When discussing his most memorable games against LSU as a head coach, Ole Miss’ Houston Nutt relayed the sad reality of life as an SEC coach.
Naturally, Nutt talked about his 2-0 start against the Tigers, but he also mentioned the thoughts of the fans back then. He reminisced about the emails he received praising him for winning the close games that had always gotten away from Ole Miss.
Life was good after back-to-back wins over LSU, back-to-back nine-win seasons and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories.
“There were also some emails that I got that said I was going to be here as long as John Vaught during that time,” Nutt said. “That shows you how quickly our game changes. Those games are in the rear-view mirror.”
And so are Nutt’s successes at Ole Miss. After a promising start, Nutt is on his way out after back-to-back disastrous seasons.
Saturday, Nutt will coach his last game inside Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium as Ole Miss’ coach, just like the Rebels’ senior class will play its last game there. Those who came in with him will leave with him, but in a very unflattering manner.
Senior running back Brandon Bolden, who said Nutt was the final factor in his decision to pick Ole Miss over Alabama, said Saturday would be very bittersweet. He’s excited for senior day, but he’s sad to part ways with his team and his coach.
He described his first two years as great, but the last two as “a blow to the stomach,” and more specifically, this year, which currently has Ole Miss 2-8 and riding a 12-game conference losing streak dating back to last year, as a “slap in the face.”
“We just had bad on bad after we had two good years when he started with the program,” Bolden said. “It’s how the ball rolls sometimes. We came out real hot and then we got real cold.”
It’s time to find some fire again, Bolden said.
After Saturday’s dreadful homecoming loss to Louisiana Tech, Bolden said Ole Miss’ locker room was mostly silent with shocked stitched on the Rebels’ faces.
But it’s time for Ole Miss to get over the misery of Saturday -- and the season -- and step up against No. 1 LSU (10-0, 6-0), a team Nutt is 2-1 against as Ole Miss’ coach.
This isn’t just an SEC game. It’s a rivalry game that Bolden said the freshmen have been asking about since the summer and means more sometimes than a winning season.
“The older guys know what this game means, the freshmen know what this game means and it’s been reiterated over and over,” Bolden said. “Everybody will be mentally ready.”
Sixth-year senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett, who went through two rough Ed Orgeron years, said players have no excuse not to be ready. Mourning is over and Lockett said true competitors relish in the opportunity to rebound after crushing losses.
“It’s football, man. If you don’t get excited to play football, then you’re playing the wrong sport,” Lockett said. “You’re supposed to be doing it because you love it and you’re supposed to be competitive about it, but that loss is supposed to take something from you because you’re a competitor.”
Lockett said keeping the Rebels’ locker room hasn’t been an issue and that the team hasn’t quit.
He’s also a realist when it comes to Nutt’s situation. He said he and his teammates “love” Nutt, but Lockett understands that wins define coaches.
“This is the world we live in. People want W’s and want you to be productive,” he said. “The first two years were great years, but you knew it had to come to an end. Those guys had to graduate, the next guys had to graduate and you have to build and get younger guys. That’s where we are now. Because he wasn’t producing enough W’s, changes had to be made.
“It was unfortunate, but that’s the way life is.”
When Lockett thinks about going out with his head coach, you can hear dejection in his otherwise cheery voice. He knows this isn’t all on Nutt, and for that, it’s tough for the senior to come to grips with the fact that better play might have kept the Nutt honeymoon going.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” he said. “It’s your last year and you want to go out with a bang. You want to be known for something good, not known for something bad. You want to give the fans some wins, you want to do it for the community, knowing that they’ve watched you for four or five years growing up and growing into the player you are now.”