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July 22, 2011

Houston Nutt


THE MODERATOR: We will continue on now. We're now joined by head coach Houston Nutt.
COACH NUTT: Good to be here. Year number 14. Appreciate all the work that you do covering SEC football, one of the greatest leagues in America. Glad to be here.
We went back to work in January after really a disappointing year. I was really proud of our attitude and our work ethic. Went back to square one and started with recruiting. Felt like we got a lot of momentum. Got the best players out of Mississippi. Had four U.S. Army All-American players and the best players out of Mississippi with guys that can really run, a lot of athleticism. Excited about that.
It carried over in the spring. According to Coach Decker and our strength coaches, we've had a very good summer. So I'm excited.
It's a brand-new year. We open up with BYU, very good football team with a lot of tradition. Looking forward to it.
THE MODERATOR: With that we'll take questions.

Q. Houston, you had David Lee and Keith Burns back on your staff. Talk about your history with those guys and why you wanted to bring them back with you.
COACH NUTT: Got a long history with those guys, as you mentioned. They're just really good people, good football coaches. At this time, at this particular time, I just felt like we really needed David Lee. We have three quarterbacks that are fighting for a job. They're very talented. They hadn't played on this level yet.
Then Keith Burns, who I've been with before, has done an excellent job everywhere he's been, especially with the back end of the defense. With his knowledge, I think the timing was very, very well.
Also added Gunter Brewer, who is a true Rebel. Born and raised an Ole Miss Rebel. He coached guys like Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon. Just a lot of experience with what they've done on offense at Oklahoma State, he really brings a lot to the table. So I'm excited about our staff.

Q. What do you think of the SEC legislation that capped players signing at 25?
COACH NUTT: What do I think about it? Well, it's the rule. I've always followed the rules. Sometimes I get the name of oversigning, I'm kind of connected to that. But if you do your homework. That big number happened only really one time and I knew right where everyone was going. My athletic director has never got a mad letter from a mom, so we always knew by August 1, you got to have 25.
To answer your question, the rule's the rule, so we'll go by the rules. I wish we would have kept it at 28 for one more year. I thought it was very, very good. Because simply you don't know who's going to qualify.
You may wake up on signing date and that 18-year-old may say, You know what, I'm thinking about going somewhere else, even though he's given you a commitment, 'cause there are such things now as soft verbals. Sometimes they don't carry out a commitment, they don't know exactly where they want to go on signing day. So you don't know.
So that number is very, very difficult. You really got to do a tremendous job of that juggling act of keeping your numbers right. I think that's what every coach will have a problem with.
But the rule's the rule and we'll follow it.

Q. I wanted to get your take on the commissioner's proposal for altering the eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen.
COACH NUTT: I just heard about it. I hadn't read it. I know this, I believe in Commissioner Slive. He's a great man, does a great job for us and our conference. But I really want to look at that and study it.
I know this, we're graduating a lot of our guys. We're actually graduating better percentage-wise than the student body. I think a lot of our colleges are. So we're continuing to add rules. We're adding a lot of rules. We added a nine-hour rule, where a man must pass nine hours or he'll miss games. We're adding a lot of rules.
I haven't read everything that the commissioner has put out, but I'm looking forward to it. But I just know this, there's a lot of good things that happen once they get on campus. No one kept up with me when I went to school back in the '70s. We still managed to get a degree. So we've come so far, we've come such a long way. It just concerns me there's so many rules that it seems like we keep putting on our guys to make it harder.
I wish there was a rule where our guys would have to get away from campus for 25 days a year. But right now our freshmen that came out of high school have been on campus since May 27th. First session of summer school. So basically you've created, I got to go to school year-round. It's constant.
Have a lot of good stories where guys that graduate after three, three and a half years. I have a few of those stories. They start working on their masters. But not everybody is going to be a doctor and a lawyer.
My mother was an educator, an English teacher for 34 years. She instilled in me the importance of an education. I want our guys to graduate. I want them to go to school. But I'm concerned of the rules, more and more and more rules are being thrown at our athletes and now go play 14 games if you get to the championship. Go play a Thursday night game. You may play sometimes on a Sunday.
So there's just a lot of things, again, I haven't read about. I put a lot of trust in Commissioner Slive and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Q. Coach, Dan Mullen stated yesterday he had billboards up on the state lines saying it was his state. Does that type of stuff affect you in recruiting or does it even affect you at all?
COACH NUTT: You checked recruiting this past season, right? It didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi. You know, the thing that I want to do, I want our staff and I -- I want to go to Atlanta. It's one of the greatest games, greatest venues, greatest environments there is to win a championship. Ole Miss has never been to Atlanta. That's all I really focus on. I don't really worry about it. Sometimes when coaches make a statement like that, I don't really worry about it. I don't concern myself with that because it all comes down to your body of work.
This is my 14th year here. So I know this. Alabama, LSU, those guys, Florida, have been holding up this crystal ball in this conference for the last five years the SEC has won. I've been to Atlanta twice to experience that wonderful, wonderful atmosphere. So I feel like I know the roadmap to get there.
And to waste your time on energy, using just valuable energy on something like that is a waste of time. You better be concentrating on recruiting, concentrating on winning, helping your players become a better person and a better football player.

