"Chuck, is the hiring of Houston Nutt a home run for Ole Miss football?"
That question, among many others, has been asked a thousand times since the name Houston Nutt came on the Ole Miss radar as a possible choice for the new head football job.
The answer: That's hard to say, but at the very least, it's a gapper with UM rounding second and headed to third.
Home runs are measured after they are hit, not at the crack of the bat. We have just taken the first swing with Houston.
But his record and some digging I have done in the last two days have made me comfortable in saying he's, at the minimum, an extra base hit in the whole scheme of things. And doubles and triples in this day and time are hard to come by.
In the Scout network, we are blessed to have many publishers who have followed particular schools for many, many years. Just like I have covered Ole Miss athletics for 26 years, Clay Henry has been a fixture at Arkansas for 16 years.
What better way to find out about someone than going to a wealth of info on Houston like Henry?
"First thing I will say, without hesitation, is that Houston is a good man, a family man. His kids are always around and his wife (Dianna) is special, a beautiful lady," Henry, the son of famous Arkansas sports scribe the late Orville Henry, noted. "Second, he has a lot of charisma and energy. The fans at Ole Miss will love him and take to him.
"Third, his players think he hung the moon. They will do anything for him because they know he will do anything for them. There is quite a bond between Houston and his players, an unusual one. He's good to people - his family, his staff, his players and the fans."
Thanks, Clay, but can he coach? That has to be on the importance meter.
"He's an excellent recruiter and will take Ole Miss recruiting into East Texas (Dallas area), which has been a strength of his since his Oklahoma State days," Henry noted. "He's an excellent X and O guy who has a great feel for how things are going during games. Houston lets his coaches coach in practice and in games. His most important strength is his passion. That is what comes through in recruiting and in in-home visits, which is one of his strong points.
"His Father's side of the family has a history of deafness in their background. His Dad was head coach and athletic director at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. What he learned at an early age is the importance of communication. He is very, very good at catching someone's eyes and expressing himself. He has a twinkle in his eyes. His ability to communicate came from his Father. He is very clear in his ability to communicate and that makes him a great recruiter and motivator.
"There have been very few times when his teams have not played hard at Arkansas and that's the essence of coaching, to me. He also adapts his style of play to the talent of his personnel. If his players are best running the ball that's what he does like this year with McPhadden, Jones and Hillis. If they are better throwing it, he airs it out like he did with Clint Stoerner."
That's a pretty ringing endorsement from a guy who is known in Arkansas for being a very "objective" sports writer. Henry is not a "homer," his Dad taught him better.
But let's not just take Clay's word as gold. Let's look at this thing from our side of the fence as well.
Houston has beaten us, in his 10 year stint at Arkansas, seven times. No, we haven't been very good some of those years, but who can forget the excruciating 7-OT loss to him in Oxford in 2001 when we were a fairly solid football team and a guy named Manning was under center? If you can't beat 'em, hire 'em sounds like a wise solution to me.
Nutt has gone to eight bowl games in 10 years, including five New Year's Day bowls, something we did once in that same time frame, again with a kid named Manning calling the signals.
Anyone who follows SEC football knows the last team you want to play in November - toward the end of the season - is Houston's Arkansas teams. His teams seem to get better as the year wears on annually.
As Henry said, Nutt's passion is obvious. Some believe he acts, well, nutty on the sidelines. Hard to contain true passion when you are a demonstrative person, which Nutt is. Recall the communicator/motivator note from Clay. (Henry says Nutt's pregame and halftime talks are "legendary," motivationally.)
He also has a knack for winning some, not all but some, "big" games, aka, taking down LSU two weeks ago in Baton Rouge when the Tigers were number one in the nation. That has a "wow" factor if there ever was one.
Nutt's mode of operation will be just what the doctor ordered for a team suffering from bruised and battered self-esteem and a fragile psyche.
He can coddle them and get them going back in the right direction. He can bring fun back to a program devoid of most of that. He can give them some stability after a three-year roller coaster ride of emotions.
That's not a knock on the way things were done previously - each coach has his own methods, but the old way had run its course and frayed eveyone's nerves to the point of no return. Nutt can heal those wounds.
Overall, kudos to Ole Miss Athletic Director for this hire.
He found his man, acted quickly and decisively, and secured a guy who is giving Ole Miss fotoball the first positive publicity it has gotten since the Cotton Bowl of the 2003 season.
It's a sizzle hire, but there's also plenty of steak, something to sink your teeth into and fill your stomach up with.
Nobody knows if the hiring of one Houston Nutt is a home run for Ole Miss.
But the guy swinging the bat has a definite chance to hit it out of the park.
Nutt hire is a winner
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