Search Moves On

Now that the Houston Nutt era at Ole Miss is finally over, a new head coach and staff will soon be in place to resurrect the Rebel program.

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How soon? That is one question.

Not soon enough should be the answer. Not with the way things have ended for this regime, with Ole Miss losing to Mississippi State three straight times for the first time since 1939-41 and suffering the first 10-loss season in the program's storied history.

The good news for Ole Miss fans is that there are actually coaches out there who want the job, despite the condition they'll find the program. And yes, millions of dollars in salary have at least something to do with it.

Nutt knows about that.

Reports from sources Saturday are that former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, who has been out of coaching two seasons and is an obvious favorite of some fans, is in the picture. Reports that he was or wasn't have apparently been replaced with "still is."

Leach led the Red Raiders to a bowl game in all 10 seasons he resided in Lubbock, Texas.

Larry Fedora's Southern Mississippi team beat Memphis 44-7 Saturday to finish the regular season 10-2 and now faces Houston for the Conference USA title.

The fourth-year USM head coach, with a bowl game every year at season's end since he's been in Hattiesburg, didn't want to talk about the Ole Miss job or any other jobs following the win against the Tigers. And he was asked, according to sources. His focus, he said, is on the game against the Houston Cougars.

Mark Hudspeth's Louisiana-Lafayette team finished its regular season Saturday with a competitive 45-37 loss at Arizona. He will take the 8-4 Ragin' Cajuns to their first bowl game in 41 years when ULL plays in the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 17.

After Saturday's game, Hudspeth told the Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser that neither he nor his agent had been contacted as of yet by the Rebels to schedule an interview.

"I guess maybe they're gonna call (today)," he said. "But, at this time, I have not talked to anybody. I have not talked to a soul.

"The thing is, I guess, since our regular season's over ... now's the time that they, probably, start contacting people."

Kirby Smart
File Photo

Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze has always been on the list of potential candidates. He will be taking his 9-2 Red Wolves team to the Bowl in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 8, 2012. ASU still has a game remaining next Saturday against Troy.

Freeze, a former Ole Miss assistant coach under Ed Orgeron, appears to have solid support among some Ole Miss faithful.

Auburn offensive assistant Gus Malzahn reportedly deflected any postgame comments about potential head coaching positions after the Iron Bowl Saturday.

Alabama defensive assistant Kirby Smart is clearly thought to be on Ole Miss' list of potential replacements for Nutt, and it's been reported that way for weeks.

Art Briles, Rich Bissacia, Kevin Sumlin, there are potentially others.

Interviews for the Ole Miss position will begin in earnest now, perhaps as soon as Sunday. But things have been underway for weeks, ever since it was apparent Nutt's tenure was ending and certainly since he was fired three weeks ago.

Losing to Mississippi State in the Battle for the Golden Egg three straight times means the next coach has to understand this rivalry. It's hard to fathom that someone leading the program would not.

But Nutt just didn't get it. He did not understand what Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State was all about when he arrived. And that, as much as anything else, doomed him.

When the candidates interview for the Ole Miss job in the days ahead, the first question shouldn't deal with getting to Atlanta or winning championships. It shouldn't be about his family or his philosophy.

Yes, those are important indeed, but they can wait. Until after this one, which should be first.

"Do you understand how important the game against Mississippi State is?"

Some observers will disagree. But there's proof. Check who has and who hasn't succeeded against Mississippi State, and see how long they lasted at Ole Miss.

If there is any doubt that the candidate does not get it, then take a familiar line from the recently fired Rebel head coach.

Just say "next" and move on to another.

It's that important as the search moves on.

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