Nutt -

It's going to be a strange deal for Houston Nutt and the coaches he brought with him from Arkansas to Ole Miss, but he's hidden his emotions well, putting the Rebel team above his own feelings. Why? Read about it inside.

When Houston Nutt was first hired at Ole Miss last December, he circled October 25th on his calendar in red ink.

That's the day he and his staff would take his new team - Ole Miss - to Fayetteville to play his old team - Arkansas.

His disdain for "them" was open. He called them "the other school," refusing to call Arkansas by name.

Nutt felt he, his family and even some members of his former staff, had been treated poorly, to say the least, his last couple of years of guiding that ship to 18 total wins.

There were personal attacks and accusations that hurt him to the bone, and incidents - some directed at his family - he will never get over. Many he trusted turned their backs on him and his.

When he got to Ole Miss, the wounds were still fresh, the blood was still flowing. The emotions were still high.

During my first one-on-one, personal talk with Houston, it was easy to detect he had not gotten over the hurt. He said his biggest disappointment was leaving behind the kids he and his staff had recruited and had come to love, but you could also feel there was more to it than that, something far more personal.

I didn't really know what to say to any of that - I had not lived it and didn't know a lot of the details, but I immediately changed the course of the conversation.

"Houston, I understand what you are saying, but I believe you ended up here for a higher reason. Our players need someone like you more than you know right now," I told him. "If you are the man I think you are, you will be a blessing to them."

I'm not sure if he understood what I was saying at the time, but it didn't take him long to figure it out.

After his first few team meetings and after getting to know some of our players on a personal basis, I received a call from him about a month into his tenure.

"You are right - they need us. We have a new family now," he said.

And even though the references to Arkansas would pop up every now and again, they became less and less frequent as he became more and more entrenched at, and in love with, Ole Miss.

The circle on the calendar faded a little, as well as the pain in his heart.

I don't want this to get sappy. Football and sappy don't go hand-in-hand. There's no crying in baseball and no sappy in football.

But as the days ticked by, you could see the growing affection he gained for Ole Miss and his new players. The bond to both grew and grew and the painful memories of "the other school" died down.

Houston, I believe, realized he didn't have to be "home" to do meaningful work with young people and pursue his passion of coaching football. He realized his circle of family didn't stay behind, they came with him to Ole Miss and most of the folks who really cared were, as he says, still pulling the rope with him.

While his malice, for lack of a better word, toward Arkansas has mellowed some, in my opinion, his desire to beat them Saturday has not.

I think what some "miss" about Houston Nutt is his competitiveness.

Some see a players' coach, a nice guy, a positive person who rarely gets down. That's all true, but some don't relate that to his burning desire to win and his love, his need actually, to compete.

Whether it's in a pickup basketball game or seeing who can throw a football in a garbage can from 40 yards out before practice for the fun of it, Nutt hates to lose. Despises it, loathes it.

And while I know deep down that the game Saturday against Arkansas has special meaning to him and his staffers, his approach with the team has been consistently like he approached Alabama or Florida or Wake Forest or any of the previous seven games this season.

To the team, he's not talking about any added significance to the game other than the obvious. We are 3-4 and we need a win to get back to .500 ball, which keeps postseason dreams more alive. Arkansas stands in our way. Play good football and let's get it done.

I imagine it's going to be weird for him and his staff when they walk into the visitor's locker room Saturday afternoon.

I am sure his juices are going to be boiling when he's introduced and will most likely get a chilly reception from some of the same fans who cheered for him for a decade.

And I am sure if, or when, he wins that game, there will be a sense of redemption for all former Arky folks involved, but for Houston Nutt more than anyone.

But the bottom line is he will feel more joy for the new team he loves than revenge for the one he used to.

His evolution from a lifelong Razorback to a diehard Rebel has been satisfying to watch.

I firmly believe Houston Nutt is going to save this football program and rebuild it to respectability and even prominence, in time.

But I also believe "we" have, in a different way, saved him too.

OM Spirit Top Stories