Nutt Puts Trust In Gus

HOOVER, Ala. — Sure, there might be times when Arkansas coach Houston Nutt gets on his headset and offers his opinion during a timeout.

He might suggest a few plays during a break in the action. And there is no doubt that Nutt will give his input in the week leading up to a game.

But for the most part, Nutt says he doesn't want to meddle too much with the offensive play-calling. That responsibility is no longer his — as different as that might be.

It's now part of Gus Malzahn's job as Arkansas' new offensive coordinator, and Nutt insists he doesn't want to interfere too much with that.

"I'm going to let Gus go. I'm going to turn him loose," Nutt said Thursday morning as he addressed a large gathering of reporters on the second day of the Southeastern Conference media days at the Wynfrey Hotel.

"I don't think you can mess with a play-caller and veto every play. I think you're going to disrupt, you're going to hurt (if you do that)."

When Malzahn was hired in December to be Nutt's first offensive coordinator at Arkansas, it was natural for fans to wonder about how reluctant Nutt might be about giving up the play-calling duties.

In years past, Nutt conferred with offensive line coach Mike Markuson and former quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke on the offense. But the decisions regarding what plays to call during a game ultimately came down to Nutt.

That has changed, though not entirely.

While the majority of the calls will now come down from Malzahn, Nutt wants to still keep letting a group of assistants have input in forming the offensive game plan.

Markuson will continue to have a say, and new quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator Alex Wood is expected to lend his expertise to the playbook and the play-calling.

"When I called plays, the thing that we had was a good group of coaches in that (planning) room. It just doesn't happen on Saturday," Nutt said. "There is feel, there is instinct, no question. But the preparation and the study is done Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, through the week."

Come Saturday, however, it will mostly be Malzahn's call.

The former Springdale High coach will decide whether to run the ball (as Nutt prefers to do), pass the ball (as Malzahn is accustomed to doing) or try to get in a healthy mix of both.

"Maybe after a series we'll discuss or maybe it's a timeout and you have discussion between Alex Wood, myself and Gus," Nutt said. "But it will go down with Gus calling the plays."

Nutt shook up his coaching staff after finishing last season with a second straight losing record and another December not spent getting ready for a bowl game.

With the additions of Malzahn, Wood and secondary coach Louis Campbell, as well as the return of 20 starters, the Razorbacks have emerged as a popular choice to be a darkhorse contender in the SEC.

Assuming Arkansas can find a solid starting quarterback and get through the season opener against the University of Southern California with its confidence intact, the team has a chance to return to the postseason.

"With the players coming back, I think we have more experience. We have more team unity," Arkansas linebacker Sam Olajubutu said. "With that, we can go out there and always move forward."

Arkansas' offense, however, is still a work in progress.

Malzahn should help add some noticeable changes to the offense, specifically by trying to run more no-huddle sets and also by lining up running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones at wide receiver.

But no one should expect Arkansas' typically run-first offense to start resembling Springdale's high-powered, wide-open system.

When asked by a reporter to name the biggest misconceptions people might have about the additions of Malzahn and Wood, Nutt said, "One is that now it's going to be five wideouts and we're going to throw it 60, 65 times a game."

The Razorbacks have led the SEC in rushing three of the last four seasons, including finishing atop the league in 2005 with an average of 216.9 yards per game.

Things could look similar this upcoming season. But Nutt insists he wants Malzahn to call his own plays, even if that means sometimes getting out of the way.

"To disrupt a play-caller I think is very damaging, where you hurt his rhythm, hurt his train of thought," Nutt said. "We won't be trying to veto each play every time he calls a play."

Arkansas wide receiver Marcus Monk, for one, has faith in Malzahn.

"He's a focused guy, and he knows a lot about the game," Monk said. "I believe him, and I have confidence in him."

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