Wait One Cotton Picking Minute

FAYETTEVILLE — New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt will be taking at least five of his Arkansas assistants with him to Oxford. But he won't take any of them this week.

Two days after telling The Morning News that Mike Markuson, James Shibest and Chris Vaughn would be heading to Ole Miss to help recruit players this week, Nutt informed the media in Mississippi that those plans have changed. Originally, the three — along with Clifton Ealy, director of high school relations — were scheduled to spend the week helping Nutt visit Ole Miss' oral commitments, then return to help Arkansas prepare for its Cotton Bowl date with seventh-ranked Missouri.

"With all that is going on in being under Arkansas and Mississippi, I've decided to go ahead and send these guys back after talking with (Ole Miss athletic director) Pete Boone and Chancellor (Robert Khayat) to send them back to Arkansas right now and let them finish out their bowl preparation," Nutt said. "They need their coaches. They need them to get ready for the game plan. Instead of worrying about who they are recruiting for, I just decided it was probably best if I just sent everybody back."

The change could offer some reprieve for what has been a hot-button issue since Nutt resigned at Arkansas and accepted the Ole Miss position less than 12 hours later.

But even though the coaches will be in Fayetteville when bowl practice begins this week, Nutt said the three assistants will be able to call Ole Miss' oral commitments.

Arkansas interim coach Reggie Herring, who wasn't informed the coaches were returning until late Sunday, indicated earlier that any coach recruiting for the Rebels won't do so at the Razorbacks' expense. He said it will be from Ole Miss phones.

In addition, Herring said Nutt and his assistants will not contact Arkansas' oral commitments. The NCAA's contact period ends Dec. 15.

"(Nutt) has no intentions about disrupting this bowl game or creating division among coaches and the staff or getting involved in any unethical recruiting," Herring said.

The Razorbacks maintain that keeping the remaining coaching staff intact is critical to bowl preparation. Herring said the bowl game is a reward for the players and, with that in mind, stressed that the unusual arrangements must be tolerated this month.

"When you look at it, it's give-and-take on both sides," Herring said. "But for the sake of getting this game in the Cotton Bowl and a game of this magnitude and play a quality game, it's imperative that we're flexible and have an open mind with this."

In the meantime, Herring said coaches continue to recruit for the Razorbacks.

Vaughn and Tracy Rocker — who will join Nutt at Ole Miss — were on the road talking to Arkansas commitments last week. So were Tim Horton and Bobby Allen. Herring also asked athletic director Jeff Long to write letters to each of Arkansas' oral commitments to keep them informed of the situation. Long complied.

In the end, Herring said every coach is "excited" about coaching Arkansas in the bowl game no matter what the future holds. He's hoping that will be evident Jan. 1.

"You're getting everything that you can ask for in a staff right now as if there was a full-time head coach here," Herring said. "And as if people were focused and directed in winning a Southeastern Conference championship."



Black for Christmas

Herring said he gave the Razorbacks an early Christmas present: Arkansas will break from tradition and wear black shoes for the Cotton Bowl.

Herring said it was a request from the senior class and, because of what the team has been through the past year, he agreed. Arkansas typically wears white shoes.

"If anybody has any problem with that, if you want (Auburn's Tommy) Tuberville as the head coach here, the Auburn Tigers wear the exact same footwear," Herring said.



Still Working

Herring said the Razorbacks also are working on making sure every player is academically eligible for the bowl game. He expressed concern about some players last week, but said he won't know for sure until final grades are issued.

"Anybody that doesn't (make it), they're going to be missed," he said. "This team needs every able body that can stand and that is the main priority."

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