OXFORD, Miss. — This wasn't the way Houston Nutt envisioned ending his Southeastern Conference career.
The 14-year league veteran, who led Arkansas for 10 seasons before coming to Mississippi for the past four, has always relished coaching in what he often calls the "toughest conference in America." But the brutal SEC has a habit of chewing up coaches, and Nutt is its latest victim.
Nutt, 54, will coach his final game at Ole Miss (2-9, 0-7 SEC) on Saturday, when the Rebels travel to face Mississippi State (5-6, 1-6) at Davis Wade Stadium in the Egg Bowl. His team is limping through November with a dismal record, discipline problems and a 13-game SEC losing streak — the longest in school history.
"I don't like going out this way," Nutt said. "I don't like losing. I'm very competitive and losing is the thing that just wrenches your gut."
The losses have mounted in a hurry.
Nutt's resignation was announced on Nov. 7, effective at the end of the season, after a 30-13 loss to Kentucky dropped the Rebels to 2-7. He agreed to coach the last three games, but the results haven't been pretty.
Ole Miss suffered a surprising 27-7 loss to Louisiana Tech on homecoming and was crushed 52-3 by No. 1 LSU last weekend. The Tigers had such a large lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter that coach Les Miles told his offense to take a knee four straight times and give the ball back to the Rebels on downs.
Now it's down to Saturday's game against Mississippi State.
Quarterback Barry Brunetti said the Rebels haven't quit, and want to send their coaches out with a victory, even if the odds appear stacked against them. Starting quarterback Randall Mackey and leading rusher Jeff Scott are suspended for a second straight game for what Nutt called "a violation of team rules."
"We want this win for the coaches," Brunetti said. "We want to go out here and play for these coaches who have been with us these last 12 weeks and since January."
All of the recent losses have — at least for now — overshadowed that Nutt's had some good times. He has a 52-59 SEC record and ranks 15th all-time for wins in league history.
The two-time Associated Press SEC coach of the year took the Razorbacks to eight bowl games in 10 seasons, including the Capital One Bowl after the 2006 season. Arkansas advanced to the SEC championship game twice — losing both times.
He left Arkansas under pressure, but jumped across the Mississippi River and resurrected a dormant Ole Miss program in 2008 and 2009, winning a combined 18 games and back-to-back Cotton Bowls. The Rebels were nationally-ranked at the end of both seasons and it looked like Nutt would be in Oxford for a long, long time.
But the fall has been swift.
Nutt has a 6-17 record over the past two seasons, including a 1-14 mark in the SEC. Two losses to rival Mississippi State and lowly Vanderbilt have been particularly damaging. If the Rebels can't find a way to beat the Bulldogs in the Egg Bowl, it will be the first 10-loss season in school history.
There have been plenty of issues, including poor recruiting, injuries and some plain old bad luck.
Still, Nutt knows there are no excuses.
"I look at it like this, 14 years is a pretty good run in the toughest conference in America," Nutt said. "There are not too many people that can say that. I feel pretty good about that. I've worked with some good players and coaches. I would have liked to go out a little different, but we still have one game left and that's really what I'm focusing on right now."1 comment on this story
After the Egg Bowl, Nutt will be unemployed and Ole Miss will be on a full-blown coaching search.
Nutt will be on his own search, too, and indicated he's not ready to call it a career. But it appears his days in the SEC are over.
"I still feel like there's one more run left in me," Nutt said. "I feel like I can help somebody one more time. We'll see what's available or who has interest and go from there."