Nutt, Boone Share Thoughts

Ole Miss Football Coach Houston Nutt and Rebel Athletics Director Pete Boone sat down for a conversation with The Ole Miss Spirit for a candid Q & A.

The following is the transcript of a candid conversation between Ole Miss Football Coach Houston Nutt, Rebel Athletic Director Pete Boone and The Spirit.

Spirit: Coach Nutt, you made some staff changes after last season and added Secondary Coach Keith Burns, Offensive Coordinator David Lee and Wide Receivers Coach Gunter Brewer. Talk about what they bring to your staff.

Nutt: Gunter is a full-blooded Rebel. I am very glad he is here. He's a tremendous recruiter and has coached Justin Blackmon, Dez Bryant and Randy Moss. He brings a lot to the table for our receivers and our passing game. I'm really excited about having Keith working with the secondary and on that defensive staff. He has been with us before at Arkansas and he will bring a lot of passion and energy to the back end of our defense. I think he and Tyrone (Nix), Terry (Price) and Chris (Vaughn) will work together really well. David is a tremendous quarterback coach - just ask Chad Pennington or Tony Romo who has helped their careers the most and they will say David Lee. They are tremendous additions to our staff and that's where I am appreciative of Pete allowing the resources to bring them in. After a difficult year, to be able to bring in quality, knowledgeable guys was critical and I'm glad they are here.

Spirit: A lot of outsiders believe this could be your strongest staff ever. Your thoughts?

Nutt: I think so. But to be honest, you never know for sure until Saturdays roll around. (smiles) I know they handle young men well, they are great teachers and they coach the way I like to see coaches coach.

Spirit: Pete, you had to come off the hip to get these guys.

Boone: December is a difficult time for coaches. They are going in a lot of different directions and some tough decisions had to be made. When Houston made the decision to make some changes, I was going to do everything I could to support it. It was going to be additional money, but we were going to support Houston's assessment of the year and his plan for the future. I wanted him to be comfortable going forward. It was really not a money issue at that point. It's a matter of supporting your coach to help the team get better. I was glad we were able to get who we did because Houston was passionate about who he wanted and why.

Houston Nutt
Joey Brent
Spirit: Houston, you had a successful recruiting year despite an off year. How big a part do the Ole Miss football facilities play in helping you and your staff recruit?

Nutt: The first building recruits enter is the Indoor Practice Facility. That's an eye-opener and very impressive. The thing about our league is that we compete against the best of the best - everyone's facilities are at a high level. Facilities are an ongoing process and we are about to add some more things that will be very beneficial to our cause.

That's where we have to have our fans jump on board and help us get those things done. The IPF, the FedEx Academic Center, the beauty of the campus - all those things give us a chance, but you have to constantly keep upgrading.

Spirit: Pete, the UMAA is about to make a big announcement about a capital campaign, including a basketball arena and north end zone expansion, among other things. Are enhancements to the IPF, like a new team meeting room you have committed to, part of that campaign?

Boone: Some things are separate from the capital campaign, but they are scheduled to be done. Houston is right. There isn't one issue you face in this league that isn't competitive and tough. While we have done pretty good, I think, in getting our facilities upgraded, so has everyone else, so we have to be very mindful that we don't sit back and pat ourselves on the back. We have to constantly look at the future and make plans to keep going with better facilities. Like the team meeting room - it will not only be more functional, but it gives you more dazzle for recruits. We have to keep building and we have to keep enhancing what we have. While facilities are a big part of it, I also keep up with what prospects say when they come to campus and invariably they all talk about the family atmosphere Houston has here. It's all arm-in-arm. All the pieces of the puzzle have to fit and I think we have a great thing going, we just have to keep it moving forward with building and enhancements. We want our student-athletes to be taken care of, for sure, but we also want them to feel special. We also have to be mindful of doing our best to take care of the coaches' needs so they feel good about their working environment, and that's not just in football. It's all sports. The capital campaign we will announce in the next few weeks is another part of our mission: to provide our athletes the best opportunity to win, the best opportunity for them to get a degree and to provide our coaches the best opportunity to present our program to be successful.

Spirit: Football is the engine of the athletics car. Do you struggle at times trying to decide where the money goes in terms of fueling football more while other programs may have to do without or do you try to keep things even-handed?

Boone: There is no way it's even-handed and it can't be, but there is a difference in the needs of some of the other sports and the needs of football. There is a significant difference in the costs of different things for different programs. At times, I have had to turn down some things for other sports that were not huge amounts of money because I didn't feel like they were necessary to move that program forward. It happens. What we try to do is work with our head coaches on things that will really make a difference in winning championships, and we are going to do everything possible to get those done.

Spirit: Pete, from an AD's perspective, what has changed the most in regards to your job since you have been doing it?

Boone: There is no question the media and the emotion of fans have been the biggest things. By media, I mean anyone from a guy with a camera phone and a twitter account blogging about things to the beat writer. Bloggers, talk shows, all of it, have heightened the sensitivity of things to the point where things can go off track that have nothing to do with what's really happening. Also, the money has gotten so big, it's gotten to where you can't make a mistake and when you do it is magnified a hundred times. For example, 15 years ago, if a coach came in and won back-to-back Cotton Bowls and then had a down year, people would just shrug it off and realize things just happen sometimes. Now, everybody wants an answer or a reason why or quick change.

Spirit: Same question for you, coach.

