Receiver Williams will be given his release to transfer

LITTLE ROCK -- Quarterback Mitch Mustain, staying; tight end Ben Cleveland, staying; receiver Damian Williams, leaving.

Houston Nutt quickly summarized the status of three freshmen whose roles in Arkansas' offense have made them the focus of drama at the tail end of the Razorbacks' first winning season in three years.

The Arkansas coach said Wednesday he would let Williams transfer amid concerns voiced by several parents about the direction of the Razorbacks' offense.

Williams' parents, along with those of two other freshmen, met with athletic director Frank Broyles last week to raise concerns that their sons might not be a good fit for the Razorbacks' system. Parents of Mustain and Cleveland were also at the meeting -- all three players went to Springdale High School.

Nutt said he believes Mustain and Cleveland are "100 percent committed."

"I'm excited about Ben, excited about Mitch, and we are going forward," Nutt said. "And we're going to be very, very, very positive from this day forward."

Williams, a freshman who played high school football at Springdale, is tied for second on the No. 12 Razorbacks with 19 catches. Marcus Monk leads with 49. Williams was named to the Southeastern Conference's all-freshman team last week.

Arkansas will face No. 6 Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl on New Year's Day.

Williams was one of four star players from Springdale who signed with Arkansas in February, including Mustain, Cleveland and receiver Andrew Norman. The Razorbacks hired Springdale coach Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator last December.

Until Nutt's announcement Wednesday, the biggest news of the day concerned Beck Campbell, Mustain's mother. Campbell released a statement about the meeting with Broyles, saying the parents respected Nutt's prerogative to shape the team's strategy.

Campbell said she discussed concerns about her son's future as a football player. Campbell said she did not seek promises or guarantees and that playing time was not an issue.

"It was agreed by all parties involved that the head coach has the valid right to determine the direction of the program and the manner in which the team would develop," she said.

Mustain was one of the nation's most sought-after recruits last year.

Rick Cleveland, the tight end's father, said the parents understand Arkansas can run whatever offense it's comfortable with, but he's concerned the Springdale players might have been sold "a bill of goods" during recruiting.

"Our boys are used to catching 60 passes a year," Cleveland told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "They want to go to a college where they get the same opportunity."

It was the latest distraction for the Razorbacks as they wrap up their best season in years. Led by tailback Darren McFadden's SEC-leading 1,558 yards -- a school record -- Arkansas (10-3) bounced back from two straight losing seasons to win the SEC West. But lately there's been as much talk about Mustain and his fellow freshmen as about Arkansas' upcoming bowl.

A recent book about Springdale's season last year attributed quotes critical of Nutt to Mustain. According to the book, Mustain questioned the sophistication of Arkansas' offense during the recruiting process. 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.

Nutt said he felt the book had been weighing on Mustain. The freshman started eight games -- all wins -- before being replaced by Casey Dick last month. Mustain has completed 52.5 percent of his passes this season for 853 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

"He was talking about the book. It's easy to see why the two weeks prior to South Carolina, why there was a little bit of digression. He had a lot on him. It was the book. He was worried about it," Nutt said.

"I had a good meeting with Mitch earlier in the week, and he apologized to me. He wants to be here, he wants to be a Razorback, and he wants to compete for this job, and I'm excited about that," Nutt said. "Ben Cleveland, I just met with him, he's very, very excited. He wanted to be here, and he's putting everything aside. He wants to be a Razorback, and I accept that 100 percent.

"Damian Williams, unfortunately, he could not accept things the way they are, and he's asked for his release and I have granted his release and he'll have that [Thursday] morning, and I wish him the best," Nutt said.

Williams had initially said he was going to go to Florida, but he switched to Arkansas just before signing day. Mustain, Cleveland and Norman had already committed by that time.

Rick Cleveland said the parents who met with Broyles were concerned about Malzahn's control over the offense. Springdale used a spread offense last year, and the passing game played a bigger role than it has at Arkansas this season.

McFadden, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, and Felix Jones, another 1,000-yard rusher, have been big reasons for that. Nutt said the Razorbacks will eventually do more on offense but that he and his team couldn't afford to think long-term after struggling in 2004 and 2005.

"Y'all know as well as I know -- we had to win this year," Nutt said. "We had to win. That's what y'all told me. We had to win this year. That's what we did -- tried to put our players first."

Malzahn's influence on the offense has been a hot topic around Arkansas.

"We couldn't have won 10 games if there's chemistry flaws," Nutt said.

Nutt admitted that his team had been affected by the recent drama, particularly the book.

"I had to really talk to my seniors hard, because they were hurting for me," Nutt said. "I said, 'Listen, don't worry about me. ... I don't want you bothering Mitch or Ben.'

"We have all said silly things," Nutt said. "We've all said dumb things. No one ... has been there with a tape recorder."

Mustain said he apologized to Nutt.

"I felt as a Christian I owed him an apology," Mustain said. "I asked him to forgive me and I think he did. It's been a lot better since that happened."

Nutt said he wanted any transfer talk resolved as soon as possible.

"I asked them all to go ahead and get out if they're not happy. Get out now -- don't take advantage of me with the [Capital One] Bowl," Nutt said. "We've got too many Magic Kingdom rides, we have too many other things to do."