Houston Nutt had one request for fans after turning in his resignation as Arkansas football coach: Come together as a state in "one heartbeat."
The divided fan base drove Nutt to resign he said Monday night after a news conference in the Broyles Center. He hopes his decision to leave will bring that fan base back together.
"At this time, there is not one heartbeat," he said. "I hope the state can come together again."
Nutt said that is the strength and advantage Arkansas has over some states, that unity and oneness that stands behind the Razorback program.
Chancellor John White introduced Nutt at the resignation announcement. He also hit hard on Nutt's request for the Razorback Nation to unite.
"That's the message Houston Nutt has sent," White said. "It's important to come together."
White also mentioned that Nutt was "not forced" to resign, but he did say that Nutt was not held to the terms of his contract. In fact, he received all of the compensation and deferred money that was due to him if he was terminated. A $500,000 payback in Nutt's contract if he left was also dropped. In effect, Nutt had his "golden handcuffs" removed at White's order. The Razorback Foundation voted earlier in the day to pay Nutt "all his money" to make way for the resignation.
"I can tell you that it would not have been fair to terminate Houston Nutt," White said. "He didn't deserve that."
White said new athletic director Jeff Long would lead the search for the new football coach. White also said the school's intention was not to hire a search firm as it did to complete the hiring of John Pelphrey as basketball coach last spring.
White declined to list any criteria for the new football coach or a time table. He also said that ties to Arkansas "would be nice," but not a priority just as they were not a priority in other hires, including when Frank Broyles was hired as coach in 1958. White also said he and Broyles would both be available to help guide Long.
White said he had made it clear to Nutt that his contract would have been extended "one year" if he stayed as coach. He said he and athletic director Frank Broyles both tried to talk Nutt into staying. He said if Nutt had elected to stay, "I would have joined him in the trenches."
However, Nutt said he came to the conclusion that it was best for him to resign after a mostly sleepless night and much discussion with his wife.
"I got up this morning with a peace about it and I called Chancellor White this morning to tell him I was going to resign," Nutt said.
Nutt said he still remembered the night before his Dec. 10, 1997 hiring as Arkansas coach when Broyles "called me to tell me he was giving me the keys to the Razorback program. I told him I'd go from daylight to exhaustion and I did that for 10 years.
"I love Arkansas. I love being a Razorback. I'm one of you. I kept up with the numbers, the players, when I was a ball boy. This has been a very special time. I can't tell you all the memories. What I will remember the most is the players. I know their names, not just the numbers. I can call them by name. There are so many great, great relationships."
Athletic Director Frank Broyles said it was a day of celebration on Friday when the Hogs beat top-ranked LSU, but that Monday was a "day of mourning" for Nutt. He said he hoped Monday night could again be a "celebration like when you lose a loved one" because of the good things accomplished in Nutt's 10 years as coach.
Broyles praised Nutt for his winning record over Texas, for the inspiration to expand Razorback Stadium and reminded that Arkansas had only one winning record in the SEC until Nutt took over as coach.
"Houston invigorated and inspired me to go to the board (to expand the stadium) because of the '98 team's progress," Broyles said. "We went from $5.1 million in ticket sales to $21 million. That's what I'll remember."
Broyles also said he would remember the words of former LSU coach Nick Saban that Nutt's teams "played harder than any other team we play." He also would remember the 513 yards of total offense the Hogs produced Friday against an LSU team featuring the nation's best run defense. The Hogs, he said, rolled to 385 rushing yards against a defense allowing an average of 78. He also would remember the 621 yards of offense the Hogs made against South Carolina earlier this year.
However, Nutt would remember the other things from the past few months, particularly attacks on him by fans.
Asked about the negativity and the division of the fan base, Nutt said, "If I hurt anyone, I'm sorry for that. What I tried to do was what was right for the University of Arkansas and everyone that's a part of it."
About the division, he said, "This is deep. I don't want to get into all of that, but this is why this is happening."
Nutt said his family had endured too much and that it was time to leave. Asked if he planned to coach somewhere next year, he said, "I do, I do feel like I have some coaching left in me." He said he had not entered into serious negotiations, adding he'd let his agent, Jimmy Sexton, handle that task.
Nutt's resignation is effective immediately. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring was announced as interim head coach for the Hogs' possible bowl game.
Herring was not available at the press conference, but his prepared statement was released 15 minutes before Nutt entered the room.
"I am grateful for the confidence Coach Houston Nutt has expressed in me by recommending to Athletics Director Frank Broyles that I serve as Interim Head coach for the upcoming bowl game. I am also thankful to Coach Broyles and Chancellor White for accepting Coach Nutt's recommendation. Although it is extremely difficult to see Coach Nutt leave, I am honored and welcome the challenge of leading the Razorback football team and working with the other coaches on our staff as we prepare our team for a bowl game and as we continue to recruit.
"Our first priority will be to concentrate on finishing the semester strong academically and maintaining our physical conditioning. This team remains strong and committed to preparing for a successful bowl game wherever that may be. This staff will continue to conduct themselves professionally and focus on preparing our student-athletes, both on and off the field, to represent this University, this state and Razorback fans everywhere with class."
Nutt met with the team about one hour before his announcement with the media. Tailback Darren McFadden, center Jonathan Luigs and linebacker Weston Dacus attended the media announcement and visited with the media afterwards. The media was denied access to any other players as they left the Broyles Center earlier.
McFadden talked just briefly, very briefly after Houston Nutt announced his resignation. He said, "It's a sad day. He's a great coach. It hurts for it to end like this." Then, he turned and walked down some stairs away from the media.
Luigs said, "Rumors have been flying around. They started last January. We've all been on the edge of our seats. This time, we thought there might be something to them. It's tough. We came here to play for the man. For him to go out like this is a lot of sorrow. We came here because of him."
Concerning the meeting with Nutt, Luigs said, "It was very quiet. He told us about it. He wished us the best. It was hard. But we know he and his family have been through a lot. As far as the rumors, you never know what to believe. He kept us together. He stepped in and kept us together each time."
Dacus said, "We came here because of him. To see it come to an end like this is ashame. I lot of people heard about this today and this time we kinda knew it was for real."
Houston Nutt takes questions with Frank Broyles watching from his seat.
Houston Nutt announces his resignation as Athletic Director Frank Broyles watches.
Jonathan Luigs (left) and Darren McFadden listen to Houston Nutt.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
Houston Nutt Resigns
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