A Long Time Coming: The Resignation Of Houston Nutt

There are some other topics I need to write about, but I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about Houston Nutt, who resigned yesterday as the Arkansas Razorback Head Football Coach.

Nutt has had enemies throughout his 10-year reign at Arkansas, but over the past 12 months or so, the number of fans calling for his head has grown exponentially.

A lot of people outside of Arkansas, and especially outside of Northwest Arkansas, can’t understand this—why would you want to fire a coach who won 10 games last year and just knocked off the number one team in the country last week?

Houston Nutt as a Coach
To start on a positive note, let me say that Nutt is not without some good qualities.

First of all, Nutt is a pretty good recruiter. Although he has missed out (especially recently) on some big prospects, during his years at Arkansas, he has brought in a lot of talent. Cedric Cobbs, Matt Jones, Marcus Monk, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were all Nutt recruits, although they were all pretty much “local” finds—all of these players were from Arkansas except Jones, who came all the way from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Secondly, Nutt has always been able to get his players to play with emotion. This makes Arkansas especially dangerous in big games, as LSU found out on Friday. But it’s hard to play on emotion for an entire season.

When it comes to the Xs and Os on the field, I am certainly not the most qualified to talk, but in my opinion, Houston Nutt is not a terrible coach. In fact, he’s the best football coach Arkansas has had in my memory (although, admittedly, being the best out of three isn’t necessarily a sterling accomplishment). But by no means is he a great coach.

Arkansas is 8-4 this season with a team that has three potential first round running backs including Darren McFadden who, with all due respect to Tim Tebow, is the best player in the country, hands down. This is a team that could be 11-1 and in the National Championship picture were it not for critical coaching mistakes made by Nutt in the first three losses of the season.

My basic feeling is that Nutt is not the guy who will ever get you to a National Championship, but that he is more than capable when it comes to building teams that are a little better than average and are capable of winning (or losing) just about any game.

With Arkansas not having won a national title in 40+ years, that probably would have been good enough for most fans, were it not for Nutt’s actions off the field.

The Springdale Problem

Most people who follow college football are at least vaguely aware that much of Nutt’s trouble stems from the fact that he brought two Northwest Arkansas heroes (I use that term without exaggeration), to the University of Arkansas and then basically ran them off. Mitch Mustain, a highly-recruited quarterback, and Gus Malzahn, a very successful high school football coach, both came to the U of A prior to the 2006 season, only to leave for other schools once it had finished.

In the national media, this was largely blown off–Mustain was written off as a high-maintenance prima donna, while Malzahn was belittled as an arrogant high school coach who should have been more grateful for the opportunity he had been given.

But that was in the national media.

Locally, as I said earlier, both Mustain and Malzahn were basically heroes, and when they committed to the University of Arkansas, everyone was ecstatic.

Mustain was simply the most highly-touted high school prospect to ever come out of the state of Arkansas. The Parade Player of the Year as a senior, Mustain set state passing records while leading Springdale High School to a State Championship and a dominating season in which they outscored opponents 664-118 while playing in the state’s largest classification. Since his junior high years and including his time at Arkansas, Mustain was 61-2 as a starting quarterback.

Malzahn was Mustain’s high school coach. In addition to the 2005 state title, Malzahn won other titles in a smaller classification and was widely regarded around the state as a football genius. He was particularly noted for his offensive ability, and had written a book on his Hurry-Up No Huddle (HUNH) offense which routinely shredded defenses to the point of laughability. Malzahn’s 2005 Springdale team was ranked in the Top 10 nationally, and was generally considered the best high school team in Arkansas history.

It was considered so good in fact, that many people joked that the 2005 Springdale Bulldogs could beat the 2005 Arkansas Razorbacks, who had struggled through a 4-7 season on the heels of a similarly disappointing 5-6 record in 2004.

After amassing a 9-13 cumulative mark in the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Nutt had come under considerable pressure prior to the 2006 season. Two other developments occurred to provide the ingredients for Nutt’s off-field behavior which would turn the stomachs of thousands of Razorback fans and ultimately, turn public opinion within the state against him.

First, Mitch Mustain, who had committed early to the University of Arkansas, backed out on his commitment due in large part to Nutt’s unbalanced run-oriented offensive mindset. Mustain, a passing quarterback, wanted to go somewhere where his skills would be used. After news of Mustain’s wavering surfaced, the pressure on Nutt intensified.