Nutt: I agree with Pete from his end of things, but from mine, coaches also have more to deal with in terms of players and social media outlets. You never know what an 18-year old might tweet. We have to educate them that they are now representing not only themselves but all of the Ole Miss family as well. Those things are so much different. There are also more media outlets and a lot of them are looking for the sensational to draw listeners or readers or participants. The world of recruiting is so much different now as well. It moves so much faster. It's microwaved now. Everyone has to be on their toes every single day and doing the right things, which is good in some respect, but the scrutiny is much more intense. The bottom line is that I am paid well to win and if I don't, look at the coaches who have been let go recently. It happens frequently. What we try to do is to look at why we got into this business and never lose focus of that. One, we love it. Two, we want to win. Three, we want to help young people be productive adults. We hang our hats on those things.

Spirit: You were on SportsNation a couple of days ago. The hosts bring you out and the first thing they say is "hot seat" after a bad year that you somewhat anticipated. Is that surprising to you?

Nutt: Nobody feels worse than I do about last year. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself. It wasn't good enough. You have to win and we didn't. That's the environment we work in.

Boone: To me, the hot seat talk is really a distraction, whether it's directed to me or to Houston. It takes our focus on what we really need to be honing in on - getting better and winning. That kind of talk is a lot of clutter. What will get us back is hard work, fundamentals, making sure we cover all our bases and having a plan, not having to discuss about someone being on the hot seat.

Spirit: Pete, we have never heard you use the term hot seat. . .

Boone: It makes no sense. I try to think things through logically and I can find no sense in it. It's almost absurd. I think it's all about the media trying to create a buzz, create something that gives them an edge on everyone else in the media. After they have asked that question, they have moved on to something else. They couldn't care less about the residual of the question. Houston and I have been around a long time and we both have to develop a thick skin, you have to review what you are doing to make sure you are sound in your plans and you have to keep marching forward. There is no time for anything else.

Spirit: What are some of the complexities of being an AD that the average layman may not grasp?

Pete Boone
Joey Brent
Boone: We have nearly 200 employees in the athletics department. We spend $100,000 a game in football just for security, for instance. There is a lot of work that goes on just to make an event happen. We are constantly working on marketing, selling tickets, looking for revenue sources, negotiating contracts to maximize revenue, and so on. Then, we wake up every month to another electricity bill that is $300,000 or more. There are a lot of issues that make this juggernaut work and we have to attend to every minute detail and make sure everything goes according to plan.

That is why it is so frustrating when you get to a football game and the PA system doesn't work, no matter how many times you have tested it and how much money you have spent on it. All the fans know is that it didn't work and there is no excuse for it. The simplest of things can go wrong and ruin a day and there is just a maddening amount of detail involved to get it right. At the same time, it's fun and exciting and it's about making our university the best it can be. I can tell you this: I would not do this anywhere else. I do it because I love Ole Miss.

Spirit: What about the complexities of coaching, Houston?

Nutt: What most people see is us touching Chucky's head and running out on the field, but to get to that point, they don't see us at a kid's house at 3 a.m. because they have a problem. They don't see us consoling a youngster when a family member has been shot or a grandmother is ill or whatever their issue may be. It's can-until-can't to make sure over 100 kids take care of their academics, have good habits in life and then take care of their football obligations, which are immense. It's not just pushing kids hard, it's being a surrogate father to kids. Kids are more individual now, with more individual needs and issues. That where we have to work to turn "me" into "we." It's not as natural for that to happen as it once was. When you do get those high character kids, you have to latch on to them and try to show the rest what happens when you do the right things - the rewards that brings.

Spirit: What would you say to fans in order to create more unity in the fan base?

Boone: It's a passionate subject. Thank goodness they are passionate and emotional. We want that. That makes a difference. We have had several hot button issues that have been tough in the last decade or so with the flag, mascots, songs and such, but we have to be unified and have a unified front to the outside world, so to speak. I ask for trust for the head coach, the administration, the chancellor and so on. We are all working hard to be successful, but we will not be perfect. We will make a bad call every now and then. Then, when it gets magnified, it can cause a lack of unity. What we on the inside try to do is stay focused on the task at hand and encourage our supporters to do the same. I understand the passion and appreciate it, but at the same time, we have to let the emotions get out of the way to stay on track and be successful.

Spirit: Coach, what is your message to fans?

Nutt: To be there. We need the students, we need the alums, we need every fan. It was disappointing to me we did not sell out the Jacksonville State game in our season opener last year after what we had done the previous year, but we played the same way - like we were not there. We did not play with passion and energy. I let the fans down, but I need them too. We need our stadium to be a difficult place to play. My message for unity is to be there.

Spirit: Last question for both of you. Is there any reason Ole Miss can't win championships?

Boone: We are in a unique position in my opinion. We have a great town, we have a great university - I think one of the best in the nation. I think it's just a matter of time and patience. We have some great coaches. We have good facilities. I am not going to say great facilities because it's always evolving. One year, you have great facilities and the next you are third down the list, but we are going to get to great in facilities with our upcoming campaign. Our fans have passion. But I think we have lost a little bit of our swagger,but we have to keep believing, really believing. When we are all on the same page and all doing positive things for the betterment of Ole Miss, we can compete and we can win championships. I can tell you this, it's absurd when someone says we are satisfied with mediocrity. I definitely am not and neither is Houston. We want, and strive for, championships, and we will get them. I am really confident about that and I think we will turn things around this year.

Nutt: I have this dream and belief we can and will go to Atlanta. It's hard and things have to go your way - like minimal injuries and good bounces of the ball - but we can do it and I believe we will do it.

Spirit: Thanks, guys. Good luck this year.

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