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Mark Richt vs. Houston Nutt: Biggest Game of Their Career?

by Sam Bernstein

Two coaches with more than 225 combined wins find themselves fighting for their jobs this weekend. It is not because they ignored the fact that their players gave away merchandise for tattoos, or that they slipped their players cash when nobody was looking. Mark Richt and Houston Nutt find their jobs in jeopardy for one reason; not winning enough football games.

Mark Richt began his tenure as Georgia’s head coach with a bang. In his second season (2002), the Bulldogs finished as SEC champs with an overall record of 13-1. After several successful seasons and another SEC Championship to his name, Richt was hailed by many as the next Vince Dooley. So why has he found himself under the gun recently? Georgia has seen its win total decline for three consecutive seasons, and a 10-6 defeat to the University of Central Florida in last years’ Liberty Bowl did little to stop the criticism from mounting in Athens.

 Despite the program’s struggles, Richt was given the full support of the University and returned to coach the Bulldogs this year. However, Georgia’s schedule has not made Richt’s job any easier. After getting beaten by national title contender Boise State in their opening game, Georgia had to turn around and face SEC East favorites South Carolina. Georgia displayed a much livelier brand of football against the Gamecocks, but still found themselves on the losing end of a 45-42 score. Richt was able to buy himself a week’s grace with a 59-0 win over Coastal Carolina last weekend, but his real judgment day comes this Saturday when he takes his Bulldogs to Oxford.

Similarly to Richt at Georgia, Houston Nutt experienced early success at Ole Miss after taking over for Ed Orgeron in 2008. The Rebels posted matching 9-4 records in Nutt’s first two seasons, and brought two Cotton Bowl trophies back to campus. However, experts did not have to wait very long to realize Nutt’s luck at Ole Miss was ephemeral. In the opening game of the 2010 season, the Rebels suffered a shocking home loss to Division I-AA Jacksonville State. Ole Miss never fully recovered from this game, and went on to finish the season with an ugly 4-8 record.

Nutt faced rumors about his job security in the off-season, but he retained his position for the 2011 season. When Ole Miss lost their season opener to BYU, Nutt began hearing the boo-birds. However, the game that drew the ire of the Ole Miss fans was last weekend’s drubbing at Vanderbilt. The Rebels had won the previous week against Southern Illinois, but failed to bring both their playbooks and effort with them to Nashville. Ole Miss didn’t just lose to James Franklin’s squad, they were thrashed. Vanderbilt, long thought of as the joke of the SEC, intercepted five Ole Miss passes, and dominated the Rebels in every facet of the game. Following the defeat, Nutt said “There hasn't been much sleep lately.” If Ole Miss loses again this weekend, you can bet that Nutt will be having plenty more nights of tossing and turning.'

Despite their recent struggles, both Bulldog and Rebel fans must remember that their teams only have one conference loss. A win for Richt and Nutt will have them dreaming again about titles in their respective divisions. However, a loss will leave both coaches with a far darker thought; unemployment.