Strangest of Days

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, as he has done countless times over the last four years, stood in front of a podium in the team meeting room of the indoor practice facility Monday afternoon.


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From the look of him, his body language, he probably would have preferred to be talking about anything else. Anything besides his job security.

"I hate we have to have a press conference like this. Nobody hates it more than I do, I can assure you of that," Nutt said.

His team is off to a 1-2 start, including a humiliating loss to Vanderbilt Saturday in Nashville. The last two days have been anything but ordinary. Nutt and athletics director Pete Boone met Sunday morning to talk shop. You know, where the program is headed, how Nutt and staff can turn the 2011 season around. Because, with where this program stands today, things could get much, much worse before they get any better.

A group of fans identifying themselves as "Forward Rebels" purchased full-page advertisements in major newspapers across Mississippi and in Memphis prior to the 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt. Those advertisements went public Monday, each of them with a similar message and tone. The gist? "The Ole Miss administration is the problem."

Shots fired at Boone, obviously.


Houston Nutt
Chuck Rounsaville

This Monday was far from normal, from routine. Boone preceded Nutt at the podium. He rambled on for 10 minutes or so. If in search of actual news, there was little to none, other than subtle statements left to interpretation.

Like, say, Boone's quote that no person is guaranteed tomorrow. A not-so-subtle challenge to Nutt, I say. The possibility exists (and the possibility would only grow should the losses mount up) that Nutt won't survive a full season if losses similar to the one at Vanderbilt happen again, regardless of his $6 million or so buyout.

If Nutt ever needed to win a game, Saturday against Georgia is it. And he'd do better to follow a win over Georgia with a win at Fresno State.

"God doesn't guarantee us tomorrow," Boone said. "He guarantees us today. We got to make do with the best we can with what we have today, and that's really about all I'm focused on, is what can we do today to help be successful at Ole Miss. I'm just not going to try and focus too much on the future. I think we take it a day at a time, and we get better a day at a time."

Back to the fluid situation surrounding Nutt in a minute. First, it should be noted, Boone is not safe from any of the rampant scrutiny of the last few days. If Nutt is being dragged through the coals by fans, Boone has already been buried under them; that is, if message boards and Twitter and blogs are any indication. Monday came across as an opportunity for Boone to save face, at least to me. His words read as much and those words rung hollow.

"My job is obviously to give these coaches what they need to be successful, and I need to make sure I do that," he said, but he followed a few minutes later with the far more telling, one-day-at-a-time quote.

An athletics director doesn't hold a press conference or send out an email to supporters (which Boone did late Sunday, early Monday) if he isn't trying to salvage some goodwill. And Boone certainly didn't lend his full support to Nutt Monday, as he could have. He played both sides; a big no-no for an athletics director.

Remember, folks, Ole Miss is three games into its season. THREE. Yet, here Ole Miss is, staring another disastrous season in the face, and watching as its head coach answers questions regarding his job security in late September.


Pete Boone
Associated Press

Even worse, the athletics director appears to be more interested in positioning himself to keep his job should a coaching change actually happen than actually coming to the defense of his head coach, not wavering, whether viewed right or wrong.

However, one thing is clear: No matter what Boone says, if Ole Miss doesn't turn around its fortunes and win, fans, alums and boosters will call for anyone but him to pick Nutt's successor, should he be relieved of his coaching duties.

From today onward, Nutt faces a win-or-else proposition. But so does Boone. Again, feel free to disagree; that is certainly your right. But after a Monday filled with even more questions than answers, it is hard for me to view the current state of things as anything but.

Ole Miss has lost nine of its last 10 Southeastern Conference games, running Nutt's conference record as head coach to 10-15. He is 1-3 against Vanderbilt, and in two years, the Rebels have lost to Jacksonville State once, Vanderbilt twice and in-state rival Mississippi State in back-to-back seasons.

Tied to Nutt, and arguably more responsible, is Boone, who hand-picked Nutt after firing Ed Orgeron and David Cutcliffe.

"Winning is the cure-all," Nutt said. "It's the antidote we all need."

The most honest statement made Monday.


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