and added up rankings of the top classes from Rivals.com and Scout.com through 2007 (as of Tuesday). Each year the No. 1 class got 10 points, No. 2, got nine points, etc.
Not surprisingly, the list is topped by Southern California. Since 2002 (Pete Carroll's second year), the Trojans have had six of the 12 No. 1 recruiting classes. They had consensus Rivals/Scout No. 1s in 2004 and 2006.
It isn't even close. During that time period, no coach or program has done more with its recruits than USC, which has a record five straight Pac-10 titles, five BCS bowls and two national championships (and played for another).”
But at Arkansas, recruiting, like playcalling, is overrated.
This is further proof that Nutt’s outlived his time at Arkansas. He wasn’t able to recruit one Parade All-American to campus after a 10-win, SEC West championship season, even though two were from inside this state’s borders. Interestingly, Nutt’s classes during the era of “the cloud” were rated higher than this class.
Look, Nutt supporters out there can keep making excuses. We mentioned many of them in our column last week. But ask yourself this: why hasn’t Nutt stood up and said, “this one’s on me”? Shouldn’t he? After all, this class is in the bottom fourth of the SEC. It’s worse than any class in his tenure. Couple that with the loss of Damian Williams and Mitch Mustain and well, shouldn’t Nutt take responsibility?
We’re realistic which means we know that will never happen. Nutt’s not that kind of coach. Instead, he talks about how tough it is for him to recruit when people don’t write rosy pictures, and proclaiming how much he respects the players who “want to be a Razorback.” Leaving aside for the moment how hypocritical it is for a coach to slyly criticize any Arkansan who chooses to take his talents out of state when he did the same thing, Nutt seems to not understand that it’s his job to make players want to Razorbacks. A job he is proving himself incapable of doing.
So we want every fan out there that’s been pushing the “media’s too tough on Nutt” company line to be mindful of this: This is SEC football. Houston Nutt’s paid well over $1 million to coach and to win and to do it with class.
Do you think Mack Brown, Bob Stoops, Urban Meyer, or Philip Fulmer encounter negative media stories as an aspect of their recruiting efforts? They do. And they’ve got a conference titles and national titles under their belt (all during the time Nutt’s been at Arkansas, mind you).
Razorback fans, let’s put an end to this once and for all. As Paul Finebaum, the respected Alabama sports columnist remarked about the state of Arkansas football:
“Turn out the lights, the party's over for Houston Nutt. Wouldn't it make more sense for Arkansas to avoid the rush and fire him now? Oops, this just in: Nutt has received a contract extension through 2012. That was following a bounce-back season in 2006 which saved his job. Since then, nothing has gone right -- from staff turmoil to quarterback turmoil to losing the two best players in the state to Auburn. That hurt. It was even more humiliating when the son of his defensive coordinator also chose Auburn. That's three top Arkansas recruits to Auburn, which is only about eight time zones from Fayetteville, or so it seems. Simply put, Nutt, coming off a great year, is dead man walking.”
J.R. and Henry are a couple of Little Rock-based sports aficianados who long got tired of the same-ol', same-ol' from the usual sportswriting subjects and started filing their column on this blog last year.