Recharged Nutt ready for next challenge

DESTIN, Fla. -- Coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt looks and sounds like a guy who’s got his second wind.

Looking back, Nutt admits that making the move from Arkansas after 10 seasons in Fayetteville probably did re-energize him.

“It seems like you’re 5 years younger,” Nutt said.

Having the new challenge at Ole Miss has helped to erase a lot of the bitter memories from Nutt’s messy divorce with Arkansas. Changing locales has also given Nutt a new perspective on pressure.

“You can worry yourself sick thinking about how many more games do I need to win this year,” Nutt said. “You love being around your players and try to make a difference in their life. That’s what has been fun for us the last two years, building that belief that we can win.

“When I first got here, they hadn’t won a conference game, hadn’t gone to a bowl in four years. That part of it has been fun. That’s what we get lost in. We want them to graduate, want to win, want to go to bowl games -- and sometime, hopefully soon -- we hope to get to Atlanta.”

While the Rebels didn’t cash in on their lofty preseason expectations last year and live up to their top-5 billing, they did put together back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in nearly 50 years. The legendary John Vaught was coaching the Rebels the last time they won nine or more in successive seasons.

Nutt, asked if he thought it would ever get to a point in this league where nine wins simply wasn’t enough, couldn’t help from taking the bait.

“Oh, yeah, back where I was at my previous stop,” he said, his smile growing wider. “That’s the world we get into, the expectations. We won three Western Division titles [at Arkansas], got to Atlanta twice … and they want more. They want you to win it all, and that’s what we wanted to do, to win a national title. But it’s not that easy.”

The Rebels capped last season with their second straight Cotton Bowl victory, but the loss to arch-rival Mississippi State a month earlier in the regular-season finale still festers.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen hasn’t let anybody in the state forget, either. He’s taken delight in referring to Ole Miss as the “school up north.”

Nutt shook his head when asked if he’d come up with a second name for Mississippi State.

“I don’t get into that. I’ll let him handle the geographical things,” Nutt said.