The ring's the thing

Like a southpaw boxer, Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt kept leading with his right hand during his appearance at SEC Media Days.

Nutt stood at the podium with his right shoulder forward, keeping his 2006 SEC West championship ring in plain view. Occasionally, he extended his right fist toward the audience, drawing further attention to the sparkling piece of bling.

At one point he prominently displayed the ring and said, "It's really hard to get to Atlanta (sight of the SEC Championship Game)."

By drawing attention to the championship ring Nutt clearly hopes to accentuate his 2006 title and downplay the troubles he has encountered since clinching it.

Those troubles began when he lost his final three games of 2007 – to LSU in the regular-season finale, to Florida in the SEC Championship Game and to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Then he lost his offensive coordinator and his most promising quarterback, both of whom fired parting shots while heading out the door. His marital fidelity was questioned when an investigation into his cell-phone records revealed hundreds of calls to a female TV reporter. One of his critics conducted a highly publicized poll regarding his job status.

Things got so bad that Nutt briefly considered calling it quits, even though he was coming off a 10-4 season and a division title.

"There was just maybe a short period of time we felt like that," he said. "But then you go to your family (and it says) 'No, no, no. No way.'"

Although Nutt decided to come back for 2007, he remains somewhat shaken by the offseason shots he absorbed.

The veteran coach said he'd never had his critics "get so personal" by "spreading gossip and spreading lies." Making the attacks even more unpalatable was the fact they were "starting in your home state."

How much was the coach's program damaged? Not much, according to Nutt. He says the controversy-filled offseason galvanized his staffers and players.

"It's made us get a lot closer," he said. "Really. Our team has grown together. Our coaching staff is much closer."

Apparently, prospects were not turned off by all of the controversy. Nutt said last Signing Day was "very, very positive" and that he already has 14 verbal commitments for the 2008 recruiting class.

Ultimately, the passion that makes SEC football coaches wealthy and famous also makes them targets for irate fans whose expectations are not being met. Houston Nutt understands that better than anyone.

"You know, sometimes I think it (passion) does go too far," he said. "But I know it's here. That's the world we're in."

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