SEC MEDIA DAYS: Houston Nutt - Arkansas

After two losing seasons, coach Houston Nutt is ready to make a move with his upstart Arkansas Razorbacks. Nutt addressed the media Thursday morning, the third coach of the morning at SEC media Days in Hoover, Ala.

COACH NUTT: Thank you very much. Good to be here today. It's always the time we know we come to Hoover, Alabama, it's about time to play football. Very, very excited about that. Our guys report on the 3rd of August, and it is here. Summer has flown by. We've had most of our guys in Fayetteville, even the freshmen. They were all there by probably July the 4th or a little bit after for the second session. It's time to go.

Offensively and defensively, real briefly, then we'll get to questions, I just want to hit -- we have some good returning starters back this year. That's one thing that makes you feel good, when you have some guys that have been in the wars, been in the battles. The only negative thing with that is you didn't have a very good season last year. But hopefully we've learned and we've grown. We're going to get better because of it.

Offensively you start with the offensive line because they've been there. It's a group that's played in the SEC. I'm excited about hopefully Zach Tubbs can stay on the field this year and stay healthy. But Robert Felton, Jonathan Luigs, Steve Parker, Tony Ugoh. We finally got some depth. We got about 16, 17 guys on scholarship on the offensive line. Real excited about that.

But when you mention offense, you have to say Darren McFadden. He was probably one of seven freshmen in the SEC to ever rush over a thousand yards as a true freshman. That's saying a mouthful when you mention him in the same line as a Herschel Walker, Reggie Cobb. Darren has that type of toughness, has great speed. I love his humbleness, his unselfishness. We had Felix Jones, a first team All-American as a kick returner. I tell you, Darren was responsible for some of the key blocks. That's what I'm real excited about. Then you add in Peyton Hillis, a guy that has been very versatile for us, a punt returner, kick returner, he's a guy that can catch the ball.

Our strengths are our offensive line and those backs. Then receiver, I brought Marcus Monk who is a class, class act, just has tremendous hands. He's been doubled a lot. We need one more receiver to step up for us. We're constantly striving to create that balance. We've led the league in rushing last three out of four years. Now we need that balance. Hopefully this year we'll have that.

Defensively we got so much better the last second half of the season last year. Sam Olajubutu who has been the heart and soul of our defense. I love his leadership. He's taken ownership of our team. He's here today. When you see him, you'll say in your mind, He's not big enough. You got to look through the height, you got to look to the heart. He has a big, big heart. I love his work ethic, his attitude. It's contagious. Marcus Harrison, Keith Jackson, Jamaal Anderson, Anthony Brown, our defensive line. All those guys played last year. We moved Desmond Sims to linebacker, along with Sam Olajubutu. You have a Desmond Sims a Freddie Fairchild, who is up to 220 now. Played at 200 last year as a freshman. You got guys a little bit older and hopefully are going to be a little bit better.

Secondary-wise, Chris Houston, Darius Vinnett is back this year. Hopefully he can stay healthy. He had surgery on the kneecap there and hopefully it's full speed. He's ready to go. Johnny Johnson, Matterral Richardson. You have a little bit of experience there. But, again, like we tell our guys every single day, Listen, there's a good feeling, there's an excitement, there's a hype, but the bottom line is you got to do it in between the white lines. That's where we're at.

I'll stop there and take some questions.

Q. You lost a lot of close games last couple years. Can you talk about that, the frustration? Why do you think that was? How do you think you'll be able to win those close games this year with experience?

COACH NUTT: It's always tough when you lose. When you lose a close one, where you felt like we got the game won, boy, it's hard to swallow sometimes.

But one thing I love about our team, the ability to get back up. As humiliating as the USC game was last year, I was really proud of the way we went to Alabama. Even though we lost that game in a close game, the mindset, it could have been very easily let go of the rope right there. But these guys that I mentioned to you, they did not. They played hard.

To answer your question, hopefully you've learned now how to -- you put yourself in that position to win, especially in the fourth quarter, let's go execute, let's finish. That's one of the things we talked about in the off-season, is finishing.

Q. I'm curious if you have any kind of policy in regard to guns with all the stuff that's been going on lately at other schools? Did you ever think when you got into this profession that you would have to think about having a policy against guns?

COACH NUTT: You know, it is scary to think about, that we talk about guns. But we do have a policy. We don't allow guns. We don't want guns around the dorms or in their cars.

