Paying The Price

Seven weeks of getting after it. That's what the football offseason session was and it was designed to change more than physical attributes. Read about it inside.

After a dismal season in 2010, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt sent a stern message to his returning troops on the Rebel football team.

It was time to fish or cut bait.

"I will be the first to admit I got shook last year when Bennie Abram passed away in an offseason workout. I let my guard down," said Nutt, reliving that tragedy. "I think any caring person would. That's not an excuse, it's just what happened. As I reflect on the season, it wasn't just that, there were a lot of factors, but that sad incident started the ball rolling in the wrong direction, in my opinion.

"Having said that, when the season was over, it was time to do some soul-searching and the end result was to go back to doing things the way we used to. By that I mean we had to tighten things up."

Nutt said last season's misfortunes lead to some soul-searching in the offseason
Associated Press
Tightening up meant several things. Straightening out some discipline issues from last year, getting the academics in order and, as it pertains to this piece, putting the hammer down in offseason workouts.

"The first team meeting after the season, I told the guys who would be returning that we were turning the page. The Cotton Bowls and the losing season were long gone," Nutt continued. "We were starting a new chapter in Ole Miss football.

"One, we were going to be accountable – all of us in all matters. Two, we were going to find out the commitment level these kids have to football. How much does football mean to you? If it isn't high on your priority list, then maybe you need to find something else to do. We instituted a buddy system where two guys were paired off and accountable for each other."

With the guidelines set by the head man, there was only one thing to do. Get with the program or get out of the program. The first test was the offseason program, led by Strength & Conditioning Coach Don Decker and his staff.

"It had to start with them setting the tone in the offseason workouts. I let them know what was coming in the offseason, but the strength staff had to carry it out," said Nutt. "Coach Decker and his staff did a great job. The results of physical improvement were very good, but it was more than that. It was about attitude and commitment."

Decker instituted something he never had before in the offseason – everyone was required to work out five days a week for six weeks and the seventh week was for testing.

"After the season, Coach Nutt and I sat down and outlined what we wanted to accomplish in the offseason," said Decker. "It goes without saying the physical needs – speed, strength, quickness, flexibility – would be addressed, but we both wanted to see something more this offseason.

"We want our team to be tougher. We want to challenge their commitment level. We want to find out who is in all the way."

Nutt said every player, coach, staffer are being held accountable
Associated Press
An offseason is traditionally grueling. This one, even more with only weekends off, but as Nutt and Decker said, it was about more than getting better physically.

"We challenged them to the max and they responded. We didn't have a single day where I had to say ‘this isn't what we want.' Usually at the three-week mark, they are really tired from the grind and that can bring about an attitude of let's-get-this-over-with some days," Decker commented. "We had to go to the team leaders a couple of times during workouts, but for the most part every kid came in there every day with the intention of getting better. We didn't have a single day that was a wash. Sure, there were parts of days when we had to come down on them and get them going, but they always responded and ended the day the way they needed to.

"My staff did a tremendous job with motivation. We put up a Personal Record board that listed the top five performers from the day before in the various workout categories and the guys were pumped to be on it and strived to be on it."

We will delve into more particulars of the offseason results before spring training starts March 28th, but Decker felt comfortable giving a general statement about the results now.

"We took a successful step in the offseason program," he noted. "The testing was very good. Last year we had nine guys make our Iron Rebel poster. Through the years, the teams I have worked with have averaged 18 making it. This offseason, we had 22 players make our poster.

"On top of that, they showed a commitment and attitude that Coach Nutt and all of us were looking for and that was just as rewarding as the physical results."

As Nutt and company rocket toward spring training, he's extremely confident his team is prepared for that next step, the next grind.

"It was time to roll up our sleeves and we all did. I am very proud of the way the players responded," Nutt closed. "We didn't hold anything back, we demanded they pay a price and they busted their tails to get it done. We are going to be mentally tougher, we're going to be physically better and we are going to have a committed attitude."

Coming Up: Nutt looks at each position as spring training approaches.

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