For Ole Miss offensive line coach Mike Markuson, the ambiguous terrain of coaching relocation that had eluded him for so long fell right in his lap following this past regular season. Houston Nutt moved from Fayetteville to Oxford, but the soon-to-be Rebel assistants were ordered to remain in the Natural State on a lame duck basis. The uncomfortable situation allowed Markuson to realize his luck.
The headman in the offensive trenches has joined Nutt in his coaching endeavors for 15 consecutive years and four schools. The two have roamed the same practice fields and sidelines at all times since 1993. All that is except for the past month or so when Nutt was in red and blue, and Markuson prepared for the Cotton Bowl under interim coach Reggie Herring and amid a media frenzy caused by new Hog coach Bobby Petrino.
"There was a month there for things to be said about us coming here," Markuson said. "It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. That time between the LSU game and the bowl game. It turned into a dad-gum circus. We felt we owed it to our players. But having the players know we were coming to Ole Miss, it was strange, and we played like it in the bowl game. I was really embarrassed for the Arkansas program.
"It looked like an interim staff with interim kids, and you can't be a part time guy anywhere. And then not having Houston there to finish. The Lloyd Carr situation was different because he was retiring. Reggie Herring did the best he could, but not having Houston there. It was odd. You want to go the bowl, but I would be hard-pressed to ever do it again. I would rather go recruit for the next school and be done with it."
An agreement was reached for the Oxford-bound coaches to fly in and recruit for Ole Miss during a certain portion of the bowl practice season that coincided with an important recruiting time. However, a reporter in Little Rock, Ark., questioned the situation and created what Markuson called "a can of worms."
Shortly after, the decision was reversed and only phone calls would be made from the coaches to Rebel recruits. Also, Petrino's staff being involved added a degree of difficulty. Or maybe a lack of comfort is the better term.
"It was fine, but it was strange," Markuson said. "They hired the guy, and his brother was around. There were two coaches on the Arkansas staff that stayed, and here we are going to Ole Miss. There was a little friction, though not verbal or anything like that. I never really spoke to the guy. I said hi, shook his hand. That was about it. I saw him in restaurants. I didn't really care to talk to him because I was thinking about Houston. It was weird."
Thinking about Houston is what appears to set this staff apart. Nutt cultivates caring relationships with the coaches and gets the same back in return. The family-like process allows a long-term coaching position to take place.
"I went with him to Murray State, and I haven't left him since," Markuson said. "It is unique to stay with someone as long as I have him, but it is about relationships. It is about people, and I think kids see that. The players see that. When they see your families walking around the complex.
"My linemen will get to know my children, get to know my wife. Players pick up on how real relationships are. When they see how they are treated and how we let the kids hang around, it makes for special things. That is the type of relationship Houston and myself have."
Markuson has had other opportunities in the coaching profession, but he says he feels blessed to move from one SEC school to another, and that there is no reason to go anywhere else. The commitment between he and Nutt is deep, but it is also because of his family. Markuson has no desire to move into a possible volatile situation when the one he is in works.
"I have had other opportunities, but when you have something good, you know it's good and he is taking care of you, paying you well and treating you well, what else is there? Some guys feel like they just have to move for the sake of moving. Or they move to be a coordinator or to the NFL. They start moving around, but you have to think about the kids. I am at a critical stage with a 14-year old and a 13-year old. I want them to graduate in this community whether it be Oxford or Lafayette. I hope I'm here that long.
"I have seen with families and kids, it is crazy when you move them every two years. There isn't a need for it if you are settled in a place and feel like you can get it done. As long as you have a chance to win, like we will here, what is there? All the jobs are the same. There might be bigger ponds or different school names, but we are all in the same boat. It is the same stress and same problems. If you are happy with a place and like who you work with, that is awesome. That is what I have with Houston."
The "family and together" attitude between Nutt and his staff transfers to the heat of battle as well. Markuson is quick to praise his boss for being open to ideas during games and allowing input from all coaches.
"He isn't one of those guys that doesn't want to hear you," Markuson said.
And Markuson will feed Nutt his ideas for the 16th straight season come September. Just as he has for every game since 1993.
Except of course for that one-game hiatus.
The game where Markuson again noticed how lucky he really is.
Deep bond connects Markuson and Nutt
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