I do have a couple fishermen and hunters. We checked those guys out thoroughly, go through the parents, talk about the safety, all those things.

It is a little bit nerve-wracking sometimes. Knock on wood, I haven't had that much of a problem with it.

Q. You mentioned Zach Tubbs, hoping to keep him healthy this season. How is he looking coming back from last year?

COACH NUTT: I tell you, this time last year, he was 6'8", with 371. To give you an idea, right now he's at 331 pounds. He also had about six screws in his ankle. He's had a tough time last couple years. I always tease him about him not being on the field. We hadn't gone to a Bowl game the last two years, because he hadn't been out there. I tease him a little bit about that.

We had a real good spring. To answer your question, he's very committed. I love his attitude right now. He's been doing a great job with our younger offensive linemen that we have in our program, being a good leader for us. I'm excited about this season for Zach.

Q. How much does hiring Gus Malzahn change your offense this year?

COACH NUTT: Gus and Alex Wood I think are two good hires that bring a lot to the table. I want to start with Alex Wood first. Alex, tremendous experience. He's been an offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings, Arizona Cardinals. He's won a national championship as an assistant coach, University of Miami, with Dennis Ericsson. He brings a lot to the table. I'm excited about him. Gus, everywhere he's been, he's been successful.

What those two guys will bring, tremendous imagination, great detail in the passing game. The one thing that we've been good, we've been good at running the football. Last three out of four years, we've led the SEC in rushing. We're constantly striving for balance. Hopefully those guys will bring balance to our offense.

Q. What are your hopes for Mitch Mustain this season? Will his comfort level be increased because you have his former high school coach on your staff right now?

COACH NUTT: The last part of your question, I didn't hear.

Q. Do you expect his comfort level will increase because you his former high school coach on your staff.

COACH NUTT: First of all, Robert Johnson has seven games under his belt. I feel good about that. Casey Dick has four games under his belt. He finished strong. You have two quarterbacks that actually played in the SEC. That gives me a comfort level.

Now, we've never had a quarterback like Mitch Mustain that's coming in here from high school with Gatorade All-American, parade All-American, all these accolades. He'll be given a real look. He probably will feel a little more comfortable in the passing game because he's done some of those things from his high school. That's going to be a natural carry-over. Again, jumping from Friday night to Saturday night, it's an awful big step in this league, in the SEC. That's going to be real interesting to see how all that plays out.

Q. Because y'all have been so good at the running game, I wanted to ask you, why nationally does it seem like there are fewer bell cow backs, more -- 25 or carry game backs. Seems like there's fewer of them, and more coach have gone to tandem deals?

COACH NUTT: You know, if you look at a lot of the offenses nowadays, seems like a little bit more wide open. Of course, you know, the fans love the long, deep ball. Even if it's incomplete, they love it.

I think you're seeing a lot of -- a little bit more of the wide-open, the back that can catch the ball, different formations, the multiple formations. It's kind of spreading the field a little bit more.

But I think if you look closely, I still feel like that recipe is run the football, stop the run, that's the way I was raised from Coach Broyles to Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson. You still want to throw the ball because these teams are so good. You want to be able to have that ability to keep people off balance.

I love the way we were in '98 with Clinton Sterner, Anthony Lucas. Even with Matt   Jones, when we ran the ball a lot, there was still that threat of, watch out, we may throw it to Decori Birmingham, somebody like that. So you want that balance.

I don't know if I'm answering your question. I think the real reason, you see in so many more teams that are going to the spread or a little bit more option oriented as far as passing routes, different combinations along those lines.

Q. A lot of people are regarding you guys as a dark horse in the SEC, a dangerous team. How do you want your players to feel about themselves in those terms of being maybe on the rise?

COACH NUTT: Well, our players feel that right now. We had a tough year last year. It's a terrible feeling. The only thing is I look in their eyes. I look at their work ethic. I look at their attitude. I look at their sacrifice. I look at the chemistry. It starts in January when you have that long, terrible break from December through January 14th. We come back to school on the 14th. All it is is just work.

These guys are ready. They're hungry. Our fans are hungry. The coaches are hungry times 10. I believe that.

They expect to win. They expect good things to happen. That's the way I want them to feel.

Q. You have a coach that has called plays in the NFL, then a high school coach. I'm curious how those two guys are getting along. Also, how will play-calling be handled?

COACH NUTT: That's a good question.