Secondly, Nutt’s play-calling (to this point, Nutt served both as Offensive Coordinator and Head Coach) had come into question to the point that he was strongly encouraged to bring in an Offensive Coordinator.

Gus Malzahn was the Offensive Coordinator that he chose. While people around the country were shocked that Arkansas had hired a high school coach to be the Offensive Coordinator at an SEC school, people in Arkansas, and especially in Northwest Arkansas, were delighted.

The good feelings only increased when Mustain, encouraged by the news of his former coach’s new position at Arkansas, renewed his commitment to the Razorbacks.

Hog fans were euphoric with the vision of the Razorbacks running the HUNH offense with a young Mustain at the helm balanced with the running abilities of Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. With Gus Malzahn in charge and such weapons at his disposal, the Arkansas Razorbacks as a perennial SEC power and National Championship contender didn’t seem too far-fetched.

What became clear though, from the events of the 2006 season, much of which came out after the fact, was that Houston Nutt never shared that vision.

You can find a fairly encyclopedic version of what happened, and all the ways that Mustain and Malzahn were mistreated here—from Malzahn being condescendingly referred to as “high school” by other members of the coaching staff to Houston Nutt’s wife talking in an email about how she wished she had taken part in a near-fatal attack on Mustain’s mother that had happened several years earlier—but I’m not going to go into all the details here. What it comes down to is this: Houston Nutt had to bring in Mustain and Malzahn in order to save his job, and he resented and hated them for it as soon as he did.

  • That’s why he pulled Mustain early in the South Carolina game, despite his unblemished record as a starter that season.
  • That’s why Mustain continued to watch from the bench as QB Casey Dick got to starter and played poorly in Arkansas’ three consecutive losses to end the season.
  • That’s why Malzahn’s HUNH offense was dismissed and only used on a handful of downs all season.
  • That’s why Nutt intended to downgrade Malzahn to Co-Offensive Coordinator, despite the fact that Malzahn was named the National Offensive Coordinator of the Year by Rivals.com.
  • That’s why Malzahn and Mustain both ended up leaving.

The Aftermath
Malzahn, ridiculed by some as being in way over his head, is now the Offensive Coordinator at Tulsa (9-3), where he is no longer referred to derisively as a high school coach, and where he has been allowed to implement his offense. An offense which leads the nation at 548.6 yards per game.

Mustain, who Nutt supporters wrote off as an overrated mama’s boy who couldn’t hack it in the SEC, transferred to USC, a school not exactly known for handing out scholarships to talentless players. Because of his transfer, Mustain had to sit out this season, but has been able to practice as the QB for the Scout Team, and has reportedly impressed Head Coach Pete Carroll to the extent that it is widely suggested that he will end up starting next season.

And Nutt stayed at Arkansas, enduring what must have been a trying season, as more and more condemnatory off the field evidence came out, while on the field, Arkansas struggled at the end of games and with inconsistent play from the QB who Nutt picked instead of Mustain.

At the end of a regular season highlighted by last week’s defeat of top-ranked LSU, the overall feeling among the Arkansas fans is one of “what might have been.”

The Future
And now, the man who sacrificed “what might have been” for the sake of own ego is gone too, leaving behind what seems to be a largely depleted 2008 team with no Malzahn, no Mustain, no McFadden and likely no Felix Jones. Certainly a high price to pay to get rid of him, but it’s what needed to happen.

And for those of you who insist on toeing the (uninformed) national media line and feeling bad for Nutt, don’t—he received a $3.5 million going away present and has already found himself another job at Ole Miss, which isn’t surprising, since the Rebels were one of the only SEC teams Nutt could consistently beat.

On second thought, he is now coaching for Ole Miss, so maybe you should feel sorry for him after all.


Did You Realize…

Just how smart you are?

If you are a regular reader of this blog and you understand what you read, congratulations: you are apparently a genius, or at least, have the reading level of one.

cash advance

I have to admit, when I typed in my URL and the test spat out “Genius”, I was pretty pleased with myself (and shocked).

Unfortunately, I have this sneaking suspicion that perhaps this wasn’t the most scientific of tests…


Gratitude: The Men of Jabesh-Gilead

Last time we talked about the difference between the concepts of gratitude and appreciation, and that basically, gratitude combines a feeling of appreciation with a sense of debt and a desire to act.

One of my favorite Old Testament stories illustrates gratitude very well, and focuses on the men of Jabesh-Gilead.

Just after Saul has been anointed as the first king of Israel, the Ammonites come and besiege the town of Jabesh-Gilead.

The elders of Jabesh know that they can’t withstand the Ammonites, and they also know that they will be treated harshly if they surrender, so they send messengers throughout Israel, hoping that someone will come to their aid.

When Saul hears the news, he becomes angry and promises to deliver the town in 1 Samuel 11.9,11:
“They said to the messengers who had come, “Thus you shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead, ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have deliverance.’” So the messengers went and told the men of Jabesh; and they were glad.

The next morning Saul put the people in three companies; and they came into the midst of the camp at the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.”

Saul’s rescuing of the town of Jabesh-Gilead serves to cement himself as the King of Israel, but if you were to stop reading there, you would be unaware of the debt of gratitude that the men of Jabesh apparently felt toward him.

In fact, you have to go many years into the future, to the very end of Saul’s reign, before Jabesh-Gilead is mentioned again.

This time, Saul has gone to war against the Philistines, and the fighting has gone very badly for the Israelites: three of Saul’s sons are killed, and Saul takes his own life after being badly wounded by an archer.

When the Philistines come upon the body of Saul, they cut off his head and take his weapons. The weapons end up in a temple to a false god, and Saul’s body is hung as a war trophy to the wall of the town of Beth-Shan.

It is at this point, many years after Saul had rescued them from the Ammonites that the men of Jabesh-Gilead make their appearance in 1 Samuel 31.11-13:
“Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there. They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.”
When the men of Jabesh-Gilead hear what has happened to Saul, they remember the debt of gratitude they owe him, walk all night into enemy territory, retrieve his body, and bury it honorably.

This act of gratitude is even more impressive when you realize that this is a debt that they have been waiting to pay for 40 years—the entire length of Saul’s reign. It seems likely that some of the valiant men who made the journey that night weren’t even born yet when Saul had saved their town, and yet they are still willing to risk their lives to protect his honor.

Gratitude compels people to act.

• • •

As a Christian, I believe that Jesus sacrificed Himself to cleanse me of sin and to make reconciliation with God possible.

I very much appreciate that sacrifice, but more than that, I am grateful for it—I wish there was something I could do to repay the debt of gratitude that I feel.

But there isn’t. The best I can do is to try to live each day for Jesus, to live as He Himself did.

I fail often, and sometimes I fail miserably, but I am still compelled to try. Gratitude will allow nothing less.


A Busy Few Days In The World Of Sports

I am supposed to be working on the second halves of other posts (and I am), but there have been several momentous developments in the world of sports, and I wanted to mention them briefly before they were all old news.

  • Barry Bonds has been indicted on four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice. Apparently, the Federal Government is not convinced that Bonds told the truth when he claimed that he had never knowingly taken steroids. Go figure. Bonds could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on all counts (no matter what, he won’t serve nearly that much time), so he’s facing some pretty serious charges.
  • News reports have confirmed that Houston Nutt will not be back next season as the head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. No one knows for sure yet if he is being let go, is stepping down on his own or is off to ruin someone else’s football program, but whatever the specifics, the majority of Arkansans will now have one more thing to be thankful about on Thursday.
  • The Razorback Basketball team lost its first game under new head coach John Pelphrey yesterday, suffering a 16-point defeat at the hands of Providence at an early season tournament in Puerto Rico. The alarming thing is that the Hogs have committed 58 turnovers over the course of the last two games, which, outside of Junior High games, has got to be about the highest total I have ever heard.
  • It looks like A-Rod will be a Yankee next year (and several years after that) after all. Rodriguez swallowed his pride a little and went back to the negotiation table, this time without agent Scott Boras. Analysts have surmised that Boras’ reputation will take a hit from this episode, which might be supported by the fact that Kenny Rogers has already fired him.
  • Oregon QB and Heisman hopeful Dennis Dixon saw his season end Thursday night in the first quarter of his team’s loss to Arizona when he went down with an ACL tear. Dixon is another in a long line of Heisman candidates who have had disappointing seasons due to injury, inconsistent play, or being on a bad team. The injury will help out the chances of Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, but after another mixed performance today (D-Mac had a 50+ yard TD reception and threw for a score as well but ended up with less than 100 yards on the ground), it will probably take a huge game against LSU to give him the Heisman hardware.
There are probably a couple of other developments that I missed. I don’t remember the last time so many big sports stories broke at the same time.


