Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nutt to be Paid $7.4 Million for Four Years

New Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt stands to make $7.4 million in his first four years on the job, with an option for three more years at a total of $6.6 million, athletic director Pete Boone said today.

“The price of poker has gone up,” said Boone. “They’re high, but reasonable numbers, with the market as it is.”

Boone announced in an e-mailed news release that Nutt is the new Rebel coach. The announcement came less than 24 hours after Nutt resigned as the Arkansas coach, and some three days after Ed Orgeron was fired after three years as the Rebel coach.

Boone did not speak to reporters about the hire until 5 p.m. today. Nutt has not returned messages to his cell phone today. He’s scheduled to be introduced as the new coach on Wednesday at a noon news conference at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts on the Ole Miss campus.

Orgeron made about $900,000 annually, with $210,000 in state salary and the rest from the University of Mississippi Athletic Association, the school’s private fund-raising arm for athletics.

Nutt’s contract starts at $1.7 million the first year and escalates to $1.8 million, $1.9 million and $2 million by the fourth year. The option years are for $2.1 million, $2.2 million and $2.3 million.

Boone hired a national headhunter company to aid in the search, but said he’ll only pay them “a couple of thousands of dollars,” because a deal was reached with Nutt so quickly. He said he talked to Nutt briefly on Sunday, then talks intensified throughout the day on Monday. Nutt announced his resignation at Arkansas at 6:30 Monday night, and a deal with Ole Miss was reached by 10 p.m., said Boone.

Nutt, who will receive some $3 million in deferred compensation from Arkansas’ Razorback Foundation, compiled a 75-48 record over 10 seasons. He was offered a reported $2.4 million to stay with the Razorbacks, but chose instead to resign, citing unrest among the Arkansas fan base.

Although the Razorbacks are 8-4 this season, went 10-4 last year and won the Southeastern Conference Western Division title, the last two seasons in Fayetteville, Ark., have been marked with growing fan unrest with Nutt and his program.

Some readers, posting on the clarionledger.com forums and blogs, have stated their opposition to the hiring of Nutt, but Boone said he has “done his homework,” and considered Nutt the perfect coach to rally what has become a fractured Rebel fan base.

“There’s not many Houston Nutts out there who have his success in the SEC and have recruited where we recruit,” Boone said. “I mean, it was just an absolute perfect fit.”

Nutt, 50, won three SEC West Division titles and had a 3-4 bowl record during his tenure. Arkansas, which beat Ole Miss 44-8 on Oct. 20 in Oxford, capped its regular season last Friday with a 50-48 three-overtime victory at Baton Rouge that knocked then-No. 1-ranked LSU out of the national title picture. Nutt will not coach in Arkansas’ yet-to-be-determined bowl game.

Nutt is 111-70 in 15 years as a head coach at Arkansas, Boise State and Murray State. He was 42-38 in SEC games and twice took the Razorbacks to the SEC championship game in Atlanta — a trip Ole Miss has not made since the SEC was expanded to 12 teams and split into divisions in 1992.

While Arkansas is likely headed to the Cotton Bowl, Nutt will be going to the homes of recruits attempting to hold together the promising class Orgeron was assembling.

Nutt said Monday he left Arkansas to help mend a split among fans after off-the-field problems were compounded by a difficult season. The Razorbacks started the year ranked and were expected to contend for the SEC West title against the Tigers.

Arkansas lost its first three SEC games and dropped out of the poll in September, fueling fan discontent over last year's transfer of quarterback Mitch Mustain and the loss of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who left for Tulsa.

Several members of Orgeron’s staff were on the road recruiting Tuesday. Boone said Nutt will have free reign to hire a new staff, but that the three coaches “most interested” in remaining from Orgeron’s staff are recruiting coordinator Hugh Freeze, offensive line coach Art Kehoe and defensive coordinator John Thompson. Thompson, in the first year of a three-year contract worth about $1 million, served as Nutt’s defensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2000-01.

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