Q. Coach, talk about your offense, how it might change a little bit. Last year was effective, but kind of inconsistent at times. There's a lot of returning players, but staff changes. How might you use Jeff Scott, Korvic Neat, guys other than Brandon Bolden up the middle?
COACH NUTT: I want to spend five seconds talking about Jeremiah Masoli. We spent a lot of time last year talking about him. Some of you guys even criticized that guy. That was a great experience for him, a great experience for Ole Miss. I think we helped him and he helped us. He's a tremendous person. He wanted to change his life around. I really think that he has. Tremendous work ethic, tremendous attitude.
But it's funny, when you don't win, all of a sudden that story goes away. He is an awesome person who did a good job for us and helped us. We averaged 34 points a game last year. We had one or two bad games on defense. We beat ourselves a lot.
To answer your question offensively, we want to be a physical football team. We have a big, outstanding offensive line. I want them to continue to get better, get better chemistry, be better blockers. Offensively, with David Lee and Gunter Brewer, we always want to run the football, but we want to have a very confident passing game, want to throw it to our guys, be consistent and take care of the ball.
There's too many times where we didn't take care of the ball last year. We want to be able to run the ball, have a good play-action, mix things up. Last year we had so many different formations, multiple looks. Again, it always falls back, you want to be able to run the ball and be able to throw it when you want to.
Then defensively we want to be better tacklers.

Q. You talked a little bit about recruiting in the state of Mississippi, how well you did. How do you balance that against the challenges of the other Mississippi public schools, the kids who struggle to make their grades and standardized tests? With the 2.5 suggestion on the table, how would you balance that in the future? How can you deal with that in the state of Mississippi?
COACH NUTT: Well, that's a very good question. That's just what I hit on just a few minutes ago. That's my concern.
I do know this. I do know we have an awesome academic support team that really helps our young men, that gives them the tutors, that gives them the tools that they need to help them.
But you hit on something that concerns me. That's why when the first question I get when I walk in this hotel is, What about the new plan? Again, I don't know that much about it yet because, again, I haven't read it. Just the question you ask me, my antennas are up because I want our guys to graduate, I want them to go to school. But I've had guys come in as a freshman that passed six or seven hours, and they're the first ones in their family ever to go to school, and it takes them a semester to get adjusted, to make that transition.
As coaches, you're here to make a difference in their life. We have a good support team academically. You've got to have that. You have to have the tutors, the mentors to help them. Even as far as something as simple as taking notes that maybe they weren't used to doing. It's all those things.
You hit on a good point. Again, I don't know enough about it yet to really truly answer your question. But those are the things that we have to study and really help our student-athletes.

