Nutt Era Comes To An End

FAYETTEVILLE — After more than a year of controversy and one sleepless night, Houston Nutt came to the decision that it was time to leave his "dream job."

Nutt called University of Arkansas Chancellor John White on Monday morning and turned in his resignation, ending a decade-long tenure that excited fans early on and infuriated some toward the end.

Nutt said his decision to leave the Razorbacks after 10 seasons was based on what was best for his family, which has been unable at times to avoid some of the same fan criticism that has followed him lately.

Nutt also said during an emotional news conference Monday night that his departure was the only way to repair a fractured Arkansas fan base.

"That's the only way that things could go forward," Nutt said, speaking before a large crowd inside the Raymond Miller Room. "At this time, I didn't think we could have one heartbeat."

White insisted he would haven't have fired Nutt following a tumultuous regular season that ended last Friday with a 50-48 triple-overtime victory at then-No. 1 LSU.

Nutt was booed during home games this season, and some fans went as far as paying for banners critical of Nutt to be flown around Reynolds Razorback Stadium and Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium.

"Houston's decision to resign was neither forced, or encouraged, or requested," White said. "... Whether or not he remained coach of the Razorbacks was up to him."

White said Nutt will still receive the around $3 million in deferred compensation and bonuses that would have been owed to him had he been fired.

Nutt's resignation ends a month of speculation regarding his future. But his announcement didn't come as a surprise considering the intense scrutiny he's been under by some fans.

Nutt and White had been negotiating a deal since last Saturday, said Stanley Reed, chairman of UA's Board of Trustees.

"We seen it coming," Reed said. "We knew we were negotiating to the point of what was best for all parties concerned.

"I don't think it should be a surprise to anybody that's been around Arkansas the last month or two."

The Razorbacks, who started the season ranked No. 21 in the nation, lost their first three Southeastern Conference games. They had a late surge to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record and a postseason bowl berth secured.

Nutt, a Little Rock native who played quarterback at Arkansas from 1976-77, leaves as the school's second winningest coach with a record of 75-48 since 1998. Only retiring athletic director Frank Broyles has more victories.

White said he tried to convince Nutt to remain at Arkansas by offering him a one-year extension, which would have pushed the coach's contract through Dec. 31, 2013.

A source familiar the situation, however, said a two-year extension was discussed.

White said he also offered Nutt a significant raise from his annual financial package of $1.2 million. The exact amount of the raise was not disclosed, though ESPN.com reported it was $2.4 million annually.

But after talking to his wife, Diana, until early Monday morning, he decided it was best for everyone if he left now.

"(We) just felt like in our heart when we went to sleep that this was the right thing. Again, when you wake up, you want to make sure," Nutt said. "And so this morning there was a peace about (the decision), and that's when I called (White)."

Ole Miss has already expressed interest in hiring Nutt to fill its coaching vacancy, The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported on its Web site Monday. Georgia Tech, which fired coach Chan Gailey on Monday, could also pursue Nutt.

Jeff Long, who will take over as Arkansas' athletic director when Broyles retires at the end of the year, will handle the national search to find Nutt's replacement.

Long has been serving as an advisor to White since coming to Arkansas from the University of Pittsburgh in October.

"He'll keep me fully informed as he conducts the search," White said. "And given the high-profile position, I've asked Jeff to handle it in much the same (secretive) way that I handled the search that brought him to the University of Arkansas."

Long attended the new conference Monday night, but he was not made available to talk to the media.

For now, defensive coordinator Reggie Herring will replace Nutt as Arkansas' interim head coach.

Herring will coach the Razorbacks (8-4, 4-4 SEC) in whichever bowl game they're invited to, perhaps the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Jan. 1.

Nutt's other assistants are expected to join Herring on the sidelines for the bowl game. Aside from wide receivers coach Alex Wood, the other assistants have at least one more year on their contracts.

Wood's contract runs to Dec. 31, and it's uncertain if he will coach the bowl game.

Nutt met with his players Monday evening, and according to a team source, he thanked them for playing for him and congratulated them on beating LSU.

Nutt also blamed the media for the drama that has taken place over the past two years, the source said. He told the players that the situation was "tearing" his family apart.

"He's smart. One thing I can't say, 80 percent of the people weren't on my ass when I was winning," former Arkansas men's basketball coach Nolan Richardson said Monday evening.

"Jesus Christ, everywhere he went, he was the conversation — win or loss. What can you say, I think he knows how I felt. I don't think he knew how it was like when I was there."

Nutt's resignation marks the latest changing of the guard in Arkansas' new-look athletic department. Men's basketball coach John Pelphrey was hired in April. Long will replace Broyles as athletic director on Jan. 1.

And White announced earlier this month that Arkansas will merge its men's and women's athletic departments after being two separate entities since 1972.

Chuck Dicus, the president of the Razorback Foundation, said his office was inundated with phone calls, e-mails and faxes from fans who had an opinion on Nutt's departure. Dicus said the responses varied from positive to negative.

"I think it's fair to say that they've been mixed, but tomorrow they may not be," Dicus said. "That's just the way it is."

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