Ole Miss Would Be Nutts To Stick With Houston

Houston NuttThe only thing worse than Ole Miss replacing the famed Colonel with the new and more politically correct “Rebel Black Bear” is the Rebs’ on-field performance lately.

When Ole Miss decided to replace the Ragin’ Cajun Ed Orgeron with Houston Nutt, it appeared the right hire had been made. At the very least, Nutt helped Ole Miss win the press conference. From 2001 to 2007 as the head coach at Arkansas, Nutt won nine or more games three different times and competed for an SEC championship.

Coach Nutt is extremely familiar with the SEC and is a four-star coach in our system. What is there not to like, right? Recently, however, a group known as Forward Rebels put out a full page color ad in several Mississippi newspapers calling for a change at Ole Miss. This group is focusing on changes at the administrative level and not the coaching staff, but obviously the Ole Miss fan base realizes that something is amiss in Oxford.

Here at CBTN we like to keep things focused on the coaching level, so let’s take a closer look at Coach Nutt to see if the change the Rebels need is a new head coach. Let’s dig into Nutt’s () numbers since 2001:

Coach Years Overall Win % Conf. Win % Non-Conf. Win % Win % vs. Teams Over .500
Win % vs. Top 25 (time of game)
Houston Nutt 2001-Present 58.14% 47.56% 76.60% 37.18% 31.11%

A few more numbers to consider:

Coach Years Wins Conf. Wins Non-Conf. Wins Non-Conf. Non-AQ Wins
Houston Nutt 2001-Present 75 39 36 24

And one final set of numbers:

Coach Years WP% Conf. WP% WP% Against Over .500 Teams
Houston Nutt 2005-2009 62.50% 55.00% 40.54%
Houston Nutt 2001-2004 & 2010-Present 53.85% 40.48% 34.15%

From ’05 to ’07, Nutt had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis in the backfield (three NFL starting running backs) and from ’08 to ’09, Nutt had Jevan Snead at quarterback (one of the nation’s top QBs at the time). All coaches are better when they have superstars, but good coaches don’t just win when they have special talent. Given the talent level of McFadden and Jones alone, you could argue that Nutt didn’t win nearly big enough.

So, what do the above numbers tell us about Houston Nutt? From our perspective, they tell us if you hire Houston Nutt, you better be prepared for the roller coaster ride he likes to take programs on. If he gets the right talent and the right offensive coordinator (see here for more on the Malzahn effect), he is bound to put up a good year or two.

However, if he doesn’t have the right talent or the right offensive coordinator, he is bound to have some rough years. For example, in his first two years at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt was 18-8 with Jevon Snead at the quarterback position. Since Snead graduated, Nutt is 5-10 with some really embarrassing losses (see Jacksonville State in 2010 and Vanderbilt in 2010 and 2011).

So, should Houston Nutt be on the hot seat at Ole Miss? From our perspective: It depends.

If Ole Miss fans and alumni are content with a few good years mixed in with a few bad, than Nutt is your man. If Ole Miss fans want a little more out of their program, they are going to have to look beyond Houston Nutt. At this point, the numbers on Houston Nutt do a pretty solid job of telling his story as a head coach.

Before we make any specific recommendations for who might be worth considering, we want to define the Ole Miss job. Looking at our proprietary CBTN Job Ranking, Ole Miss is the 26th-best head coaching job in the country. The bad news about this number is that there are eight other SEC jobs ahead of Ole Miss and four are in the SEC West. So, this is a good job in a great conference, but it certainly comes with its challenges.

There are only three teams in the SEC (Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt) that have had lower average recruiting rankings over the last decade than Ole Miss. This isn’t saying Ole Miss doesn’t have talent. The Rebs just don’t have talent like Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and Florida have talent. Let’s consider this as well:

Years Games % Played w/Superior Talent % Played w/Equal Talent % Played w/Inferior Talent
2004-Present 79 43.04% 27.85% 29.11%

For some comparison, since 2004, Alabama has only played 13.33 percent of its games with inferior talent (only two since Nick Saban arrived).

This is all to say that while Ole Miss is an attractive job it is not attractive enough to lure a Gary Patterson or Chris Petersen from their current jobs or an Urban Meyer from the ESPN booth. So, what kind of coach does Ole Miss need?

Looking at the data and information above, Ole Miss is not going to win by lining up and trying to out-physical the rest of the SEC. The Rebs simply don’t have the horses to do this. They need a coach who can out-think his peers and take a solid talent base and help it overachieve, not through “motivation” or “energy” (see the failed attempt with Ed Orgeron) but through better schemes and preparation. With this in mind, we are going to give the Rebels three names to consider: Gus Malzahn, Mike Leach and Paul Petrino

*Gus Malzahn (and here): This guy is the extremely obvious choice. He knows the conference, region and has put up video game numbers as an offensive coordinator at Arkansas, Tulsa, and Auburn. Additionally, he wants to become a head coach. You always take a risk with a coordinator, but given his numbers, Malzahn is well worth the risk.

mike-leach300*Mike Leach: Does Mike Leach come with some baggage? Yes, he does. (Read his book to find out how ridiculous the baggage is.)

This “baggage” is the reason Mike Leach would consider taking the Ole Miss job. Since 2004, Ole Miss has won 55.88 percent of its games with superior talent and 27.27 percent of its games with equivalent talent. These numbers are the reason the program has been so mediocre. The Rebs don’t win enough of the games they should win.

From 2004 to 2009 at Texas Tech, Mike Leach won 78.38 percent of his games with superior talent and 72.73 percent of his games with equivalent talent. This guy can flat out coach, and Ole Miss would be a perfect venue for him to re-enter college football and “resurrect” the Rebel program.

*Paul Petrino: If you are wondering why Illinois is looking like a respectable program once again, look right past head coach Ron Zook to offensive coordinator Paul Petrino. Since arriving in Champaign last year, the Illini have improved their scoring offense by 10 points and have once again become a relevant Big Ten program. Like his brother Bobby, Paul is not going to win any beauty contests or PR awards, but he is going to help you win football games.

Hiring a coordinator brings a certain amount of risk with it, but like with Malzahn, we believe the numbers make the risk one worth taking. We don’t know anything about the Ole Miss AD, board or administration. Maybe they are the problem. However, from looking at the numbers, they also have a little bit of a coaching problem if they are looking to have an elite-level program.

Houston Nutt is a good coach in a lot of ways, but he is not the guy to take Ole Miss beyond mediocrity.