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Buffalo Bulls Coaching Candidate - Houston Nutt

Wesley Hitt

When a team is in the midst of a coaching hunt sometimes it's helpful to look at coaches with some connection to the athletic director. Danny White went that way when he hired Bobby Hurley, who played for Duke, a school where White's father runs the athletic department.

So White, most recently coming from Ole Miss, might look down into the SEC for UB's next football coach. If that's the direction UB looks then you have to imagine the name Houston Nutt comes up quickly.

Houston Nutt
81–82  OK State (GA)
1983    Arkansas (GA)
1984    Ark State (AC)
84–89  OK State (AC)
90–92  Arkansas (AC)
93–96  Murray State
1997    Boise State
98–07  Arkansas
08–11  Ole Miss

Who is Houston Nutt?

Frank Broyles' last-ever football recruit was a quarterback named Houston Nutt. Nutt was recruited as a drop-back, pass-happy quarterback who started four games at Arkansas while he was a true freshman. After Broyles retired Arkansas brought in Lou Holtz and Nutt transferred to Oklahoma because his style no longer fit in Arkansas.

While it was the Holtz system that chased Nutt away from Arkansas, that did not stop the Nutt from taking a spot on the Holtz staff as a graduate assistant in 1983. After a one year stint Nutt got his first job, a four month stretch as offensive coordinator at Arkansas State.

He quickly was hired on as a wide receiver coach for Oklahoma State before moving back into the SEC and to Arkansas as an assistant coach.

His first shot as a head coach was with the Murray State Racers. After two years of building up the program Nutt and the Races put together two straight Ohio Valley Conference championships, running up a record of 22-3 in 1995 and 1996.

The newly-Division-IA Boise State Broncos hired Nutt in 1997. Nutt's team posted a 5–6 record in 1997, playing at the Division I-A level with its Division I-AA players. During that season Nutt's team beat rival Idaho on the road in overtime for the first Boise win in Moscow since 1981.

That was a spring board to bring Nutt back once again to the SEC. Arkansas hired Nutt to turn around a program which had made just two bowls in eight years. During his first press conference as coach, Nutt immediately mentioned a "National Championship" as his goal and felt that Arkansas had the program to win one.

Under Nutt, the Razorbacks were one of three SEC schools to play in three New Year's Day bowls within five years. Off the field, Nutt's players were named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll 145 times and since then Nutt has established a reputation as a responsible coach academically.

The only knock against his tenure in the SEC was that Nutt's SEC win-loss record was just barely over five hundred.

In 2006 Nutt and the Razorbacks won the SEC West, propelling them to a 2007 preseason ranking of 21. In the early part of the season Arkansas lost games to Alabama and Kentucky, knocking the Razorbacks out of the rankings.

Fan frustration boiled over to some fans wearing all-black t-shirts with anti-Nutt statements and buying an entire page in a local Little Rock newspaper calling for Nutt to be fired. A non-official flyover was made hours before the Auburn home game with a small airplane holding a banner, which read: "Fire Houston Nutt. Players and fans deserve better."

Despite all his troubles Nutt's Razorbacks took down LSU, the #1 team in the nation on the road, bringing the Golden Boot back to Arkansas. Three days after the win Nutt resigned as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Four days later Ole' Miss hired Houston Nutt.

In his first two years at Ole' Miss went 18-8, winning the Cotton Bowl twice. The following two seasons things went off the rails and after Nutt set an Ole Miss coaching record with his 12th straight Southeastern Conference loss he was fired by the University of Mississippi, but was allowed to coach through the end of the season.

His final game was a 31-3 loss to Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl. Nutt also lost for the second straight year to his former team, the University of Arkansas, as the Razorbacks held on for a 29-24 victory in Oxford. Ole Miss finished winless in conference play.

Shortly after his firing at Ole Miss, Nutt was hired as an college football studio analyst for CBS Sports, where he remains today.

Over the years Nutt has used a variety of offenses, though he was not a big proponent of an up-tempo offense while coaching. Apparently that has changed:

"I love the up-tempo, on the ball, over and over," Nutt told the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. "They keep doing that and the defense is tired. I love that."

As much as he is coming around to a more modern sense of tempo he continues to push a style of offense I like very much, and one that has suited the Bulls rather well for the past couple of seasons.

"I would never change from being physical and being tough," Nutt said in the same interview. "I still believe you have to run the ball and I think you have got to stop the run. But I’ve been studying hard the things that Baylor, Texas A&M, Auburn, Oregon (do)."

"I really think up-tempo is a tremendous advantage. You look at the defense and they are standing around with their hands on their hips."

As a coach he had some great years but he appears to be one of those coaches who needs the right arrows in his quiver (player type and talent) in order to hit the mark.

Houston Nutt's Failed Tenure at Ole Miss |
From our perspective, they tell us if you hire Houston Nutt, you better be prepared for the roller coaster ride on which he likes to take programs. If he gets the right talent and the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to put up a good year or two. However, if he doesn't have the right talent or the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to have some rough years. For example, in his first two years at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt was 18-8 with elite skill position players on the offensive side of the ball. Since Snead, Wallace, and Oher have departed, Nutt is 6-15 with some really embarrassing losses (see Jacksonville State 2010, Vanderbilt 2010 & 2011, and Kentucky 2011).

How much of this was playing for maybe the second-least-skilled team in the SEC? Could he do better against his peers if he were to come to Buffalo?

Well he is, to say the least, an innovative recruiter. In May 2009, the SEC passed a rule restricting its football teams to accepting no more than 28 National Letters of Intent each year. This move was widely viewed as a direct response to the University of Mississippi and its head coach, Houston Nutt, having promised 37 scholarships to new recruits for the 2009 season.

It's a more than a little bit unethical to promises 37 scholarships when you don't have the bandwidth  Despite Nutt's reputation as an academic coach a lot of kids on scholarship were removed to make room for the incoming freshman. Still, oversigning was very common in the SEC back in the day; Nutt was just more open about it than most of his counterparts.

Could Houston Nutt be swayed to take a job in Buffalo?

He interviewed with the Cowboys this summer for an assistant coaching position and has expressed a desire to return to coaching if the right job pops up. Buffalo could be that job given they have one more year of Joe Licata, Nutt's teams perform their best when he has a great quarterback.

Would Nutt be right for Buffalo?

I've asked around and nobody from the Ole Miss fan base wants to go on record either endorsing or trashing Nutt. It would be a name hire, but I'm not sure it's the "perfect fit" for UB.