Houston Nutt walked into the team meeting room in the IPF for the pre-spring press conference Wednesday afternoon sporting a long-sleeved navy shirt with the script Ole Miss. Looked like he'd been an Ole Miss Rebel all his life.
The powers that be, when they're ready to find a new coach, always talk about getting the right fit. Has there been a better fit for Ole Miss football than Nutt?
Go ahead and admit it. It took a while for you not to think that "other" school when you stopped, looked, and listened to him that first day at the Ford Center, this time last year, and even into the fall. He was so much a part of "them" for years but that's changed. Now he's "us."
Before he started the Q & A, he wanted to talk about some things that wouldn't make the 6 o'clock news, he said. He revealed some letters. Positives about his players. From the people at Azalea Gardens, a retirement home in Oxford, to the local schools where his players read for kids, to Rick Baker of the Cotton Bowl.
He loves that, bragging on his players. Like a parent with a bunch of kids, he said. That's what he feels like.
This time last year those kids were trying to become one, form a true team, march in step. One heartbeat became their rallying cry.
This time last year I don't know how many in Rebel fandom would have predicted nine wins and a Cotton Bowl championship. Some did. Some always pick their team to win every game.
Those who picked the Rebels to win every game last year were wrong, until those last six counting the win over Texas Tech in Dallas. Then they were right. Now the fun will be seeing how long that win streak can last.
Nutt said he's figured out, at least in some form, how to convince his players not to read too much into where the team is ranked heading toward fall. That's likely to be in everybody's top 10 and even some top fives.
He said he's already telling them that the same folks who voted them last in 2008 are voting them top five or ten in 2009. It really doesn't matter, he said.
What does matter is being prepared and taking care of business every day. And winning.
A reporter asked if there'd be some carryover from all the excitement last season, which started early. Nutt pointed out that at 3-4, excitement was hard to find.
Then came the game at the "other" school as Ole Miss beat Arkansas 23-21. Things had already begun to change, and from that point on, things were never the same.
The Rebels have won them all since and played the final month and the bowl game about as confidently as any Rebel team in years.
One current Ole Miss head coach in another sport is fond of the quote "High expectations beat low reality every time."
The Rebels will have plenty of the former and hope to avoid the latter. The pieces appear to be here for a special season this fall. Spring practice will go a long way in getting the puzzle shaped to make sure that come late August the Rebels are ready for the season.
They will be on everybody's radar screen this time around. Nutt mentioned that, too, saying you could sneak into the Swamp and sneak out with a win last September. But that won't be the case this season anywhere the Rebels play.
Much of it has to do with the second half of last season, and the fact that Houston Nutt, not an Ole Miss Rebel all his life, has been one for a year and a half now. And he's just that fit the powers always talk about.
That was mostly clear a year ago. This spring, make that crystal clear.
Second Time Around
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