We should all be so lucky: Land a job you’re probably not qualified for, make a lot of promises, surprise ’em with a bang-up start and then languish in mediocrity for the next six years. Then, when you tell your boss the next two years may be worse, he says your job is safe for another three years and your salary’s being doubled.
That’s Houston Nutt. If ever one needed a fine example of the Peter Principle, he’s it: undistinguished college playing career, followed by undistinguished assistant football coaching career (under some of the best coaching minds of our time, no less, as well as working under the worst modern-day UA coach); landing the NCAA D-1AA Murray State head coaching job out of the blue and winning his conference with Razorback rejects, then one undistinguished year as D-1 coach at Boise State before the UA summoned him back home to pull the Hogs out of the slop of bad football.
Wanna hear a good one? The hot rumor around the Internet message boards was that with one more no-show bowl performance by his team in December, Nutt was going to feel the temperature under his seat raised to unbearable – next season was going to be the make-or-break year.
But, somehow, in rides Nebraska and athletic director Steve Pederson with a supposedly astronomical offer for Nutt, all of 48-26 in his UA career, to be their new coach, replacing Frank Solich, who had just been fired after a 9-3 season, two years removed from coaching in the national championship game, and with a 58-19 career mark at NU. This coming the day after Arkansas so thoroughly trounced Missouri, limiting the Tigers to 406 total yards and so befuddling Tigers coach Gary Pinkel that he looked like, well, Houston Nutt does occasionally with his confounding decision-making and kicking-game disasters.
So, in a matter of three days, Nutt managed to assure himself a pass for the next three years on the job, increase his salary to as much as $1.5 million (counting incentives and annuities) and assure his loyalists with a teary speech of his love for Arkansas. He then managed to dry those eyes and tell an ESPN Radio interviewer (ESPN Radio reaches about 0.0001 percent of the state’s listeners) that although his family is from Little Rock he’s “not locked into Arkansas.” We guess that implies that when he deems the right job really has come along, he’d take it.
Also, in those three days, we learned that real estate magnate and former Razorback great Jim Lindsey is the big star in the UA universe, bigger than Frank Broyles and certainly chancellor John White (remember him?). It was Lindsey who visited Nutt when word broke that Nebraska was seriously interested in the Hog coach, and it was Lindsey who did the negotiating for the UA in the tug-of-war. Remember, too, that last summer Lindsey led certain UA Board of Trustees members in putting down White’s and chairman Bill Clark’s efforts to retire Broyles, and the board also finally got Nutt’s longed-for “D rule” problem eased
In essence, Lindsey apparently has assumed the UA powerbroker position held for years by icon Jack Stephens.
Broyles has been burdened of late taking care of his ailing wife, but he still played this one perfectly if it meant not surrendering much of the Razorback Foundation’s loot to keep the coach. Truthfully, though, do any die-hard Hog fans really believe that, if push came to shove, the UA couldn’t or wouldn’t pony up Sabanian-type numbers to hire a football coach? The UA stadium has the most high-dollar skyboxes in football, its biggest supporters are among the richest people in the world. Sorry, but we’re not buying the “we can’t afford to match Nebraska” line. It’s Nebraska, for gosh sakes.
We’re also not buying the usual athletic director-speak of “we’ve got the best coach in America” that Broyles offered up Saturday when all was settled. Granted, Nutt obviously paid attention to some of his better coaching mentors and can fashion as simplistic a game-plan as anyone to keep his team close with a chance to win in the fourth quarter against many teams. As a complete coaching package – recruiting, organization, discipline, the ability to continue to raise the level or to deliver a championship – he doesn’t seem to have it, Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson’s assessment notwithstanding.
Best coach in America? We could start with either of the two coaches in Sunday’s Sugar Bowl, both now making about $2.5 million a year, as more qualified for the claim.
No, the entire three-day brouhaha left many, in Arkansas and across the nation, scratching their heads. National TV throats on ESPN chuckled at Nebraska even considering Nutt as the best choice among a plethora of worthy candidates, especially with the money NU was rumored to be offering (again, Nutt would have had to realize a number of difficult goals to earn the full $2.5 million a year in Lincoln).
And in the end, looking at the final tally, Nutt moved to seventh on the pay scale among SEC coaches, up from eighth or ninth, depending on who’s counting. Arkansas under Nutt has rated about sixth to ninth in recruiting every year among the “gurus” who follow and rank this nonsense, and scanning the standings it appears that Nutt had last season’s team, blessed with a large senior class and four juniors who have decided to jump to the NFL, firmly in seventh place and in the seventh-best bowl game for SEC teams.
So, the pay’s about right, we’d say.