Houston Nutt's Failed Tenure at Ole Miss

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A statistical look at Nutt's tenure at Ole Miss and who might be a good fit to replace him.

<p> A statistical look at Nutt's tenure at Ole Miss and who might be a good fit to replace him.</p>

-by CoachesByTheNumbers.com

With the recent announcement that Houston Nutt will be resigning from Ole Miss at the end of the season, we thought it would be useful to update an earlier piece we wrote on Coach Nutt and expand our list of recommended coaches to be the next head coach at Ole Miss.

The only thing worse than Ole Miss replacing the famed Colonel with the new and more politically correct "Rebel Black Bear" is their on-field performance this season. When Ole Miss decided to replace the Ragin' Cajun Ed Orgeron with Houston Nutt, it appeared they made a solid hire. At the very least, Nutt helped Ole Miss win the press conference. From 2001-2007 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? Let's dig into Houston Nutt's  numbers since 2001 and see what we find;

Coach Years Overall WP% Conf. WP% Non-Conf. WP% WP% vs. Over .500 Teams WP% vs. Top 25 (time of game)
Houston Nutt 2001-Present 56.30% 44.83% 77.08% 35.37% 29.17%

A few more numbers to consider:

Coach Years Wins Conf. Wins Non-Conf. Wins Non-Conf. Non-AQ Wins
Houston Nutt 2001-Present 76 39 37 25

Almost one in every three of Coach Nutt's wins since 2003 came against a Non-AQ Conference opponent. 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 50.70% 40.48% 35.37%

From 2005 to 2007 Nutt had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis in the backfield (three NFL starting running backs) and from 2008 to 2009, Nutt had Jevon Snead at quarterback (one of the nation's top QB's from 08-09), Michael Oher protecting his blind side, and Dexter McCluster and Mike Wallace at the skill positions. Every coach is 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 during the years they were in the backfield.

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 on which he likes to take programs. If he gets the right talent and the right offensive coordinator, 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 elite skill position players on the offensive side of the ball. Since Snead, Wallace, and Oher have departed, Nutt is 6-15 with some really embarrassing losses (see Jacksonville State 2010, Vanderbilt 2010 & 2011, and Kentucky 2011).

So, should Houston Nutt have been forced to resign by 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.

Now that the Ole Miss fan base has spoken and made it clear that they are not content in riding the Houston Nutt wave, it's time to assess the situation and make some job recommendations. Before we get to specific names, let's discuss the job itself. 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. They just don't have talent like Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee, 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 85 43.35% 27.06% 30.59%

For some comparison, since 2004, Alabama has only played 12.50% of its game with inferior talent (only 2 since 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. They 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 failed attempt with Ed Orgeron) but through better schemes and preparation. With this in mind, we are going to give the Rebel Black Bears (hurts to event write that) ten names to consider:

Gus Malzahn

This guy is the extremely obvious choice. He knows the conference, region, and has put up video game numbers as an OC 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. Fun stat on Malzahn: As an OC, his offenses have scored 30+ points 58.97% of the time, 40+ points 41.03% of the time, and 50+ points 23.08% of the time.

Mike Leach

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know he has some baggage. Read his book and you will understand that Leach's "baggage" is not really baggage at all. This guy is a great coach and a good man and should be on the list of any program looking to get better on the field. From 1970-1999, the 30-year period before Leach took the reigns at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders won eight or more games only six times. During Leach's ten years at the helm of Texas Tech, he accomplished this feat eight different times. From 2001-2009, among active and inactive head coaches with two years minimum experience, Mike Leach was our 23rd rated head coach. Keep in mind that during this same period, Leach had an average recruiting ranking of 31. Mile Leach is anxious is to get back on the sidelines and Ole Miss would be a great place for Leach to land.

Rich Rodriquez

The Rich Rod Michigan experiment failed, but we don't believe it failed because Rich Rodriguez is a bad coach. The Rich Rod experiment in Michigan failed because Rich Rod wasn't able to find a competent defensive coordinator (for more details, click here). If we were interviewing Rich Rod for a job, our first question would be regarding who he would hire as his defensive coordinator (we hear Mike Stoops is looking for a job). If we liked the answer (of course checking the numbers on the DC's he mentions), Rich Rod would be very high on our list. Even with three very subpar years at Michigan, Rich Rod still won over 60% of his games from 2001-2010, including four seasons with nine or more wins.

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. Ron Zook's winning percentage without Petrino at Illinois (2005-2009) is 35.00%. Ron Zook's winning percentage with Paul Petrino calling plays for the Fighting Illini is 59.09%. Additionally, Petrino has helped increase Illinois' scoring offense by 25.29% compared to the five years prior. 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.

Kevin Sumlin

Since taking the reigns at Houston in 2008, Kevin Sumlin has won 64.44% of his games and has had a top 15 nationally ranked scoring offense in each of his seasons coaching the Cougars. Houston's overall winning percentage in the five years prior to Sumlin's arrival was 53.97%. However, Sumlin did take over a program that Art Briles had resurrected from the cellar of Conference USA. In the two years before Sumlin took over, Briles' Cougars won 66.67% of their games. Additionally, in Sumlin's first two years as Houston's head coach, Dana Holgorsen was running the offense and calling the plays. In 50% of the games Holgorsen has either been the offensive coordinator or head coach, his team has scored 40 points or more. In Sumlin's one year without either Case Keenum at QB or Dana Holgorsen as OC, the Cougars went 5-7. With Keenum back at the helm of the offense, Houston is off to a 9-0 start. Additionally, Sumlin has coached 65.85% of his games at Houston with superior talent. Coach Sumlin has won 70.37% of games when he has superior talent. However, with equivalent or inferior talent, he has won 42.86% (6-8) of the time. So, there are some things we really like about Coach Sumlin, but overall, there are too many question marks to warrant putting him on our A list.

