Winning not enough to extend Nutt, Bower tenures
In the wake of the resignations Monday of Southern Mississippi coach Jeff Bower and Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, a line written by Dan Jenkins comes to mind.
The legendary sportswriter wrote a lot about football but this line came from Slick Henderson, a character in Jenkins' novel, "Baja Oklahoma." After a beautiful woman walked out of a bar, Henderson said, "Somewhere, somebody's tired of her."
Both men have established winning programs. Both men rank second in victories in the history of their schools. And both men resigned because, for lack of a better description, their fans are tired of them.
They are tired of Bower in Hattiesburg, Miss., where all he did was win 119 games in 17 seasons, take the Golden Eagles to 10 bowl games in 11 seasons and win four Conference USA championships. Bower, who spent 29 seasons at Southern Miss as a player, assistant coach and head coach, had the fourth-longest tenure among Division I-A head coaches.
Enough of them are tired of Nutt in the state of Arkansas to make it untenable for him to stay at a school where he won 75 games and three SEC West championships in 10 seasons.
Other firings and resignations Monday are of the more traditional variety. Duke's Ted Roof didn't win enough. Georgia Tech's Chan Gailey won, but he couldn't beat Georgia and his lukewarm personality proved to be a detriment in a metropolitan city where the Yellow Jackets need to attract attention.
But Southern Mississippi and Arkansas are unique to this day and time. The funny thing is, the majority of Arkansas fans want Nutt to stay. The university offered him a salary of $2.4 million annually, a significant increase, to stay.
But the toll of the "Springdale Controversy" proved too much for Nutt. Before the 2006 season, he recruited quarterback Mitch Mustain and wide receiver Damian Williams and hired their head coach at Springdale High, Gus Malzahn. After the 10-4 season, both players transferred and Malzahn left for Tulsa.
There is no question that Nutt handled Mustain and Malzahn poorly. A friend of his sent Mustain a slanderous e-mail and Nutt didn't react quickly to quash it. His wife Diana's e-mails laughing at the e-mail attack against Mustain became public. That didn't help.
An Arkansas fan made public Nutt's cell-phone records through a Freedom of Information Act request. The records showed Nutt had exchanged more than 2,000 text messages with a local TV news anchor, and Nutt was forced to defend the sanctity of his marriage.
The soap opera sometimes made football an afterthought. In the wake of Arkansas' 50-48, triple-overtime, season-ending victory over No. 1 LSU, as fans across the state rallied to his support, Nutt knew the victory wouldn't completely heal the rift. Given the chance to stay, he said no.
"Deep down inside, I don't want to do it," Nutt said before the news conference Monday. "I really would like to go. The only way they can come together and make it work is unity and I don't see it [if I stay]."
The Springdale faction waged a war of attrition against Nutt and won. But what it won wasn't a war, only a battle. It doesn't win the war unless the guy who replaces Nutt comes in and wins. Texas A&M forced out R.C. Slocum in 2002 and found out that just because you get a new coach doesn't mean you get a winning one.
For years, Bower's name received mention as a coaching candidate at programs with more resources than he has at Southern Mississippi. He stayed out of a sense of loyalty and family. He stayed, and now the school and its fans have left him.
Southern Mississippi begins a search for a coach who fits what it needs more than Bower does. It won't happen. The Golden Eagles will find that out soon enough.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Ivan at email@example.com.
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