I tell you where it's all going to start, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, we'll all be in that room together. When I called plays, the thing that we had was we had a good group of coaches in that room. It just doesn't happen on Saturday. There is feel, there is instinct, no question. But the preparation and the study is done Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, through the week. So that's where we'll be.

You'll have a guy like Alex Wood who does have that experience, Mark Markuson, a very good offensive line coach. We'll all be in there together preparing that game plan. I think we'll make it easier. We'll be real helpful for Gus.

And I won't be shy if Gus needs my help or if there's a time in the game where he think, Hey, what do you think here? That's where we won't be shy. Alex Wood won't be shy because we have that experience to help.

As far as getting along, we have -- this has been a very, very smooth transition. Change is always hard for everyone, especially an 18-year-old. But for the coaching staff, this has been a very, very good fit. We've had some great discussions. We've gotten better as a staff. Now you're getting ready to go into it for real.

Q. In the time you've been in the league, what kind of changes in style of play have you noticed? How difficult is it to be an offensive coordinator in this league right now?

COACH NUTT: I'm partial to this league, the SEC. When you mention the words or the letters SEC, the first thing that comes to my mind is tremendous athleticism, very, very fast. Anybody in this league can beat anybody on any given three-hour period on Saturday. I believe that. That's what makes it so tough when you're going to an LSU, you go to a Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Auburn. That's a hard task.

Naturally, an offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator, their work is cut out. It is a tough, tough task every Saturday to be ready to be hitting on all cylinders and being successful. That's how competitive it is. That's how much athleticism there is every Saturday.

It's what I call two chin straps. You better buckle up two chin straps, not one.

Q. Adding Alex and Gus, what is the biggest misconception that people think that your offense is going to be?

COACH NUTT: I think there's two misconceptions. One is that now it's going to be five wide-outs empty and we're going to throw it 60, 65 times a game. I think that's one.

Two, is that there's just some sort of -- there's animosity or there's problems amongst the staff with that. That's the two things that's really come out, if you look real closely, since the time they arrived. Whether it be just from boredom, rumor, whatever, it just seems like sometimes there are stories that take off, which nothing's further from the truth.

Q. The spring was a chance for the coaches and players to kind of get used to the new systems that Gus and Alex have brought in. Do the coaches look at what happened in the spring and kind of tweak the playbook from what you saw in the spring?

COACH NUTT: You know, quite a bit. Quite a bit. We've done a lot of studying, a lot of working. Again, the good thing is the playbook was pretty much intact. What Alex brought to the table, what Gus brought to the table. You try to tweak it, fine tune it, do what your players can do the best. That's the whole thing about spring, that's what is so good about spring, we got a lot out of it, feel like now we have real direction of what we want to do. You learn off that.

Q. Based on what happened in Los Angeles last season, are you approaching the Southern Cal opener as an opportunity for the Arkansas program to make a statement not just to the SEC but the entire nation?

COACH NUTT: Well, we got back at 8 a.m., about 7:47 a.m. Sunday morning. That's a long, long flight home after a humiliating loss. Very embarrassing. So naturally there's not a cupcake game in front of that. There's not a game to get warmed up in front of that. It's all that our players see on that schedule, is USC.

I just know this: I know that our players have prepared. They've worked as hard as they could possibly work through the winter and summer months. It's a great opportunity for us, to be able to have a home game like that. Our fans are excited, our players are excited. That's one of the reasons we had a really good recruiting class, I think, is because of the schedule. We're looking forward to it. There's not much else I can say except they're looking forward to the game.

Q. Can you envision how you think the plays will come about, how they'll be called, the breakdown of how that will take place?

COACH NUTT: As far as envision what?

Q. Who makes the play call. Does it go threw for final say.

COACH NUTT: Again, I'm going to go back, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday preparation is done of the first and 10 calls, third-and-long calls, most of that is done. I'm going to let Gus go. I'm going to turn him loose. I don't think you can mess with a play caller and have veto every play. I think you're going to disrupt, you're going to hurt.

Maybe after a series we'll discuss or maybe it's a timeout and you have discussion between Alex Wood, myself and Gus. But it will go down with Gus calling the plays. Again, I want to go back to the preparation of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. Everything in line, everything in order as we study. There's not going to be that many surprises. That's the thing about playing-calling. I think sometimes it gets a little bit misconstrued. There's work that was done and preparation. You have an idea on third and eight, these are our top three. Third and three, these are our top three plays.

