New day, new era - getting it right this time

Houston Nutt's arrival means more than just a new football coach is on board. It means Ole Miss stepped out of its comfort zone and stepped into a big-time opportunity again.

It all did happen fast, too. Faster than any hire of this magnitude I can remember.

Houston Nutt talked about winning games late in the season.

"They remembah in Novembah," he said, mimicking Frank Broyles' southern twang about winning games late.

Most coaching searches drag into Decembah. Not this one. There were three days left before the calendar flipped.

Houston Nutt's always been about the sales pitch. The emotion. The intensity of it all. Excellent on his feet, before a crowd, in the public eye.

Wednesday we saw all that, but we saw much more. We saw substance. We saw purpose. We heard about loyalty and making a difference in the lives of young people.

But this hire will make a difference in the lives of all ages, especially those who support and love the red and blue.

There's a concern among a very few that Nutt's too Arkansas red, that his heart won't let him totally commit to Ole Miss. A few, that is.

Hogwash. Bunch of sooie pooie. This is a football coach. Football coaches want to win. They have things to prove. Nutt coaching against Arkansas? He may want to win that one most of all.

Here's one thing that isn't mentioned much. Nutt isn't even an Arkansas grad. He got his degree from Oklahoma State after he transferred from Arkansas to OSU. Played for the Razorbacks for two years; then for the Cowboys for two years.

Home may be home, but now home is in Oxford. In Mississippi.

I like that this hire brings a renewed focus to the Ole Miss-Arkansas rivalry. It was once a headliner, mostly before the Rebels and Razorbacks hooked up as SEC partners in 1992. Arkansas has played Ole Miss in football more than any other SEC school through the years.

Broyles, when he coached the Hogs, quit playing Ole Miss after Vaught went up six wins to none (counting two Sugar Bowls). Too tough, he said then of the Rebels. Roughed the Razorbacks up too much for their games in the old Southwest Conference.

Now one of Broyles' own comes over to toughen up the Rebels again and try to get ‘em to Atlanta for the title game.

The first person I saw at the press conference was John Fourcade. My thoughts went back to the renewal of the Ole Miss-Arkansas series in 1981. The scene was Jackson. The game was a headlining non-conference affair, and to this day still ranks as the top crowd to see an Ole Miss game in Mississippi. More than 63,000. Fourcade was the Rebs' QB that memorable night. Steve Sloan coached the Rebels. Lou Holtz led the Hogs.

The Rebels lost the contest but the series, dormant for 20 years save the two Sugar Bowls, was renewed. Ole Miss and Arkansas have played every year since.

The press conference/pep rally to announce Sloan's hiring beat any I'd seen here – until Wednesday. When all those media from Mississippi and Arkansas and Jackson and Memphis got together behind the curtain to re-interview Nutt, there must have been 50 or 60 back there – TV cameras, photographers, journalists.

This thing's a huge Mid-South story. But it's national news, too. You know that. Been on every national talk show and internet site out there.

One reporter pointed out to me that this situation for a generation or two of Rebel and Razorback fans would have carried as much weight as if this had happened between Arkansas and Texas. The Ole Miss-Arkansas series and the Arkansas-Texas series once stood side by side as far as regional and even national interest and importance.

Arkansas-LSU? Forget the Boot. That was a forced rivalry. Arkansas had a real rival, a natural rival, all along – Ole Miss.

Arkansas fans know it, too. As one post on the Hogs' message board I saw today said, "One thing's for sure. We now have our rivalry."

But the task to win again at Ole Miss has only begun. Listen closely to Nutt. It's what I hear from Kennedy and Bianco. Listen real closely and absorb it.

"We're in the toughest conference in America," Nutt said. "It will take an unbelievable commitment by everyone."

As Kennedy puts it – "This is a big boy league."

They're right. It's tough. You have to have all the right pieces in place for it to work – in football or basketball or baseball or – name a sport.

It's more than the head coach. It's from the top of the administration down to the fan who buys the least expensive end zone season ticket.

And nothing is more important from the administration on down to those same fans than to fully support the coaches and, of course, the players as they try to win for Ole Miss.

Everybody's important, and nobody had better forget it. Or this won't work either.

If it is indeed a new day, which it is, then let's make it a new era, which it has to be. And that means everything Ole Miss does in athletics, from the teams that are fielded to all that surrounds every gameday experience in whatever sport, to be the best it can be, something that everybody can be proud of.

Wednesday was a "new" start. And yet another chance to get it right.

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