by Nate Olson
Any time you praise former Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt, you run the risk of being trolled. So, before I go any further, let me say I didn’t agree with some of the things he did at Arkansas, especially how he treated freshman quarterback Mitch Mustain and then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. But, especially Mustain.
I’ve written multiple stories about Mustain and interviewed him and his mom, Beck Campbell, more than once. After talking with them and others around the program, I don’t blame her for being involved or him being upset. So, no, Nutt was not without his faults, and then there was the whole ‘golden handcuffs’ thing as he attended his firing press conference and announced he was on to Ole Miss. That entire ending to his Arkansas tenure was bizarre. On the other hand, I don’t Nutt needed to endure Freedom of Information Act requests or airplanes with banners flying over the stadium during pregame.
Having said all of that, I do agree with his formula for success at Arkansas, and think current Hogs Coach Chad Morris should pay attention. While speaking at the Little Rock Touchdown Club Monday (Nutt was very good by the way), he discussed the value of including a core group of Arkansans on the roster.
Nutt, a Little Rock native, is obviously biased, but his rationale is Arkansas kids will fight for the program. He did a magnificent job of taking recruits who were not highly regarded and turning them into a great player. Think Little Rock Parkview’s Jamaal Anderson, who turned into a beast at defensive end. There were also several success stories on the offensive line including Harrison’s Brandon Burlsworth (He was already developed when Nutt got there) and Newport’s Bo Lacy.
To a degree, Nutt did what Tom Osborne’s Nebraska teams did with recruiting in-state linemen and redshirting them and combining them with top-flight skill talent although Osborne had a wider base to choose from. But Nutt did lure in-state jewels Matt Jones, Darren McFadden and Peyton Hillis. Lining up McFadden, Jones and Hillis was big-time.
Nutt also stressed the importance of having a good quarterback including Jones, Clint Stoerner and Casey Dick. Build around those players with a solid line and other skill players. It was a recipe that worked.
Last winter, when I wrote a column about how Morris should include more Arkansas players, I was jeered. How dare I have the gall to criticize one of Arkansas’ highest-rated recruiting classes. Hey, I get it, and Texas recruiting ties is Morris’ greatest asset. However, don’t be afraid to offer some of the fringe Arkansas players like Nutt did. Like Nutt said, stars are overrated. It’s clear Morris feels pressure to have the highest rated class he can. Nutt never worried about that and managed to compete with the SEC elite on the field.
Nutt’s point is when times are tough, in-state players buckle down and play with a sense of pride. They may also be less likely to decommit as three of Morris’ recruits have in recent weeks. Nutt’s advice on that is to shrug it off and find players who want to play for Arkansas.
Hearing Nutt on Monday was a reminder of what he did right and how it was the foundation of his program. It can be that way again and a dynamic recruiter can raise the bar and land even better talent than Nutt did outside of the state go along with the home-grown talent.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons