Redhawks give Nutt his second chance
Dickey Nutt was three wins away from being the all-time winningest coach at Arkansas State.
And then he was out.
Officially, he resigned.
But that's never how it really happens. A school isn't happy with a program's progress or direction, or sometimes it just wants a change. It doesn't matter if the season is early, if it's in the middle of the year or even a few games shy of the end.
After a 13-year run in Jonesboro, Nutt was out on Feb. 20, 2008. A seven-game losing streak and a myriad of injuries had caused Arkansas State to tumble, a year after ASU played for the Sun Belt championship in a loss to North Texas.
"It was a difficult time," Nutt said.
Nutt is from a coaching family well-known in the South. His older brother Houston is the head football coach at Ole Miss; his younger brother Danny is an assistant to Houston; and his youngest brother Dennis is a scout for the Charlotte Bobcats. His father, Houston Nutt Sr., played hoops for Adolph Rupp at Kentucky before transferring and playing for another legend, Henry Iba, at Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M).
Few coaches in the country have a support group like the Nutts.
Dickey spent time with Houston, even though it was football, discussing how to deal with being forced out of a job. He leaned on his two good friends in the business: Kansas coach Bill Self, a former teammate at Oklahoma State, and Barry Hinson, who works in the Kansas athletic department after a stint as Missouri State's head coach (previously, Hinson was the head coach at Oral Roberts, where he also served as an assistant under then-head coach Self).
"They all tried to encourage me, to keep my head up," Dickey Nutt said. "I went 25 straight years in coaching and all of a sudden it's taken away from you. It's the worst feeling in the world."
Nutt said the weight of not having coaching responsibilities was taken off him, something his wife Cathy welcomed for a spell. But it didn't help that his son, Logan, was on the Arkansas State team.
"I had a lot of offers to go into the stock market, real estate and other attractive things, but I chose to stay with my heart," Nutt said. "I'm a coach to the end. That's what I do. I had to get back out on the practice floor. I felt that I couldn't have received a better job."
Arkansas State ultimately recycled a big-name coach, landing John Brady, who was on the rebound from LSU.
Southeast Missouri State did the same thing, albeit at a different level, in getting the Sun Belt's Nutt to slide over to the Ohio Valley Conference school.
SEMO was embroiled in its own controversy; former coach Scott Edgar had been pushed out in October 2008. Technically, he was put on administrative leave due to NCAA allegations after posting a 23-39 record in two seasons. He was later bought out of the rest of his five-year deal.
The allegations were that the coaching staff had observed strength-and-conditioning workouts during the summers of 2006 and '07, watched out-of-season pickup games in the fall of 2006 and spring of '07, and allowed a prospective student-athlete to participate during an official visit. The other charge directed at Edgar and an assistant was an extra benefit of $239 in institutional fees for a student-athlete prior to enrollment, and that Edgar had provided false information regarding these allegations (this, if proven true, would be the most egregious). Edgar and Southeast Missouri officials, including athletic director John Shafer, went in front of the NCAA's committee on infractions in late April. A decision on the violations is due later this month or in July. Edgar has denied intentionally violating rules.
The Redhawks finished with the worst record in the OVC in 2008-09, failing to win a single game in the 18-game conference schedule (3-27 overall record). Southeast Missouri's 19-game losing streak is currently the longest in Division I, and the school has had only two winning seasons this decade.
Nutt said he started talking to Shafer during last season. The first conversation came on Feb. 1, and the conversations didn't let up throughout February and into March.
"I had no ties to him and didn't know him," Nutt said. "We would talk every three or four days, some days longer than others."
Nutt said he had watched Southeast Missouri from a distance for years and was impressed by its home fan support and the fans who would travel to road games.
"I started to get really excited about it," Nutt said. "The day I met John Shafer [in person] is the day I was hired -- March 12. I feel like I'm the luckiest guy."
I just wanted another chance. And I don't think I could have received a better job.” -- New SEMO coach Dickey Nutt
Getting a second shot, only a year after being out of coaching, isn't unique.
It happens, but usually the coach who was fired or resigned, and then gets another gig, is someone of a high-profile nature.
Southeast Missouri doesn't have to worry about winning the news conference. The Redhawks had to find a coach who has passion for the program and the profession, and clearly Nutt proved he could coach during his 13 years in Jonesboro.
"I just wanted another chance," Nutt said. "And I don't think I could have received a better job."
Nutt is hoping there are no postseason bans forthcoming, banking that the hit SEMO takes will be lessened by the coaching moves.
Regardless of the punishment, Southeast Missouri found a coach hoping for a second chance who isn't seeking a higher level.
For a coaching job at the bottom of the OVC, a team searching for a conference win and a program in possible NCAA trouble, the Redhawks probably couldn't have landed a more loyal coach.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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