Merry Christmas, Rebels!

One by one, the different athletic programs at Ole Miss have been strengthened. The hiring of Houston Nutt to run the football program should be the final piece to the coaching puzzle for some time. That makes for a very Merry Christmas!

Since the Cotton Bowl of 2003, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, Ole Miss football has been a four-year downer.

We've been hoping and wishing and praying for good things, but when push came to shove, it was all false optimism that accompanies every preseason and even that quickly dissipated into the tired refrain of wait-til-next-year and signing day bravado which has yet to materialize into wins.

Until Andy Kennedy took over the hoops program a year and a half ago, we were left with one leg of the major sports tripod still standing - baseball. Thank goodness for Mike Bianco and company or being an Ole Miss fan would have been a fairly miserable experience, with all due respect to the "other" sports.

AK infused us with a needed shot of winning in his first year and has the Rebels undefeated through 11 games in his second year, including a recent win over nationally ranked Clemson and a Top 25 ranking.

With baseball and basketball riding a wave to expected glory, the only problem area was football. Unfortunately, that's the bell cow of the athletic program and when it goes sour it leaves a deeper depression.

There was only one thing left to do - bite the bullet and pay the piper. Get someone in here who has won on this level and in this conference. Make a statement hire, someone with credibility, someone who would garner us national attention and make others take notice.

Enter AD Pete Boone and his hiring of new Coach Houston Nutt, who will make an average of roughly $2 million a year (not counting incentives and perks) over the next 7 years.

That, Rebel fans, is the commitment needed. That, Rebel fans, was the only way to go and the only chance we had to right a ship that had taken a charge to the bow and had spent its powder.

The administration did the right thing and bailed on that crippled vessel before it had sunk completely, which was the likely next step.

Houston brings a much needed enthusiastic approach to his new post. He was able to convince most of his Arkansas staff to come with him and then had what I consider a stroke of genius when he hired Mississippi hero Tyrone Nix away from Steve Spurrier at USC to run the Rebel defense.

While color is not an issue with Nutt, and it was not a factor in his assembling his staff, we think it would be ignoring the facts not to note nearly half his staff is black. In a state where 20 of 24 All-State players are African-American, and that's the case most years, having several black coaches has to be advantageous. (I realize none of that paragraph is politically correct, but it is fact.)

Nutt's staff is also experienced in the SEC. Most of his staff have spent several years in the toughest arena in the country and they have had good success. There is no substitute for experience.

Bottom line? Houston is comfortable and excited about this opportunity and it seems most Rebel fans feel the same way.

I also believe with a more positive, fun approach to the game our returning players are going to blossom more fully.

The tension factor in the IPF has already gone down several clicks. A more relaxed atmosphere will produce a more relaxed athlete. A more relaxed athlete will produce better results.

The returning players I have talked to are already pumped about the offseason and spring training. There is no dread in their voices. They are like kids waiting on Christmas again rather than soldiers awaiting boot camp.

Football, it says here, doesn't have to be as hard as it's been here the last few years. You can be intense and hard-nosed and work hard and play hard while still having fun. Nutt's teams at Arkansas were like that. His teams here will be like that too. I always marveled at how hard his Razorback teams played and how they always seemed to get better as each season progressed. I expect the same here.

It will be great to see players and assistant coaches smile again. It's been a long time. . .

So now, as we rapidly approach 2008, my adrenaline is pumping like it hasn't in several years.

Kennedy's team is ballin'. Bianco's team will be hard to deal with again. And Houston will start on his journey of turning the football program around.

I can't think of a better Christmas present.

The staff at The Ole Miss Spirit wishes you the best this holiday season. We hope you and yours are healthy and happy.

On this end, we have a renewed enthusiasm concerning Rebel athletics and Christmas will be the starting point of a bright future for Rebel athletics.

Merry Christmas!

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