Q. I understand the results are the most important, but how do you find the balance between the results and sending a message, something important to your fan base, even if it's not as high up on your priority list in terms of the state of Mississippi, whose state is it?
COACH NUTT: Okay, you're going back to that (smiling).
Here is what I do know. Number one, we first got here, we had two back to back AT&T Cotton Bowl victories first time in 50 years, January 1. Hadn't gone to a bowl the previous five years. So we got on this roll. There's an excitement to see Michael Oher, "Blindside," see Dexter McCluster, Jamarca Sanford, Peria Jerry, John Jerry, Michael Wallace, to see their attitude of gratitude, how they loved Ole Miss and how they knew at that time that they could win.
This is the most difficult league in America. It's hard, it's hard. Just look at our league now. There's some teams that thought they would never lose as many games as they did. But it's hard and difficult.
So to answer your question, there's good things at Ole Miss. There's really good things happening. Look at the recruiting. You look at our campus, we have one of the most beautiful campuses in America. That's easy to sell.
Do I want to go to Atlanta? Absolutely. But I know this, that there's a process and it's not easy. It's a very difficult road. But I know this, I know we're on the right track. I believe it.
Two back-to-back January 1s, there's no doubt in my mind that's what caused these young man to say, Coach, I know you didn't have a good year this past year, we're coming with you, we're coming, we're coming to Ole Miss.
They didn't have to. They were heavily recruited. They could have gone anywhere. They see it. They see something at Ole Miss that they feel is going to be very, very special. That's what I feel good about.

Q. Could you talk about Randall Mackey and the individual work you've done with him at quarterback.
COACH NUTT: Randall Mackey has come a long way. It's easy to see why he was a junior college All-American. Every time I run into his coach, he says, Do you realize what you have?
I say, No, haven't seen him play yet.
But you've seen enough of him in practice to know that this guy's very accurate, he's elusive, he has escapability, and this guy can throw the football. He's won a lot of games. He scored a lot of points.
So I'm excited about him. I'm excited about Barry Brunetti, as well. He didn't lose a high school football game. Then I have a guy like Zack Stoudt, who is 6'4", probably a little more athletic than Jevan Snead was. Very strong arm.
I think we have a good situation. We just got to find out who's gonna stay away from the problems, the disasters, who is going to take care of the ball, who is going to put this team in the end zone consistently.
Randall has done really good. I've been very proud of him. He's come a long way. He's getting better.

Q. Would you assess the SEC West.
COACH NUTT: The SEC West. Tough, tough, tough. I don't care who you play in the SEC West, you better buckle up both chin straps and be ready for a full, full day.
Again, every time I look at Alabama before the game in warmups, they always look the same to me. LSU, they always look beautiful in their uniform. Auburn, what they did, what Coach Chizik did last year was just spectacular, to win 14 ballgames. Arkansas, I mean, they had a great year last year.
So from top to bottom, even Ole Miss last year, you had to buckle up. You know, there's some things we'd like to do better. We got to play with a little more passion, play harder, play smarter.
But, again, my point is, it doesn't matter who you play, you just can't circle on your with schedule, That's a win, that's a win, that's a victory. You can't do that in this league. It's too hard.

Q. What are your thoughts on what Commissioner Slive said about adjusting benefits, like cost of attendance, a little more money for kids to have things other than books and their classes paid for?
COACH NUTT: I like that. I like that. When I was in school, had a little bit of a laundry check, even though it was $14 or $15, I thought it was so important to have that hamburger money, toothpaste, movie money, gas money. Times have changed, things are a little higher. Spurrier brought up during our conference meeting in Destin about paying the players. I liked my idea better. I'm with him, I agree with Steve, but I like my idea of that laundry check being a little bit larger, $50, $75, $100, whatever it is a month to let these guys be able to have some money in their pocket.
You got to realize, we're in a world, too, that not only they need money for gasoline, there's a lot of our student-athletes that are taking care of families. They have to know where the daycare center is. There's a lot of things that are happening now that I think what you brought up could help our student-athlete.