Gratitude: Enzo The Baker

I’ll be out of town visiting the in-laws next week when Thanksgiving rolls around and probably won’t have time to write anything thoughtful, so I thought I’d get my Thanksgiving thoughts out of the way ahead of time. Here is part one:

One of my all-time favorite movie scenes occurs fairly early in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic classic, The Godfather (for what it’s worth, as good as it is, I think that The Godfather is slightly overrated, but I love this scene).

Vito Corleone, Don of the Corleone crime family and the “Godfather” of the movie’s title, is in the hospital, having barely survived an attempt on his life. His youngest son, Michael, comes to visit him, but discovers that his father is unguarded and all by himself, and realizes that another attempt is about to be made on his life.

Michael calls his older brother on the phone and tells him to send reinforcements, and then hides his father in another hospital room.

About this time, Enzo the Baker arrives.

Earlier in the movie, the Godfather had used his considerable influence to take care of some immigration issues that Enzo was struggling with, and now the young Sicilian has come to pay his respects to the ailing Don.

Michael tries to warn Enzo of the danger he is in, but Enzo refuses to leave:

“You better get out of here, Enzo, there's gonna be trouble.”

“If there is trouble, I stay here to help you. For your father. For your father.”

The two men go outside and wait on the front steps, posing as bodyguards. A car of would-be assassins pulls up, but confused by the appearance of guards where they weren’t expecting to find any, they drive on.

Scared to death, Enzo begins to shake and struggles to light a cigarette. He is out of place in the world of organized crime, but a debt of gratitude has compelled an ordinary man to act in an extraordinary fashion, risking his life to save someone else.

• • •

We talk a lot about being thankful, or grateful, at this time of year, but I wonder if we don’t often mistake appreciation for gratitude.

Sure, we’re glad that we are able to gather with family, and we appreciate the fact that we have a lot of blessings—we certainly wouldn’t want to try living without those blessings—but often that’s as far as it goes.

But gratitude goes a step further than appreciation. From Wikipedia:
“Gratitude is the substance of a heart ready to show appreciation, or thankfulness; it is not simply an emotion, which involves a pleasant feeling that can occur when we receive a favor or benefit from another person, but rather the combination of a state of being and an emotion; often accompanied by a desire to thank them, or to reciprocate for a favour they have done for you.”
Gratitude is a feeling of appreciation accompanied by a desire to act. It was a deep feeling of gratitude that drove Enzo to disregard his own safety in order to help the man who had helped him.

In the second half of this post, we’ll look at one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament, and then consider the theological implications of gratitude.



Major League Baseball’s Gold Gloves, awarded to the best defensive players at each position, were given out this week.

Several of the awards came as no surprise—Greg Maddux set a record by winning his 17th, and Andruw Jones won his 10th in a row—but I was shocked to discover that Atlanta’s Jeff Francoeur was among the recipients.

Francoeur has what is very possibly the best throwing arm in the league, and that certainly helped his defensive reputation, but I never really thought of his glove work as being any better than a little below slightly above average.

Maybe it just goes to show that when you watch guys play game after game after game, you don’t fully appreciate how good they are.

Or maybe it just shows that Gold Gloves don’t always mean a whole lot.

Congratulations Are In Order…

…to my brother, who turned in his dissertation this week.

He’ll still have to make a few revisions and defend it, but he is now one giant step closer to receiving his doctorate in history. Here’s hoping he doesn’t have his future students refer to him as “Dr. Dockery.” That would be highly unfortunate.

I’m already the least educated of the three Dockery children, and now my brother has managed to widen that gap even further.

Oh well. I’ll just have to content myself with the fact that I am younger than him and better at Home Run Derby.


Fayetteville In Fall

There are some things that I really like about living in Northwest Arkansas and other things that I don’t like as much, but certainly one of my favorite things about living here is how pretty it gets in autumn.

I went out last week and took several pictures around town. I’ll post some of the better ones, and for today, here are some highlights from around our apartment:

Oak trees are some of my favorite fall trees.

This shot was greatly aided by the setting sun.

A view of a pond and fountain through some close-up leaves.

Giant flag with the hills in the background.

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