To disrupt a play-caller I think is very damaging, where you hurt his rhythm, hurt his train of thought. We won't be trying to veto each play every time he calls a play, to answer your question.

Q. In general in this league, how hard is it to get it back when you get a little bit behind, like a losing season, to get back in the groove?

COACH NUTT: That's a great question.

When we were going six straight Bowl games, we saw this thing happen, when the penalties were put on our program, our staff wasn't involved with these penalties, we didn't know what hit us, it hit us actually when we was at the 2000 Cotton Bowl, didn't think much about it then. About two years later, I told Coach Broyles, it's going to be very, very difficult because of the vicious recruiting, the competitiveness, people are going to use that.

I knew, and I told Coach Broyles, I knew we weren't bringing in the same horses, the Kenny Hamlins, the Tony Buas, the Brandon Holmes, Decori Birminghams. We weren't bringing in the Batman Carrolls. There was a difference now, level of athlete. I told coach the 2004 -- I'll never mention it publically or to my team, but that was going to be a very tough two seasons. Everything is going good, everything is feeling good about the Cotton Bowl, been to the Citrus Bowl, Independence, been to a lot of Bowls, good Bowls. Boy, it's going to be a tough road.

That is very, very tough when you fall behind, the recruiting the way it is, it's hard to get back over. The one thing that we did, once it was put to bed, finally we got the penalty behind us, we had two real good classes that helped us.

The thing that's tough is, though, as good and as hard as we fought, it's five and 6-1 year, four and seven, when the ball doesn't bounce just right. Now the guys are a little older, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden takes his first year. We're lucky to have recruiters as good as we are. You lose a Darren McFadden, your program is behind. You lose a Felix Jones, we're not having this kind of conversation, where usually we're picked last. We're not picked last or next to last. We feel like we're coming, we're close.

Q. When Spurrier came into the league, he spread everything out. I think one coach referred to it as grass basketball, where the defenses started spreading. Am I wrong or is style of play offensively kind of reverting back to where it used to be, a little more balance, less of flick flinging it everywhere?

COACH NUTT: I think every coach wants balance deep down inside. I really truly believe if a defense knows all you're going to do is hand the ball to McFadden, they're going to make you play left-handed, overpopulate the line of scrimmage. I think every coach wants balance.

You mentioned Coach Spurrier, grass basketball. I think we threw the ball more than Steve Spurrier did when he came to Fayetteville. He actually ran the ball more than he threw it. But that doesn't -- they remember the passes. I think sometimes it's just the perception. Hey, they threw a long post play and they completed it.

To answer your question, I just feel like our philosophy has been, Hey, we want to be able to run the ball and stop the run, then you want to create that balance.

To me, that's the recipe. I don't have the numbers in front of me. I don't know what everybody's doing. I just know the league, the SEC, is what is first and foremost in my mind. We're more of a run league, if you look at it pretty close, a very physical, tough league that loves to run the football, that dabbles in the pass overall.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.

COACH NUTT: Thank you.

Wide Receiver Marcus Monk

(On new offensive coordinator, Gus Malzahn) "There's a lot more emphasis on the passing game. He's a perfectionist so we work on little things during practice."

(On the balance of passing and running this season) "We understand that running works, and we have great backs, but we also need to have balance and that includes the passing game. We receivers are ready for the season to start to just help the team."

(On not playing in a bowl game) "It's not good to sit at home and watch on TV while everyone plays. We're ready to get started and start winning and return to Arkansas' winning tradition."

(On the team's opener, USC) "They're a great team. We need to prepare hard so that we can be ready."

(On the offseason) "I've gotten stronger, I've lost 12 pounds, and I've increased my quickness so that I can be a better player."

(On incoming freshman Mitch Mustain) "He's been on campus for a while taking classes so I've seen a bit of him. We works hard, has a good head on his shoulders."

Linebacker Sam Olajubutu

(On if the team has made any changes) "A couple of small things. We just got to do what we do best and that's play football."

(On Coach Nutt as a motivator) "He just tells us to work hard and everything else will take care of itself. He's a great motivational guy and I listen to every word he says."

(On where he thinks he ranks with other SEC linebackers) "I think I'm up there with the best of them."

(On Reggie Bush) "I think he's the greatest college player of all time. I think he'll do great things in the NFL."

(On his expectations for the team) "I want us to go out there and play hard and not lose a game. If we play hard, everything else will take care of itself."

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