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Houston Nutt, Miami Football Coach? The Moral Outrage Endgame

What if Nevin Shapiro had gotten Houston Nutt hired as Miami's head coach? Are we missing out on something truly special?

Nevin Shapiro wasn't able to broker a confidence in Miami football's inner circle with either Larry Coker or Randy Shannon. That he contacted Houston Nutt directly is enough kindling for us to wonder what kind of machine the duo might have built in Coral Gables. Consider what Shapiro was able to destroy from the relative periphery of the Hurricanes' football program compared to a blast from its very core, and consider the shakier foundation Nutt would've supplied for that detonation.


Despite its unlikeliness, there's a growing sentiment that if Miami's current scandal forces the hapless NCAA to break its malaise and deliver the death penalty to a major program, that ruling would be the crescendo in this latest spate of improprities, and somehow normal, God-fearing college 'ball would return to the land. Such logic is naive - that what the sport is suffering from can be diagnosed as some kind of infection or mystical curse of moral bankruptcy capable of being driven back below with a mighty blow of sanctions.

The problems are systemic and evolving, but if some pointless show of force could at least silence a passel of columnists brokering public outrage while ignoring the real root of the matter, then by all means, let's kill Miami to spite college football. And to that end, on behalf of Ole Miss fans, I apologize* to the greater college football community now knowing what might have been - Houston Nutt to Miami circa 2006, because that would've surely earned deathblow we seemingly need to end this all-of-a-sudden "era" of corruption.

(*even though the Rebels' opening was a year later, and in no way then affected Nutt's interest in jumping out of his morass at Arkansas. Still, "game of inches" and all that...)

In Miami, Nutt would've entered less of a closed atmosphere than what's available in the SEC. Less weekly competition and more national exposure. Breathing room. A fan base that gleefully rejects tradition. Shapiro aside, the boosters are just as hungry as the SEC's but more apt to embrace Nutt's brand of bending guidelines and deflecting the subsequent criticism. As a pair, Nutt and Miami wouldn't have whistled past the graveyard, they'd have wailed gleefully, arm in arm.

Would the finale have been worse? One would assume so, at least in terms of dollar figures handed out, numbers of hotel rooms bought or sexual services rendered. Nutt certainly would've played a richer foil to Shapiro than the tandem of excommunicated Randy Shannon and befuddled Al Golden. Despite what Arkansas would tell you, he'd also still be coaching when the investigation broke this month, and would've paired the corruption befitting four national titles with at least a few 10-win seasons.

There's a good amount of assumption to be made here - that Nutt wouldn't have recognized certain alarms in an ally like Shapiro and adopted Shannon's stance in an about-face. You also have to assume that Houston Nutt is the Houston Nutt those who appropriated his phone records believe him to be - the brother to corruption, the "demagogue according to Hogville." Just this week he's handed down punishment on a star player's arrest quicker than neighboring LSU addressing a similar situation. And the fact Nutt's name has surfaced at all is solely by virtue of an Arkansas vendetta that will haunt Nutt forever. Shapiro likely dialed a few more names, but those lucky souls aren't being chased to the ends of the earth by jilted boosters.

Regardless, Yahoo would've had a smoking gun in the form of direct contact between Shapiro and the sitting head coach. Shannon loathed Shapiro, and his alleged mandate to players and staff is arguably the one move that might potentially spare The U a death penalty ruling. There's some unrecognized irony that the fired Shannon, a respected alumnus (yet also one of Uncle Luke's headhunters during his playing days in Miami's previous Babylon) fought against the influence of Shapiro, whereas an outsider like Nutt would've likely been forced to embrace him. 

Former 'Cane Lamar Thomas bemoaned the lack of the "all about me" mentality and the general absence of pomp and circumstance from the 1980s 'Canes after Shannon's firing. Had Nutt - or any other coach brought in "by" Shapiro - been in charge during that time frame, it's impossible to think that Shapiro's antics wouldn't have seeped into the core of the program and Nutt's personality not resurrected the dormant "swagger" on field and off.

I'd like to think the manic preacher meme would've flourished, but " Nutt the big tent revivalist" is a limited metaphor in this hypothetical. The upwardly striving televangelist feels better - the change in scenery between rural Arkansas to metropolitan Miami certainly assists the mind's eye to a flashier brand of proslethizing. And maybe such an already magnanomous personality would embrace South Beach culture, and the wild gesticulating of his sermons on the rubber chicken circuit would be aided by a single new rose gold pinky ring on those famous talons, just the subtlest acknowledgement of Miami's industrialized hedonism baked manic by year-round sunshine. (As tempting as it is to out-and-out graft "Scarface" onto Jimmy Swaggart, we'll leave it there)

Apropos of the endgame, Nutt and Miami would've been something more special than Nutt and Ole Miss has been or ever could be. Absent of invasive, micromanaging Cheshire cat good old boys who justify treachery with their self-branded excuse of "SEC passion," Coral Gables really would've been the appropriate theatre for Nutt's ego to play.

What does Nutt really bring to today's Ole Miss? There's a strong contingent of fans who felt that he outlasted his stay as soon he finished turning Ed Orgeron's recruits into on-field success stories - which ended at the exact moment a I-AA school rolled up those 49 points last September. Nothing about Nutt's cliqueish closed door actions really point towards a future in Oxford. It's a common belief that one of these days, if not after a sub-.500 campaign this year, he'll simply float on down the road, the circuit rider of journeyman coaches, content to have peaked after a torrid romance with his one true team and now resigned to hawk his potions and remedies to middling major conference bridesmaids.

What most of the blogging community outside of Mississippi fails to realize is that Rebel fans genuinely appreciate Nutt... they just can't talk about it. Don't fool yourself judging the Ole Miss fan base by our J. Crew aesthetic alone - we might look like we're dressed for a joke we only think we're in on, but even 40 years removed from national relevancy we're a painfully self-aware collective. Combined with the on-field product of the last three decades (scroll down on that link for a glorious visual representation), we're sensitive about unfashionably touting the efforts of an embattled retread in the sterling SEC West.

And God, do we ever care about fashion. In the wake of buyer's remorse from Ed Orgeron's magic beans and facing a widening gap with division rivals, Nutt was a stabilizing force and bred consistency. The straits were so dire that Houston Nutt was actually a stabilizing force that bred consistency. That's not something you brag to the neighbors about in college football's cul de sac of McMansions. And that's a shame, because Nutt's effects both good and bad are very, very real in Oxford.

Denying a character like his is a crime to the color of this game. And if we so badly need the red herring to magically bring peace back, it's a crime that Nutt and Miami couldn't have provided that one peerless implosion.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.