Arkansas-Ole Miss: A Tale Of Two Coaches
One of the story lines in this saturday's Arkansas-Ole Miss game is the stark contrast in the two coaches, Houston Nutt of Ole Miss, formerly of Arkansas, and Bobby Petrino, the Hogs' second year head man.
While the game itself should be a good one, the subject of the two coaches is one that is taboo in some circles in Arkansas. There have been a few people who claimed to be Razorback fans who have since switched their allegiance to Ole Miss since Nutt blindsided some and accepted the Ole Miss job just a day after his departure from Arkansas.
Good riddance, I say. If someone wants to be more of a Houston Nutt fan than a Hog fan, that's their right. It's my right and the right of most other true Razorback fans to tell them not to let the door hit them where the Good Lord split them.
Now, to the many differences between Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino. While both had acclaimed playing careers in football and basketball in high school and both are coaches' sons, that's about where the similarities end.
Bobby Petrino has a plan for everything. It starts with recruiting, the lifeblood of any college football program. Parents of prospective UA recruits have been shocked at the detail of Petrino's plan for their sons, not only on the field, but in the classroom as well.
That is a major contrast to Houston Nutt's fly by the seat of the pants, tell-'em-what-they-want-to-hear spiel. Nutt has been known to sign six to ten players at one position in one recruiting class, usually running back or defensive back, then move some to other positions.
Last spring's Ole Miss signing class sported more names than the Iraqi Army with a hard to believe 38 signees. Last season after signing a player out of Arkansas, the young man received a call from Nutt in the summer wanting the player to walk on for a year.
Instead, he decided if he was going to pay his own way, it would be at UA. There were numerous young men who were academically qualified who signed letters of intent with UA during Nutt's tenure who got that call, some even got their ticket pulled altogether.
Bobby Petrino is all about trying to build a program with an emphasis on the longterm. Houston Nutt is all about trying to cobble together a team for a year or two and make a splash, then win just enough games to get into a lower tier bowl in the ensuing years (and keep his job), then repeat the process with a bunch of junior college players.
Petrino runs a disciplined program including the offseason. Nutt comes up with pithy little slogans like "Nuttin' but fun", "bring da' wood" with players brandishing little baseball bats, and last years' laughably cliched "one heartbeat".
Petrino has very detailed gameplans, relying on film study, preparation and conditioning to beat opponents. Nutt seems more worried about pickup basketball games among the coaches than prepping for the upcoming foe.
After all, when a coach can call on tent revival emotionalism to rally the troops on gameday, who needs preparation? I've heard some fans of other schools wonder why Rece Davis of ESPN calls Nutt the "Right Reverend". If you've ever heard a clip of one of Nutt's pregame speeches, you know.
"Special teams be special! ", "don't leggo th' rope!", "defense give me three turnovers!" all delivered in an impassioned rant that would make any Shiite Mullah or faith healer proud are among Nutt's gems.
Before you get the idea that I'm one of what Nutt quaintly called "haters", I give the man more credit than many Hog fans. It's not that Houston Nutt is a bad coach. The point is that he is a mediocre coach.
When Danny Ford left Arkansas, driving all those cattle back across the Big Muddy, Ford left a talented team that lacked only someone to make them believe. Nutt did just that, even though Ford is reported to have remarked of Nutt, who was Ford's receiver coach for a season, "that guy wouldn't even make a good high school head coach".
When ace recruiter Ed Orgeron left Ole Miss a full cupboard of talent, I had no doubt that Nutt would win there. For a year or two. That's what a "fixer" does. Make a team beaten down by losing and negativity believe in themselves and win games.
Then expectations are raised through the roof, even though a few key players are lost and suddenly emotion is not enough to overcome mediocre preparation and the players' confidence is shattered, leading to fewer wins.
Houston Nutt's entire ten year career at Arkansas is marked by two good years followed by two not as good years, then two good years and so on, with the best seasons coming in the first year of the cycle. Then the second year, as expectations increase, wins decrease.
We are seeing the same cycle repeated at Ole Miss with the Rebels' 9 wins last year looking like something less in 2009 in spite of the SEC's softest schedule.
As for Bobby Petrino, time will tell as to whether or not he will stay long enough to win big at Arkansas. My guess is due to the strafing from ESPN and other media outlets over the way he left Atlanta, Petrino will stay awhile. No NFL team would give the man the time of day for a long time, if ever.
If Petrino does stay, there is no doubt in my mind that the Hogs will win big, quite possibly in 2010 after a strong finish this season.
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