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The ironic bookends to Hugh Freeze’s time at Ole Miss begin and end with Houston Nutt

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Lawsuit, discovery, phone call to escort service, resignation. Bang, bang, bang.

Arkansas v Mississippi
When you’re gonna get that asshole fired.
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Houston Nutt sure as hell got his.

Houston Nutt got axed at Ole Miss after the 2011 season, a campaign that saw Ole Miss submit double-digit losses to Vanderbilt, Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, LSU, and Mississippi State. That’s a veritable skid row of early-aughts college football awfulness, and it doesn’t even include a single-digit loss to BYU to begin the season.

Houston Nutt found himself out of work in 2007 after Arkansas fans and news outlets filed FOIA requests for his university-provided cell phone, which later turned up to have exchanged over 2,000 text messages with a local news anchor. That salacious bit of personal intercommunication prompted rumors that Nutt was carrying on an affair with said anchor — a charge he vehemently denied — but such prurient peccadillos absolutely do not scan in central Arkansas. Or north-central Mississippi, for that matter.

Houston Nutt’s staff at Ole Miss committed blatant, textbook academic fraud when they corrected or outright completed ACT answer sheets for a handful of players just to get them eligible for the upcoming season. He drew in and signed so many damn recruits that the NCAA had to impose a new rule to limit the amount of players a given program could sign each year. He’s a weirdo and a bozo, and in retrospect it boggles the mind that Pete Boone even entertained the notion of bringing him to town. He coaxed Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon and picked off Florida in Gainesville in 2008, handing the Gators their lone loss in a season they would go to repeat as national champions.

Houston Nutt earned a monument on Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin stadium, after a teary, doe-eyed presser by one Tim Tebow. His shadow stretches from Fayetteville to Gainesville to Oxford and back around to all three, as it necessarily should.

Houston Nutt’s NCAA violations perhaps add up in egregiousness to those committed by and under Hugh Freeze, but they pale in number. Freeze straight up ran a dirty program, whereas Nutt headed up what was probably your garden-variety malfeasance, observable the country over should anyone care to pay enough attention.

Still, when the initial Notice of Allegations came down the pipe, Freeze, Ross Bjork, and Jeff Vitter threw Nutt under the bus, continually telling recruits that, no no no, not at all, it’s Nutt who’s responsible for this shit; we’re just living through the aftereffects. Nutt didn’t like that at all, and his anger was vindicated in the first half of 2017, when the NCAA handed down updated Notices of Allegations, Ole Miss its response letters, and Nutt a lawsuit against the University of Mississippi and Ole Miss Athletics Foundation.

In the course of the discovery process for that lawsuit, it of course emerged that Freeze had made a one-minute call to an escort service in Tampa, Fla., and Nutt’s attorney Thomas Mars had the decency to alert the university to that fact. He rightly pointed out that this would, could, and eventually should prove “embarrassing” to everyone involved, and thus Freeze removed himself from the discussion presumably at the bequest of those above him.

What we’re left with, then, is one coach — Nutt — undone by questionable cell phone behavior — upending another coach for the same reason, 10 years after the fact. Nutt left Oxford presumably frustrated and irate. His successor trashed him on the recruiting trail and to the media. Go brood for 10 years and receive a grand opportunity to jugulate the guy that replaced and badmouthed you, how can you not.

The great question — the eironeia — of the Oedipus Rex is “do you see what’s happening here, Oedipus?” Oedipus ends the drama by ripping his eyes out of his head, because no, he didn’t and couldn’t see what was before him. Hugh Freeze never saw this coming, and for that he’s likely never to coach collegiate football again.