Houston Nutt's time at Ole Miss is drawing to a close.
The school announced the coach will resign at the end of the 2011 season and that athletic director Pete Boone will resign within the next year.
"Our goal is to compete for championships, and we are not making progress in that regard," Boone said. "It's time for our team to have new leadership and a new direction."
The moves mark an era of change at Ole Miss, and it's one that needed to come.
For all the good Nutt did during his first two years, the past season and a half have been atrocious for the football program. After back-to-back nine-win seasons that included two Cotton Bowl victories, the Rebels have lost 15 of 21 games and have lost 12 straight conference games.
In Nutt's first year, Ole Miss was the only stumbling block during Florida's national championship season in 2008, and he's gone 2-1 against LSU.
But Ole Miss also has lost two straight to Mississippi State, lost to Vanderbilt three out of four times and suffered through an embarrassing double-overtime home loss to Jacksonville State last season, marking the first time Ole Miss ever lost to a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
Getting to last season's four-win mark seems tough with LSU and Mississippi State still on Ole Miss’ schedule.
Nutt was seen as a savior after his first two seasons. His signature straw hat had become a popular symbol among the community (just look at the Rebels' new mascot), and his Southern charm was –- and will no doubt remain -- very inviting. Nutt guided Ole Miss to its best two years of football in more than 40 years, but the stigma was that he did it with former coach Ed Orgeron’s players.
Recruiting misses and attrition caught up with him the past two years, but one issue Nutt has dealt with for most of his time in Oxford has been the inability to find a consistently good quarterback. Jevan Snead had a tremendous second half in his first year under Nutt in 2008 but struggled mightily in 2009.
Last season, Nutt's experiment with troubled quarterback Jeremiah Masoli didn't really work out, either. Even equipped with longtime bud David Lee as offensive coordinator this season, the offense regressed. Ole Miss shuffled through three quarterbacks before finally deciding on Randall Mackey in Week 5, but currently ranks 11th in the league in total offense (295.7 yards per game).
This team was supposed to be better, but it simply isn’t close.
"My time at Ole Miss has been very special, and I've enjoyed working with a wonderful group of athletes and the Ole Miss community at large," Nutt said. "Change is never easy, but I understand why it's necessary.”
When talking to those around the program, you get the sense that players have lost their passion this season. On-field discipline was an issue for the Rebels last season and continues to be one this year. The Rebels have been plagued with execution problems on both sides of the ball and are 11th in the league in penalties, averaging seven per game. That all reflects on the coach.
But passion around the program in general has been lacking. Just look at the Forward Rebels movement that has been calling for change, especially the firing of Boone, for months.
Boone's departure should usher in even more much-needed change. Remember, it was Boone who called out Nutt’s players and upstaged his coach following the 31-7 loss to Vanderbilt in September. Boone did nothing but worsen a situation for a program that has been teetering in mediocrity for years under his watch.
One major flaw during Nutt’s tenure was his inability to recruit the state of Mississippi until only recently. He won the recruiting battle with Mississippi State and Dan Mullen this year, and we've seen a heavy helping of that 2011 class, so barring major attrition, the Ole Miss cupboard won't be bare for the next coach.
Maybe Nutt needed more time with his new recruiting classes. Maybe his first two years should have cleared him for at least one more after 2011. Or maybe the failures of 2011, including blowout losses to Vanderbilt and Kentucky, were just too much.
But now it's time for change and patience. This isn't exactly Alabama or LSU, although there is a perception around the program that Ole Miss is on that level.
(Three coaches since 2007 should be evidence enough.)
It's time for chancellor Dan Jones to figure out exactly what he wants from his football program.
Does he look within the SEC at coordinators such as Alabama's Kirby Smart or Auburn's Gus Malzahn? Or does he look at an up-and-comer, such as Houston's Kevin Sumlin or Louisville’s Charlie Strong, who is an extraordinary recruiter, was the wide receivers coach at Ole Miss in 1990 and has an affinity for Oxford?
Whatever direction Jones goes, he and those around him must realize that building this program up will take time. This isn’t a quick fix. Time and effort from all outlets are needed.