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Nutt trying to keep players focused

How Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt and his players can stay focused now and during Saturday’s game against LSU is anyone’s guess.

First, Ole Miss announced this month that Nutt wouldn’t return next season to coach the Rebels. Days later, the Rebels lost their homecoming game against Louisiana Tech by 20 points. Now, with No. 1 LSU (10-0, 6-0) looming, starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rushing Jeff Scott were suspended for violations of team rules.

These days, when it rains in Oxford, it truly pours.

Still, Nutt, who will be coaching his last game in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as Ole Miss’ coach Saturday, said the focus can be found and his players can get ready, but he understands this has been a difficult time for his players.

The loss of a head coach before the season is even over can weigh heavily on a team, especially one struggling like the Rebels (2-8, 0-6) are.

“It’s been a difficult situation,” Nutt said. “What’s tough is when your head coach is not going to be here next year.

“Of course, there are a lot of questions in their mind: Who’s going to be my next coach? Who’s going to coach me? Who’s going to be the head coach?

“That makes it tough on them.”

Nutt said he’s tried to reach players individually to talk to them about this situation. He’s tried to help them take their minds off of the distractions. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s necessary with games still left to play.

He’s explained to players that like life, football can throw unexpected curveballs, but it’s what we do with those pitches that determines our future.

However, these conversations haven’t been easy for Nutt. He was “shocked” by the news that he wouldn’t return. So, as he tries to rekindle that focus within his players, he’s fighting to stay together as well.

“You go on. You take the cards that you’re dealt and you go on and try to lead the best you can,” Nutt said. “The one thing I can go to sleep at night knowing I had a lot of good years in the SEC and I got to do a lot of good things with a lot of good players and good people. And we started out good here.”

But can things end well as a team surrounded by chaos attempts to stop the train that is LSU?

The Grove will no doubt be hopping Saturday, and the Square will be as lively as ever Friday night with a hated rival rolling into town. But the confidence won’t be flowing on the side of the red-and-blue.

For a team that has lost 12 straight conference games, the likelihood of finally getting that one this week against the team at the top of the BCS standings and steamrolling toward a national championship isn’t great.

But Nutt continues to preach to his players not to quit. That’s why he made the decision to coach the remainder of the season after his dismissal. He didn’t want to leave his team hanging, and now he’s hoping his players will do the same.

Regardless, Nutt said Saturday would be tough on him emotionally. He’s enjoyed his four years in Oxford, but wonders if things might be different today had his last two years actually been his first.

“Timing is everything and we’ve had some unfortunate bumps in the road, but there’s a good foundation here,” he said. “There’s a good group of young players that are playing a lot of football.”