Houston Dale Nutt, formerly of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, formerly of the Ole Miss Rebels, and most recently of CBS Sports, is suing everyone in sight connected to Ole Miss football, he and his attorney announced on Wednesday, in response to the revelations back in February that eight new allegations were made by the NCAA against Rebel football. None of those new charges involve Nutt’s tenure in Oxford, though according to the former Rebel coach, that’s precisely what Hugh Freeze and company have been telling anyone who’ll listen — especially football recruits.
The lawsuit was announced just one day before Freeze is set to take the dais at SEC media days in Birmingham, Ala. There’s probably nothing to that timing.
Anyway, the complaint alleges embarrassment at the hands of his former program, emotional distress in the wake of this messy investigation and the revelations found therein, lost wages (presumably from a failure to land another coaching gig), and recuperation of his legal fees. The defendants list includes: the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, the University of Mississippi itself, and the Board of Trustees for Institutions of High Learning. Freeze isn’t named as a defendant, even though the initial complaint is rife with his presence.
Here’s the complaint in full:
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Nutt is most angry about a “long-running … smear campaign” on the part of Freeze and the Rebel football program.
Of particular interest on July 12, 2017 — again, the day before Freeze’s appearance before the assembled SEC football media — is this detail:
Coach Freeze had knowingly lied to the journalists and recruiting prospects by saying that the NCAA’s investigation had little, if anything, to do with him or his coaching staff and was instead focused on alleged rules violations by Coach Nutt’s staff. In some of these conversations, Coach Freeze falsely stated that most, if not all, of the NCAA’s allegations involved ‘Houston Nutt’ and his staff. At the time Coach Freeze made these statements, he was fully aware that they were patently false, yet he continued to make such statements, severely damaging Coach Nutt’s reputation.
Here we meet with a gray area, since the original NOA letter issued back in 2015 most certainly did implicate Nutt’s staff in NCAA malfeasance, so Nutt essentially seems to be arguing about the timing and targets of certain statements in relation to the two NOA releases.
One assumes that Freeze will issue myriad no-comments on Thursday when asked about whether or not — and why — he allegedly lied to the media about the scope and timing of allegations against himself over and against allegations concerning his predecessor.
The suit questions whether Freeze is as morally religious as he puts on.
There’s also the unsavory detail about Freeze’s outward shows of religiosity and moral rectitude, which sticks in most everyone’s collective craw not connected to Ole Miss football: “[Freeze was] going to extraordinary lengths through social media and otherwise to promote his self-image as a deeply spiritual Godly man who’s done nothing wrong and is being persecuted.”
That passage is in reference to a post at SB Nation, in which four-star cornerback Chevin Calloway told SBN reporters Morgan Moriarty and Bud Elliott that Freeze cites Jesus Christ’s ordeal on the cross as an apposite example of the coach’s NCAA struggles. Freeze reportedly told Calloway, “What do you expect? Jesus got nailed to the cross.”
Not a strong parallel to draw, to be sure, but as for its passing muster in actual legal proceedings? Well.
What does this mean for Freeze?
That’s where this gets hairy. If Freeze is found to have been shitting on Nutt’s otherwise sterling reputation with the university, then his contract and albatross may become to much to bear for Ross Bjork and Jeff Vitter. The blowback fromthe Rebel faithful alone could undo him, though one gets the sense that more fans currently side with Freeze over Nutt, who won just two games in his last season in Oxford, neither of which came against an SEC opponent.
Even so, should this legal entanglement draw out and grow ever more expensive — never mind how deep Ole Miss’ war coffers are — it’d be hard to justify keeping on a coach whom everyone in the conference already calls A LYIN’ LIAR. Either way, if it’s found out that Freeze’s shop was badmouthing Nutt, as the latter says the former was, that’s in violation of the latter’s severance package, which prohibits false or misleading statements about Nutt on the part of the university and its personnel.
However this shakes out, one can’t help but think that Nutt’s lawsuit — especially coupled with its timing — is meant to do the most damage to his former employer as possible, along with his successor. Just how much damage Freeze can weather has yet to be seen, as does the degree of resoluteness with which Bjork and Vitter will stand by their man.