Nutt's Last Stand?

LITTLE ROCK -- Houston Nutt looked like a man trying to save his job and defend himself from the rumors and media reports circulating on the Internet, airwaves and in his own locker room.

He was adamant that he wasn't going anywhere just yet. He scolded some in the media for being "foolish" and creating stories that weren't true.

And he spoke like a coach who gave each of his players a miniature baseball bat to emphasize that they must "bring the wood" -- which he did.

Nutt has a way of winning when his back is against the wall, or in this case on the hotseat. And he did it again Saturday in front of his hometown.

The Razorbacks managed to put aside the speculation surrounding their coach's future long enough to secure a bowl berth with a 45-31 win over Mississippi State in front of a crowd of 55,185 in War Memorial Stadium.

"I'll tell you what, it shows what we're about when we can overcome and handle all that's thrown out there," Nutt said. "And that's what I appreciate because there was total focus on football today."

There was no shortage of distractions for Arkansas (7-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) to stumble on in the days leading up to Saturday.

Players had to deal with the embarrassment from last week's lopsided loss at No. 19 Tennessee, which only intensified the talk that Nutt would be gone at the end of the season.

Making matters worse, star running back Felix Jones was nursing a deep thigh bruise that limited him to only one play against the Bulldogs (6-5, 3-4).

But none of that compared to the uncertainty that came in the 24 hours leading up to kickoff, as reports circulated on the Internet and on TV that the Nutt Era would soon come to an end.

"Right now, we wanted to win this one for him and try to get the pressure off him," Arkansas center Jonathan Luigs said.

Several sources familiar with the situation told The Morning News on Friday that no decision has been made regarding Nutt's future.

But even as Arkansas running back Darren McFadden played perhaps his final game in Little Rock, a report appeared on claiming that Nutt will not coach the Razorbacks next season.

"It wasn't true yesterday, and it's not true today. And it's not right to do that -- to make statements like that to your team -- unless you have a real source from either that athletic director of that school or me. And you don't," Nutt said, sounding like a man being cross-examined.

"So you make up things. It's not good business. I haven't talked to one athletic director except for (Arkansas' Frank) Broyles and Chancellor (John) White."

Jeff Long, who will replace Broyles as Arkansas' athletic director on Jan. 1, declined comment Saturday afternoon when he was approached by a reporter in the War Memorial Stadium press box.

Arkansas offensive tackle Robert Felton said Saturday's win was dedicated to Nutt, and several other players defended their coach and spoke about how they played for him.

They wanted to earn their seventh win and secure a bowl berth for their embattled coach, whose chances of finishing out his contract in 2012 seem to get smaller by the day.

"When you want him gone, that's kicking us (players) in the face. I can't believe anybody would say that or start any kind of rumors like that," Felton said. "Coach Nutt is a good man."

Not surprisingly, Nutt faced more questions in his postgame news conference about his future than McFadden's 138 yards of total offense or quarterback Casey Dick's career-high four touchdown passes.

Everything else seemed insignificant.

"All I want to do is coach this season. Again, we have an evaluation time at the end of each year with the athletic director, this time it will probably be with Jeff Long," Nutt said. "At that time, I wouldn't predict (what will happen). Stop predicting and stop making up rumors."

And as for college football analyst Mark May going on ESPN on Saturday to say that this is likely Nutt's final season with the Razorbacks?

"Unless he's talked to Jeff Long, I don't know how somebody can get on the air and make a statement like that and then use the incredible word 'my source,'" Nutt said. "Unbelievable."

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