Q. I was wondering if any of the quarterbacks you mentioned separated themselves coming into the fall? You had teams in the past that weren't expected to do much that you've had success with. Do you as a coach almost prefer to be in this situation where no one is really expecting a lot?
COACH NUTT: If we played tonight, and I'm glad that we don't, Barry Brunetti would probably go out there first. If there's a little separation, we'd say he's the most accountable. That's why we have two-a-days.
There's nothing like that competition, that competitive spirit. It's going to bring the best out of every one of 'em. We'll pick one real soon once we get into camp.
As far as being picked towards the bottom and doing better, most of the time that I've been here, I've usually been picked towards the bottom. That doesn't bother me. I don't worry about that. I like the position. Again, it's about what you do on the field in between those lines. You just want a team to play with an unbelievable amount of passion and spirit, and you want your guys representing Ole Miss the right way.
I love our attitude right now. I love their work ethic, the way they're going about things. A little bit different than last year. I think last year after two seasons of some success, got in that mood of assuming. I just assume I could roll my helmet out there and just go through the motions. You can't do that. You got to play very, very hard, take care of all the little things.

Q. You mentioned BYU in your opening comments. I was wondering if you have any more comments on breaking down that matchup?
COACH NUTT: I just know they're a good football team. Have a lot of respect for Bronco, what he's accomplished. They always play hard, their defense. Boy, they get off blocks. They run to the football. They have a quarterback that's coming back after his freshman year that was outstanding, especially the last six games.
So we got to do a good job. I'm a little bit more concerned about us. I know they're good. I know they have a good football team, coming off a lot of momentum. I'm more concerned that we step right back in those two-a-days, practice in August, continue where we left off in the spring.

Q. Houston, Coach Saban was in here explaining how valuable it is for him to see who we pick in the pre-season poll. You talked about being picked last. Do you ever use that as motivation with your team?
COACH NUTT: I don't have to very much because they read, they see where you pick 'em. There's so much information out there constantly. That's what's tough, is when you put this team in a room, to clear out all outside voices. I don't have to sit there and just feed them over and over and over, Hey, you're picked last. They know that. Especially coming off the year we had last year.
It's already to me immediate motivation.

Q. You said the defense has to be better tacklers. Talk a little bit more about your personnel on the defensive side and how you feel about those guys coming out of spring.
COACH NUTT: The first two years I really thought we played with that passion and energy to get to the ball. I just didn't feel like we did that last year.
We lost a guy like Kentrell Lockett. That was a true leader, especially in the locker room for us. We were able to get a six-year back, which I think is going to be helpful, because of his leadership qualities and in the locker room, riding on the bus, all those little things you take for granted. Eating lunch, those freshmen are already looking up to him. I'm excited about having him back.
Wayne Dorsey has had an outstanding summer.
Sometimes you get a junior college guy to come in and help you immediately and sometimes it takes a while for a guy to get used to the SEC. I think Wayne is one of those guys.
Again, we lost a lot of guys in the front. I can throw out names to you that you'll be very unfamiliar with, you're not used to hearing these names because we lost a lot of the front. But I am excited about who we have on campus. Guys like Joel Kight, Mike Marry, Ralph Williams, Brishen Mathews, Damien Jackson, Charles Sawyer, Marcus Temple, these guys have been working hard. They have a lot of pride.
I want to get the pride back on our defense and I know we can tackle better.

Q. How much value do you place on recruiting services? Does it really save you a lot of time and effort?
COACH NUTT: Recruiting services are valuable simply because that's how you get the video. The days in the past where you could go to the coach, say, I need your film. It used to be seasonal. What I mean by that, this was the time to recruit, this is the time to coach. Those days are gone. It's year-round recruiting. Those services are valuable because they can give you 250 schools of film.
Just imagine what that high school coach has to go through if he had to stop every time a coach wanted a DVD. It's too hard. We're in a fast, fast paced motion right now in recruiting. It's unbelievable, just since '98, how far it's come.
We do use those services.

