Commentary -

This week will be a dead period in football with mid-semester JUCO signings starting Wednesday and the men's hoops team heading to Puerto Rico for their stiffest tests of the year. It almost seems like "nothing" is going on. Why? Read about it inside.

There is a feeling of calm and confidence in the athletic department I've never experienced in my 26 years of publishing The Ole Miss Spirit.

There have been good times before, for sure, but there always seemed to be a tempest in a teapot somewhere, some area or sport in some type of turmoil.

There is still some pressure to get the basketball practice facility going ASAP, but even that is being attended to - maybe not as quickly as some would hope, but attended to nonetheless.

You can still feel a sense of urgency in every area - Andy Kennedy to continue to win games right now, Houston Nutt to get his staff together and recruit some good players to help his program, Pete Boone and company to get the ball rolling downhill on the BPF and keeping the baseball stadium expansion on track, etc. - but there is no feeling of desperation or attitude of "we can't get this done."

For whatever reason, a cloud has been lifted. The tension prevalent for so long is now gone. People are smiling again.

I attribute some of that to the hiring of Nutt. There's something about the guy that instills optimism, something besides him just saying he will take us to another level. They all say that, so I'm not falling for that trap.

I don't know how to explain it. It's almost like we've been going to Alaska hunting without a guide only to come home empty-handed and then we get someone who knows the lay of the land and the movement of the elk. You feel like you are going to bag something instead of that previous feeling of hopelessness or false hope.

We don't seem to be wishing for good things, we seem to be anticipating them.

Houston has charisma, which is a plus and a benefit, but that's not why you hire a coach. You hire a coach because you believe he knows what he is doing and has a track record of getting it done. Nutt has those things. That, in itself, is part of the calming factor.

He's been put in a precarious position with the hiring of his staff due to their obligation to finish what they started in Arkansas by coaching the Cotton Bowl. Initially that put me in a little spin, but after talking to Nutt about it several times, he's genuinely not worried about it. Knowing his experience, seeing his calm, if he's not worried why should I be?

I think there is legitimate concern about some of the prospects the old staff was recruiting - whether or not they will stay with Ole Miss and whether or not Houston wants some of them to - and I also understand there are academic issues with current players that will have to be overcome.

But when you watch the guy operate, you feel like he's got a handle on how to attack each situation and that he's convinced everything will work out for the best. It's all about rolling up your sleeves and attacking issues the way you've successfully confronted similar situations before.

Does that mean everything will fall neatly into place and every roadblock will be cleared without any difficulty? No, but it gives you some comfort that it will be approached in the best way to resolve such things.

In just two short weeks, I have already developed an uncanny amount of faith in this man and I had vowed to approach a new coach with much more scrutiny than I have in the past, despite my earned reputation of being a homer.

I've been down this road too many times to give any coach a blanket pass like I have, to my own chagrin, in the past. I promised myself I would approach Houston Nutt with a more discerning eye, and I truly believe I have, but that didn't last very long. His resolve, coupled with his experience and proven record, wins you over very quickly

I've picked up no signs of indecision on his part - the Tyrone Nix deal being the most obvious example. Arky DC Reggie Herring had a chance to come to Ole Miss - Nutt's first option as the Reb DC, but when it became more and more obvious to Houston that Reggie's intentions were to go elsewhere, and Nutt was finally told that by Herring, he had a DC to his liking, and to the liking of most every Rebel fan I have talked to, Nix - within 24 hours, hired and on campus. I can deal with that kind of decisiveness and decision-making, even if he fumbles the ball every once in a while.

But enough on the football situation. As a recent caller on Rebel Yell Hotline said, "Don't pee down your leg about Houston Nutt just yet." That's good advice concerning any new coach coming into a different environment, but all I can say right now is "so far, so good." And he's certainly given me a reason to be more "calm" about Rebel football.

On to basketball. . . . Undefeated. Eight wins, zero losses. Not bad, not bad at all.

But I'm going to be the devil's advocate here a little bit on the men's basketball team.

First, let me qualify. I don't think there is anyone in the country who could have come to Ole Miss less than two years ago and done the job Andy Kennedy and his staff have done. Period, bar none. In my humble opinion, they are rising stars in the college basketball arena, destined to shine brightly.

But personally I think some may be getting a bit too giddy about our team in the right here and right now.

Oh, I think we are currently a good team, and I think we could end up being a very good team before the dust has settled on this group, but I also think we have a lot of work to do before we are knocking on the door of being a great team.

There's a difference in being a fun team to watch and being a great team. We are certainly the former, but not yet the latter.

I think we are solid, but not spectacular, with our experienced frontcourt of Dwayne Curtis, Kenny Williams and Jermey Parnell.

I also think we have shown signs of being spectacular in our young frontcourt, but I'm sure Kennedy wants more consistency because that's what wins in the long haul.

Bottom line? I wouldn't trade our hoops team for many right now because I like their style and like watching them play, but I don't think we are a Top 20 program yet. Knowing AK, that is the goal.

Again, however, I'm not worried about it because I know the program is in good hands and our staff is going to get the most out of them possible. To think less is not paying attention to what has already taken place. Goes back to the comfort and confidence deal in the athletic department.

How confident am I about the whole ball of wax? This is an indication to me, but it may not be to you. I'm taking my family on vacation this week, while the hoops team is fighting for their basketball lives in a tough tournament in Puerto Rico and Nutt is right in the middle of JUCO signing that starts Wednesday and could end up being a very important period for him and the program.

In years past I would not even consider leaving my post at The Spirit with this much going on. It's not like I could do anything about the results one way or the other anyway, but I'd feel guilty leaving now. It's all about feeling confident those deals will be handled the best they possibly can be.

Jeff, Chase and Yancy will have a busy but easy week. There will be no controversy, there will be no panic. We may, or may not, lose a hoops game or two in Puerto Rico. Houston may not sign everyone he wants to. But neither will be the end of the world becuase you know they will overcome any possible obstacles with some other good move or backup plan in the future. That's in their makeup - you can feel it.

Like I said, there's a feeling of clam and comfort around the athletic department these days. One I've never felt before.

And it says here the feeling will just keep growing and growing.

Enjoy it. I know I will.

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