Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Embattled Nutt out as Arkansas coach, leaves team to Herring

AP Sports Writer

Houston Nutt finished his career at Arkansas with a win over top-ranked LSU.

That was one of few bright moments this year for the embattled coach.

``Last Friday night, in front of the nation ... that one heartbeat, that togetherness,'' Nutt said. ``The celebrating locker room is what you live for. I can't explain what that meant to me.''

Nutt resigned Monday, giving up his job three days after that memorable victory. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring will coach Arkansas in its bowl game.

Nutt, 50, said he hoped his departure would unify the state, which has been torn with turmoil surrounding the football program.

``Deep, deep down in my heart as an Arkansan, as a person that loves the Razorbacks so much, (I wanted) for the state to come together as one,'' Nutt said. ``At this time, I didn't think we could have one heartbeat.''

Rumors of Nutt's departure surrounded the program after the loss last winter of key recruits and a popular assistant coach. Trouble mounted for the coach after the Razorbacks lost their first three Southeastern Conference games after a turmoil-filled offseason.

Arkansas did rebound to finish the regular season 8-4 and knocked LSU out of the nation's No. 1 spot with a 50-48, triple-overtime victory over the Tigers on Friday.

Two weeks ago, the university strongly denied reports that this would be Nutt's last season as Arkansas' coach. On Sunday, Nutt said Chancellor John A. White and outgoing athletic director Frank Broyles wanted him to return, but he said more talks with the university were forthcoming.

``Houston's decision to resign was neither forced, or encouraged, or requested,'' White said.

White said Nutt's contract gave the coach a set of ``golden handcuffs'' under which Nutt would have to pay the university if he takes another coaching job while also forfeiting a significant amount of money. White said he told Nutt he would ask the Razorback Foundation to free Nutt of the obligations.

Arkansas began this season in the Top 25 but fell out in September. The Razorbacks ended up 4-4 in league play.

Nutt went 75-48 at Arkansas since being hired in December 1997 to replace Danny Ford. Only Broyles (144) has won more games with the Razorbacks. Nutt took the Hogs to two Southeastern Conference title games, losing each time. He went 42-38 in SEC regular-season games and went to bowls during his first six seasons at Arkansas.

``I'm going to remember the good times,'' Broyles said.

A year ago at this time, Arkansas was preparing to play for the SEC title, which the school has never won. In fact, the Razorbacks started 10-1 in 2006 before losing to LSU, to Florida for the conference championship and to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

Nutt's status was never the same afterward. In January, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left to join the staff at Tulsa, lending credence to speculation not everyone was on the same page. A short while later quarterback Mitch Mustain transferred.

As the team struggled this year, planes were spotted at games towing anti-Nutt banners.

``It's sad that it had to end like this,'' star running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Darren McFadden said. ``Coach Nutt, I love playing for him. He's a great coach.''

Herring, in his third season as Arkansas' defensive coordinator, will take over for the time being.

``Although it is extremely difficult to see coach Nutt leave, I am honored and welcome the challenge of leading the Razorback football team and working with the other coaches on our staff as we prepare our team for a bowl game and as we continue to recruit,'' Herring said in a statement.

Athletic director-designate Jeff Long, who replaces Broyles on Jan. 1, will direct the search for Nutt's replacement.

Despite the announcement, the mood Monday was upbeat. Arkansas is still basking in the glow of last week's win. Nutt's name also figures to be mentioned in connection with other openings. His overall record as a college coach is 111-70, including four years at Murray State and one at Boise State before taking over at Arkansas.

Nutt went to Central High School in Little Rock. He played quarterback at Arkansas before transferring to Oklahoma State following the 1977 season.

``I'd just encourage everybody - everybody,'' Nutt said. ``Let's all come together. Let's be Razorbacks. Once you're a Razorback, you're always a Razorback - for life.''

Source: ncaafootball.com; Photo Credit: SEC Sports Media