Q. You addressed the demographics, things that you deal with coaching at a smaller school in a smaller state. Mississippi State has taken on a real aggressive marketing approach. They put great emphasis on the Egg Bowl, which Dan has won his two years in Starkville. How do you deal with that on the surface? We're not expecting an internal discussion, but what does that do for you guys in Oxford that your main rival in the SEC West is going after you so hard?
COACH NUTT: It's all about winning, the bottom line. And the reason they're loud right now is they've won the last two years. But, again, my energy is going to be what's going to help us win.
You know, that first year we beat Mississippi State 45-0, didn't think nothing about it because the previous nine out of 10 years we'd beaten them. I do understand the Egg Bowl. I understand how passionate our fans are about that ballgame. That's a real, real intense rival. I understand that. Our fans have to live with it for one full year. So the last two years it's been difficult.
The only thing that you can do, the only thing, is you have to do it in between those lines. That's the only way you can do that. Our players know that. Our coaches know that.
As far as getting into the marketing part of it, we have marketing people to do that. I have this job. This is 365, 24/7, coaching, recruiting players, period.

Q. You mentioned nine out of ten.
COACH NUTT: I have a sting anytime we lose. It's a real sting anytime we lose.
Again, obviously you keep bringing it up. It's a real rival. Our players and coaches understand that. And there's only one thing to do about it.

Q. Houston, Greg Schiano generated a lot of discussion with a fairly radical proposal that would basically eliminate kickoffs. What do you think will be done or should be done to address player safety on kickoffs and special teams? What did you think of his proposal?
COACH NUTT: Yeah, I heard about that. It's going to be hard to take out the kickoff. That's a big part of the game. I understand where he's coming from. It's a 70-yard run, full collision. I understand that.
I think one of the things we did a good job of was taking the wedge out. So many guys were trying to bust that wedge, using their head.
Move that ball to the 35 would be a suggestion where most of the balls would go out of the end zone, then y'all would get tired of that because you're not seeing enough guys running the ball back.
I think taking the wedge out really helped. It's going to be really hard for me to take off the kickoff play. I don't know how you start the game. I don't know how you do it.

Q. How much can C.J. Johnson come in and help you?
COACH NUTT: That's a good question. We're going to give him every opportunity. C.J. Johnson doesn't look like a guy just coming out of high school. Physically he looks the part. So I'm excited about him, getting him going. We'll give him every opportunity to get in the mix.
Just by default because of D.T. Shackelford's injury, we lose a guy like that, he'll line up second team day one. He'll have every opportunity to play a lot of football.

Q. Houston, how is Lockett doing physically? What did it mean to get that sixth year back for him?
COACH NUTT: Means so much to get it back. He is a tremendous leader for us. Like I mentioned before, he does so much with his teammates. He's a winner. I think he's just about there, just about there. According to our doctors, he's just about 100%, so we expect him to be full go the first game.

Q. Going back to Commissioner Slive's comments about the academic side. He's talking about what looks like a form of bringing back Prop 48. What would be your impression of that, where freshmen can come in, but they can't participate in games?
COACH NUTT: You know, again, I hadn't read enough. I don't know enough about it right now. Again, just a few hours ago I was told about it. I don't know enough about it. I just heard about the four-year deal, where a guy keeps his scholarship for four years.
It's just not a 'one size fit all.' There's so many things in there. But that scholarship, it means something when it's a one-year deal. It's a commitment to one another. That's one thing. I've used this one time where you sign a non-renewal letter to a young man you feel is not doing everything he should do to be a student-athlete at Ole Miss, it wakes him up.
Coach, you didn't renew me.
Right, right, because it's a privilege to be an Ole Miss Rebel. You weren't going to school the way I wanted you to, you weren't going to study hall.
It picked him up.
There's a lot to it. I don't know enough about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Coach Nutt, for your time.
COACH NUTT: Thank you.

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