Houston Nutt knows there are still sore feelings toward him with some Arkansas fans. He admits that there are still scars for members of his family when it comes to Northwest Arkansas.
But it was clear in his remarks during and after his talk at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club that the former Arkansas coach, assistant and player is still all in when it comes to the Razorbacks.
Nutt said it was his first time back after leaving as head coach, except for the two times he coached Ole Miss against the Hogs in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The Little Rock Central product and now resident of Plano, Texas said "we" several times as he talked about the Hogs after getting a standing ovation -- although not 100 percent -- at his introduction. Many in the packed room at Mermaids rose again when he finished. He talked with passion, including his impersonations of both Lou Holtz and Frank Broyles.
Nutt opened with stories of going to War Memorial Stadium in 1963 with his father to watch Broyles get off the bus, then study the team in warmups. He said his heroes were Jon Brittenum, Harry Jones and Cliff Powell and all things Razorbacks. He got his first "goose bumps" when he heard the Hogs called that day and said his love for the Hogs have never changed. He called the times in the visitors locker room with Ole Miss "my toughest times" as a coach.
There was discussion of his trip to visit Auburn and former Arkansas assistants Gus Malzahn, Tim Horton and J.B. Grimes.
"There is a perception that Gus and I did not get along and that's wrong," said Nutt, who added that if he got back in coaching his offense would feature the hurry-up. He said Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oregon are other schools besides Auburn who have rode the hurry-up to an elite level beyond their talent in some cases.
Afterwards, Nutt admitted in a one-on-one interview that Jimmy Johnson tried to talk him into taking either the Nebraska or LSU jobs, but he couldn't because of his love for the Hogs.
"My heart was here," Nutt said. "You heard my story, about how I fell in love with the Hogs when my dad took me to the stadium. I couldn't.
"This is the first time I've come back and I've enjoyed it. It's still tough on my family. They were hurt when we left, but I love this place. Some things that were said were not true and I also know I did one or two things wrong."
There is one huge "what if" still in his mind. It comes to a near miss in the SEC title game in 2006 when Florida rallied to a 38-28 victory with two huge plays in the kicking game, a successful fake punt and a fumbled punt for a Gators touchdown.
"That's the one game I'd like to have back," Nutt said. "We'd had one or two bad seasons, but we almost got all the way back. That game should have been ours. We should have been SEC outright champs. If we don't fumble that punt ... we told him put your heels on the 10 and don't go another step back."
Arkansas had all of the momentum until those two plays. Nutt said there was little doubt that the Gators were reeling.
"Our ball boy came to our sideline at the start of the second half and told us Coach (Urban) Meyer has lost it," Nutt said. "He told their coaches at halftime we had them, that we were out coaching, out hitting them. The ball boy said, 'Coach, we got them.' He was calling timeouts (in the third quarter) and felt like they had to go for a fake punt backed up in their end. Antwain Robinson had returned that interception and we had the momentum.
"Yes, that's the one I'd like to do again. I think it could have changed everything. We were the better team."
Instead, that was the middle game of three straight losses and Nutt left after going 8-5 the next season.
Nutt flew in Tuesday night, talked to Broyles at length, then went to visit close friend Jim Lindsey on Wednesday morning. He said he also wanted to see former trainer Dean Weber and his son and was excited when former players attended the luncheon.
"Mr. Lindsey, he means the world to me," said Nutt, with his eyes misting. "I know that when I was hired to be coach here the committee was leaning to Tommy Tuberville. Mr. Lindsey and Coach Broyles, they swayed them. They got me here. Those two men believed in me and Mr. Lindsey has done everything for this program."
Nutt watches the Razorbacks closely. He said there was definite improvement in the Auburn game, but that there are still some weaknesses at the playmaker positions aside from running back. He also praised quarterback Brandon Allen.
"But that offensive line is getting right," Nutt said. "They have a physical presence. They play with the right leverage. They play with the right pad level. That line was not like that last year.
"They just have to keep adding pieces. I've talked to Dave Wannstedt and Pat Jones, who were here last spring. They think the defense is going to be better. There are a few spots of concern, still, but I think we can get to six.
"I was proud of Arkansas in that first half (against Auburn). We fought hard. Now, in this league, you have to play four quarters. I just want to tell our fans, this group gives you hope, belief.
"I know you want to win. Believe me, I know how much you want to win!
"I promise you those players sit in their dorm and know the (losing streak) stats. They know it and they want to end that. What I'm telling you, now is the time to be patient. I know you hurt inside."
Nutt talked about his first days as a coach as a grad assistant under Lou Holtz, then learning as a player under Broyles and on the basketball court under Eddie Sutton, Pat Foster and Gene Keady.
"And I will never forget getting the call from Coach Broyles to come back," Nutt said. "Coach Broyles said, 'I got some good news,' and I couldn't even talk I was so excited."
There was the Holtz story about the way Nutt coached the fullbacks as a GA. The film study was exact with Holtz calling him out for every missed step, some by just inches.
"He finally shut off the projector," Nutt said, slipping into Holtz speech patterns. "He asked me if I'd shown the football that play. I said, "Yes, sir, 500 times.' He said, 'You are obviously a very poor teacher, why not 1,000 times or 2,000 times, until the job is done right?' "
"Coach Holtz held me accountable and after my time here, I knew I could coach anywhere. I'd been around the best."
It was clear that Nutt, now an analyst for CBS, was excited to be before Razorback fans. For well over one hour, they seemed excited, too.
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