Kirby Smart

When it comes to numbers, there's not much to dislike about Kirby Smart. Since being named the defensive coordinator in 2008, Alabama has won 88.00% of the time and has an average national scoring defensive rank of 3.25. Kirby Smart played in the SEC (UGA) and has spent a large portion of his coaching career in the SEC. He knows the conference and looks like he should be an A-Lister. The reason Coach Smart is not on our A-List is because of what we call the "Belichick Effect". For a while there, if you wanted to become an NFL head coach all you needed to do was work for Bill Belichick. First it was Romeo Crennel, then it was Charlie Weis and Eric Mangini, and finally Josh McDaniels. The last time we checked, not one of these coaches was still a head coach as of the writing of this article. Nick Saban is one of the best minds in college football (especially on the defensive side of the ball), and you have to be careful not to assume that because someone works for a great head coach they will be a great head coach. Additionally, don't forget that since Saban took over at Alabama, the Tide have entered 100% of its games with equal or superior talent. Ole Miss is not Alabama,  and the Rebel Black Bears have entered just over 70% of their games with equal or superior talent. Every job is unique and you have to make sure that you match up the right coach given the job at hand.

June Jones

The biggest problem we have with June Jones is that we can't picture him without that Lei, stache, and Hawaiian shirt. Once we get past this, we like what we see. In the five years prior to Jones taking over at Hawaii, the Fighting Rainbows had won 20.34% of their games. From 1999-2007, Jones won 64.96% of his games and won nine or more games in six of the nine seasons he was head coach. In the five years before Jones took over at SMU, the Mustangs won 25.86% of their games. Since Coach Jones took over in 2008, the Mustangs have won 45.83% of their games (this includes Jones' first year when SMU went 1-11). If SMU can avoid losing their last four games (assuming a bowl bid), they will have seen their first back-to-back-to-back .500 or better seasons since the mid 1980's. His name doesn't get mentioned that much, but June Jones is one heck of a coach.

Mark Hudspeth

Mark Hudspeth is currently in his first year as head coach of the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. So far in 2011, Hudspeth is off to a 8-2 start. The Ragin' Cajuns have not won more than six games since 1993, so it's safe to say that Coach Hudspeth is having an immediate impact. After the first ten games, the Ragin' Cajuns are scoring 47.78% more points per game compared to 2010. Hudspeth spent the 2009-2010 seasons working as the passing game coordinator under Mississippi St. head coach Dan Mullen. Prior to his stop in Starkville, Hudspeth was the head coach at Division II North Alabama from 2002-2008, where he won 75.86% of his games. It's always risky to hire coaches after one year, but Hudspeth has a nice resume and a history of winning. He knows the state of Mississippi and Southeast and is definitely worth a call.

Hugh Freeze

(see here for pre-season analysis we did on Coach Freeze) One of the primary things we look for in coaches is coaches who are doing things out of the ordinary. In the five years before Hugh Freeze took the head coaching job at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves won 41.67% of their games. In fact Arkansas State has not won more than six games in a season since 1987 when they were playing FCS football. In Freeze's first year at the helm, the Red Wolves are 7-2. Considering that this is the best year they have had since 1987 (there are still three games remaining, all of which the Red Wolves can win), we would call this "out of the ordinary". Making the jump from the Sun Belt to one of the more challenging SEC jobs is not an easy one, and this accounts for Coach Freeze being on our C-List. If some of the bigger names say no, the Rebel Black Bears could do a whole lot worse than Hugh Freeze.

Larry Fedora

Along with Kevin Sumlin, Larry Fedora is probably the most popular flavor of the month in college football. Southern Miss is off to an 8-1 start and has a great chance at a 10+ win season. However, one great year doesn't make a coach great, nor does one lousy year make a coach lousy. In the five years prior to Fedora taking the job in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles won 60.94% of their games and had two 9-win seasons. In the nearly four years that Fedora has been the head coach, Southern Miss has won 62.50% of his games. Fedora has always been impressive on the offensive side of the ball, but hasn't always been so impressive in the win-loss column. From 2001-Present, as an OC and HC, Larry Fedora has had top 25 nationally-ranked scoring offenses seven times. However, during this same time period, as an OC and HC, Fedora's teams have lost at least five games in eight of eleven years. Additionally, Southern Miss traditionally has recruiting advantages in Conference USA. Since 2008 when Fedora took over, only UCF has had on average better recruiting classes. In fact, 62.22% of the games Fedora has coached have been with superior talent. We like a lot of things about Fedora, but we don't want to let this year's success blind us to yesterday's red flags.

Chad Morris

If you were truly starting to believe that Dabo Swinney's pre-game speeches were finally starting to take hold at Clemson, then we would like to introduce you to Chad Morris. Three years ago, Chad Morris was coaching high school football in Texas. During a 16-year head coaching career in Texas, Chad Morris won 169 games, including six state championships. In 2010, then Tulsa head coach Todd Graham hired Chad Morris to succeed Gus Malzahn as Tulsa's offensive coordinator. In 2011, Dabo Swinney hired Chad Morris from Tulsa to become Clemson's OC. To say the least, Morris has put up some impressive numbers. In his two years as an OC, Chad Morris' offenses have scored an average of 39.69 points per game and gained a total of 489.42 yards per game. In his 22 games as an OC, Morris has only tasted defeat three times. Morris would be a huge risk for Ole Miss (much smaller than Ed Orgeron of course), but he also might be the next great head coach. Hiring head coaches is much more art than science, but that doesn't mean there's zero science involved. We believe the above list is a list that based on the numbers gives Ole Miss a shot at hiring a successful head coach.

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