A Day of Questioning

HOOVER, Ala. -- Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt walked to middle of the stage, stood in front of the podium and turned his attention to the large gathering of reporters in front of him.


It was a tough crowd.
The first question Nutt faced Wednesday afternoon was about Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and how he's developed into a Heisman Trophy favorite.
But the next question -- and most of those that followed over the next 20 minutes -- involved cell phone records, fan approval polls and other topics not related to Arkansas' 10-4 record last season.
"I expected it a little bit," Nutt said, dressed in a black suit and red tie on the opening day of the Southeastern Conference's football media days. "This is what's brought our team closer together, though."
Nutt was the first SEC coach to address the media during the three-day event in the Wynfrey Hotel, and it was apparent from the beginning that his tumultuous offseason was the hot topic.
Aside from answering the occasional question about McFadden or Arkansas quarterback Casey Dick's development, Nutt spent most of his time Wednesday addressing the craziness of the past few months.
"This was a really different, totally different offseason, something I've never experienced in 26 years of coaching," Nutt said. "To have someone get so personal, to have so many things written starting in your home state ... it kept going and going."
Nutt's offseason turmoil began in mid-January when former Arkansas offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and quarterback Mitch Mustain left the Razorbacks a day apart. That created a firestorm that has not fully died down.
Instead of enjoying the summer after being named the SEC coach of the year, Nutt had to address rumors that he was having an extramarital affair and had prior knowledge of a disparaging e-mail sent to Mustain by a family friend.
Just when it seemed like things were getting back to normal -- or as normal as they can be at the moment -- Arkansas running backs coach Danny Nutt resigned last week because of a recurring brain condition.
"The other stuff is peanuts compared to this," Nutt said of his younger brother's health problems.
Nutt admitted there was a brief period of time this offseason when he wondered if being Arkansas' coach was worth all the trouble.
Nutt said he tried ignoring the rumors, and then when it was apparent that they weren't going away, he wanted to address them immediately. But he said university officials wouldn't let him.
Arkansas middle linebacker Weston Dacus couldn't avoid the controversy surrounding Nutt, either. He said he was asked constantly about Nutt from people who knew that Dacus was on the football team.
"Anywhere you go, people are going to try to ask you how do you feel about Coach Nutt, thinking you're going to say you don't like him or something just from what all they've heard," Dacus said.
"They don't know what's happening on the inside. I've got to tell them, he's my coach, he's the rock of the family, he didn't budge when all that happened. We've got his back, and he's got our back. And we don't listen to it."
Nutt got a chance to get away from the controversy -- albeit briefly -- at the end of June when he took his family to Gulf Shores, Ala., for four days.
McFadden, who has supported Nutt throughout the turmoil, said he simply stopped listening to all the talk about the controversy. He didn't read the newspapers or put any stock into the Internet rumors.
"After awhile, you see the same thing over and over so you're just like, 'What's the use in even paying attention to it?'" McFadden said.
Nutt said he believes the offseason problems sped up Frank Broyles' decision to retire as Arkansas' athletic director at the end of the year. And Nutt thinks that gave some disgruntled fans the idea that he would be next to go.
"(My family) knows the truth. Our players know the truth," Nutt said. "That's why I'm still here today."

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