State of the Hogs: Warm Fuzzies

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An interesting worry appeared on the message board at this week. Will the Arkansas players feel so much love for Houston Nutt that they don't give their best effort against Ole Miss?

The theme was fear that the Razorbacks will feel too many warm fuzzies about their former coach. The premise: anger is the key to college football. Can these Hogs be angry enough at Nutt to play hard for Bobby Petrino?

There are plenty of things I worry about. The health of my family is first. My 401K is a fairly close second.

I am not worried that the Hogs will do anything but play hard under Petrino this week against the Rebels. And, be clear on that last part. These Hogs are focused on the Rebels, not Nutt, or the assistants on his staff that were also at Arkansas last year.

There are a lot of emotions that pour out on a football field. Anger is probably one of them. Perhaps the one that comes out the most, though, is fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of not producing. Fear of being benched. Fear of losing. Fear of looking bad on tape.

It's interesting to listen to fans assess the two coaches squaring off Saturday night. Right or wrong, most are comparing the two styles as this much-anticipated game unfolds.

Nutt is characterized as an encourager, someone who coaches happy thoughts. He was called a player's coach. He clapped more than yelled. He wanted players to like him more than hate him.

Fear didn't seem to be one of his tactics. He said modern-day players didn't relate to those methods. Those traits sometimes got him in trouble. Players sometimes took advantage of him. Giving players too much freedom can lessen your control.

Discipline slips on and off the field. You don't want the inmates running the prison. Some thought that happened under Nutt at times.

I wondered aloud to him more than once that he wasn't hard enough on his players. He replied every time, "You don't see me behind closed doors or hear what I tell them. I can be hard on them, too. I can."

No matter how hard Nutt thinks he is on players, he isn't in the same league as Petrino. Petrino drives his players harder than anything I've seen here since Lou Holtz coached the Razorbacks.

Fear is one of his themes. He talked about addressing and conquering fear when he spoke to Razorback Clubs last winter. I heard him talk about the message he delivered to his children as it related to sports and life. Fear is healthy.

You must understand your fears, then conquer them.

I don't think there are too many warm fuzzies on the football field any more. I don't think the current players will be thinking about Nutt when they play Saturday night. First, those closest to him — those you heard speak out strongly when he was under fire last year — are long gone. There are few returning starters from the Nutt era.

And, not all players who were here last year loved him. Some didn't get to play. They weren't too warm and fuzzy about sitting the bench. Others didn't like his systems, offense or defense.

And, Nutt was perceived as an offensive coach. He seldom spent any time on the defensive practice field. Defenders saw their head coach as Reggie Herring. In that respect, Herring isn't at Ole Miss and he wasn't exactly loved by Arkansas players anyway. (Check the Cotton Bowl score for proof.)

I think one of the biggest motivators for any player is what his peers think, what the man beside him thinks. Do they respect your effort? Do they trust you? Did you get it done in practice or the game? Did you play for the team? It's the common bond of every team.

The next biggest fear is what will it look like on film? Did I do my job? How will I be graded on my performance? Those are the fears that most have when they play.

The older players -- perhaps the ones with feelings for Nutt -- are playing for a chance to earn a pay check at the next level. It is the single most desire of these seniors. They are trying to put together a tape that will jump out at an NFL coach and GM. Their tape is their resume.

Not coincidentally, that is what Petrino preaches every day. Video is such a big part of today's football. As Petrino says, "The video doesn't lie. It is your resume as a player or a coach." It either confirms you and your position, or it is bad news.

It is the issue that drives effort more than any other thing in football these days. In other words, what will my position coach think about me tomorrow afternoon in the meeting room? What will the video look like to NFL scouts?

There is no hate from the Ole Miss players towards Arkansas. It is not a rivalry game for them. The new coaches may try to make it that and it may become that, but these are not Arkansas players now playing for Ole Miss. They probably have some hatred for Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State, but this was never about them.

Jonathan Luigs told me last spring that rivalries are mainly for fans. Players don't feel them like fans. Players just love getting to play. They like going against the best and getting to test their ability, courage and manhood.

I can't tell you who is going to win Saturday night. It probably will have to do with who can run the ball in the first three quarters and who can rush the passer in the fourth. I can tell you that Arkansas fans will boo Houston Nutt at the outset and Arkansas players will hug them at the end.

I don't expect any warm fuzzies, just another hard-fought game.

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