Ole Miss starts beginning of end with Houston Nutt

BY foxsports • November 9, 2011

It was apparent quite quickly that this was not a normal Mississippi football practice.

As players slowly made their way up the stairs and onto the practice field, employees loaded boxes into a car in the parking lot, the first signs that the beginning of the end of Houston Nutt's tenure is here.

In less than three weeks, Nutt will be gone. The fourth-year coach announced his resignation, effective at the end of the season, on Monday after the Rebels lost their 12th straight Southeastern Conference game. Now Ole Miss (2-7, 0-6 SEC) is stumbling down the stretch with a lame duck coach, youthful roster and questionable motivation.

But Nutt said his team will be prepared for this weekend's game against Louisiana Tech (5-4) and the two final conference games against LSU and Mississippi State, despite what will undoubtedly be a strange November.

''It can be hard if you let it be hard,'' Nutt said. ''But I think our guys are professionals. We've got all our energy and all our thought into this game plan against Louisiana Tech because that's our job. That's what we do.''

Practice was eerily quiet on Tuesday afternoon, with muted chatter among the players and coaches as the team went through special teams drills.

Junior defensive end Jason Jones said it's disappointing to see one of the ''greatest coaches in the game'' lose his job.

''Things happen - life happens,'' Jones said. ''That's one of the things that coach Nutt has been talking to us about. Life happens. People get fired and hired all the team. People get let go. But he told us we just can't flinch. Just keep going.''

Nutt met with the players on Monday after his resignation was announced. He said it was a difficult afternoon, especially for the younger players who are suddenly without leadership. Though the Rebels have struggled, there's a promising freshman class - led by receivers Nickolas Brassell and Donte Moncrief - that will likely be part of the foundation for whatever new coach is hired.

''You could see that were hurt a little bit - a little unsure,'' Nutt said. ''It was a difficult day, but I thought they handled it well.''

There's also uncertainty for the Ole Miss assistant coaches, who will likely be looking for new employment soon. Gunter Brewer left an assistant coaching job at Oklahoma State in the offseason to join the Rebels as the passing game coordinator. He's the son of former Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer and grew up in Oxford, but his second stay in his hometown might be a short one unless the new coach wants to keep him around.

''That's part of the gig,'' Brewer said. ''When you're in the big leagues at the $100 table you expect the consequences.''

The Rebels must push that disappointment aside quickly because Louisiana Tech will not be a pushover. The Bulldogs have won four straight games, and have scared several good teams in disappointing losses. Mississippi State needed overtime before beating Louisiana Tech 26-20. Houston and Southern Miss - two teams currently ranked in the top 25 - beat Louisiana Tech by a combined three points.

Even outside of the coaching upheaval, the Rebels have plenty of problems.

Ole Miss ranks next to last in scoring offense in the SEC and dead last in scoring defense. Quarterback Randall Mackey, who showed promise in the middle of the season, has regressed in recent weeks and completed just 14 of 29 passes in last weekend's 30-13 loss to Kentucky.

Opposing offensive players have won SEC Player of the Week honors four times in a row against the Ole Miss defense, including Kentucky freshman quarterback Maxwell Smith, who threw for 283 yards and two touchdowns against the Rebels in his first career start.

Now there's an imminent coaching change. Not exactly the formula for success, but defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix says no one's giving up.

''Our goal is to win,'' Nix said. ''I don't know if we will or not but we're going to give it everything we can.''


Follow David Brandt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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