Mustain apparently passing on Malzahn-free Arkansas

Updated: January 17, 2007, 2:32 AM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Mitch Mustain signed with Arkansas after Gus Malzahn was hired as offensive coordinator.

Now that Malzahn is gone, it appears Mustain will be, too.

Mustain has received permission to transfer, coach Houston Nutt said Tuesday. The announcement came a year to the day after the quarterback made public his final decision to sign with the Razorbacks.

Nutt said Mustain had asked for and been granted his release. Nutt appeared to be holding out hope that the freshman would decide to stay at Arkansas.

"I don't know for sure where we are right now," Nutt told reporters at a news conference in Fayetteville. "Naturally, I don't want him to go. I want him to stay here."

Nutt acknowledged he doesn't remember many instances of players changing their minds after being released. Mustain has reportedly cleaned out his dorm room.

Malzahn, who coached Mustain at Springdale High School in Arkansas, was the Razorbacks' offensive coordinator this season. But Malzahn left Arkansas this week to become assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa.

Nutt said he met with Mustain, but he wouldn't go into detail about what was said.

"I'd rather keep that confidential," Nutt said.

Attempts to reach Mustain were unsuccessful Tuesday night, and his mother, Beck Campbell, did not return repeated phone messages.

Mustain went 8-0 as a starter in 2006, helping Arkansas to a 10-4 season and a No. 15 national ranking.

But Mustain wasn't always sharp. He was benched in a November win over South Carolina, and he hardly played again until splitting time with starter Casey Dick in Arkansas' Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Mustain completed 52.3 percent of his passes this season for 894 yards with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Last month, parents of Mustain and two other freshmen met with athletic director Frank Broyles amid concerns Malzahn didn't have enough control over the offense. One of the freshmen, receiver Damian Williams, has transferred to Southern California.

The third freshman was tight end Ben Cleveland. Nutt said Cleveland was in Kansas for a friend's funeral, so his status was unclear.

Mustain was the Parade magazine prep player of the year in 2005. He said in August of that year he would attend Arkansas, but he opened his recruitment again after his high school season ended.

On Jan. 16, 2006, Mustain told a newspaper he would play for the Razorbacks.

A recent book about Springdale's 2005 season shed more light on Mustain's recruitment. According to the book, while he was considering which school to go to, Mustain questioned the sophistication of Arkansas' offense. He also made an off-the-cuff comment after Nutt took credit for a play call following an Arkansas win. The quarterback said Arkansas "would have a better chance of getting me" if Nutt were fired.

Arkansas hired Malzahn after the 2005 season, and Mustain eventually signed with the Razorbacks. Williams and Cleveland also signed after they appeared headed elsewhere.

All three played as freshmen, but Arkansas relied on its running game -- tailback Darren McFadden was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. The spread, no-huddle offense Malzahn used at Springdale was never a factor.

The Razorbacks won 10 straight games at one point -- but the warm feelings from that stretch have been overshadowed lately. Arkansas lost three straight to end the season, and as the Razorbacks prepared for their bowl, Nutt was still being asked about the controversy surrounding his team.

In late December, Nutt indicated a contract extension was in the works for Malzahn.

"You'll see, next week, he'll get a contract extension, and hopefully we'll put all that to rest. And we'll see what happens," Nutt said then.

But next week came and went, and Malzahn ended up leaving for Tulsa.

Now, the other shoe seems to have dropped.

Nutt said he only wants players who want to be at Arkansas.

"I've told all the players, if they want their release, we'll grant their release," Nutt said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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