Nutt: 'Our work isn't finished'

Updated: January 5, 2004, 12:51 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Houston Nutt rejected Nebraska's $2 million coaching offer, saying strong family ties and a job left undone kept him at Arkansas.

"I could not take my family, myself, and get on that plane," Nutt said at a news conference Saturday. "My heart was here."

Nutt said he never accepted the job and he was flattered at Nebraska's offer, but that it was best for him to remain at Arkansas. He informed Nebraska officials Friday night that he wasn't taking the job.

"For six long years we've poured our heart into this program and we feel that our work isn't finished," Nutt said. "I know we can do better. So many times I think we're not far off."

Nebraska offered Nutt the job Friday, but Arkansas made a counteroffer. Details were not announced, but Nutt said the contract was close to $1.5 million per year, which would almost double his salary, with a few more details to be worked out.

"They're going to take care of me. There are some things still being worked out," Nutt said.

Nebraska athletic director Steve Pederson said Saturday the head coaching job hasn't been offered to anyone yet and that he simply wanted Nutt to come to campus for a formal interview.

Pederson also said that reports Nutt was offered a package worth up to $2.5 million were false.

"I about fell out of my chair when I read that," Pederson said.

Nutt confirmed that there had been no offer on the table.

"He didn't actually ever offer me the job, but I'm protecting him a little bit, too," Nutt said. "Things would have gotten very difficult if I had gotten on that plane."

Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles extended Nutt's contract by a year to 2010 two weeks ago to show potential recruits that he had faith in Nutt, who is 48-27 in six seasons at Arkansas.

"It's a good thing we did that because Nebraska came calling not long after," said Broyles, who added that he thought the new contract would be finished by Monday.

Broyles called Nutt "the best man for the job anywhere in America" and that the Razorbacks' keeping him was reason for celebration.

"He's not only a great football coach, he's a great ambassador for the university and the state of Arkansas," Broyles said.

Money wasn't the only factor, even though he would have more than doubled his salary, Nutt said.

"They don't know my heart. They don't know what I see. They don't know my vision. They weren't born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas," said Nutt, who got teary-eyed during a portion of the news conference.

"I never try to use money as a leverage. I told Coach (Broyles) when I came here in 1997 that I would work for free the first year," Nutt said.

Nutt and university lawyer Scott Varady said that board of trustees member Jim Lindsey played a large role in talking Nutt into staying at Arkansas.

Nutt worked for Lindsey's construction company when he played for the Razorbacks in the late 1970s and he said they have been friends since. Nutt said he visited with Lindsey on several occasions in the past two days.

Frank Solich, whom Pederson fired Nov. 29, made $1.1 million annually; Nutt has made $800,000 with Arkansas.

With the Nebraska job would have come extra pressure from an administration that wants to see Nebraska regularly compete for national titles. The chairman of the Arkansas board of trustees had said Friday that the extra money might not be worth the hassle.

"I believe I'd be considering my options a long time before I took that Nebraska job," trustee William E. Clark said. "Their expectations are to be in the top 10 and contend every year for the national championship. If you don't do it you're going to be out of there."

Pederson fired Solich at the end of a 9-3 season, which gave Solich 58 victories in six years. Arkansas was 8-4 in the 2003 regular season before beating Missouri in the Independence Bowl; Nutt has 48 wins over the same period.

Arkansas has never won the Southeastern Conference since joining the league in 1992.

Clark had said Friday that Nebraska's offer was "close to $2 million" and that board members Jim Lindsey and Gary George talked with Nutt in an effort to persuade him to stay.

An airplane registered to a Nebraska company sat at a northwest Arkansas airport much of the day Friday but took off after nightfall.

For Nebraska, it's the second rejection of the week. Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Al Saunders turned down the Nebraska job, Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said Thursday.

Nebraska is now 35 days into Pederson's one-man search for Solich's successor. At least one Nebraska supporter wasn't impressed with Pederson's choice to offer Nutt the position.

"When I heard Houston Nutt's name, that name didn't mean anything to me," said Dan Cook, a major donor to the program from Dallas. "If someone has to explain to me who Houston Nutt is, it's not that wowwy-zow name everybody expected."

Nutt played high school ball at Little Rock and played in college at Arkansas and Oklahoma State. His father was a longtime coach at the Arkansas School for the Deaf and two of his three brothers coach college in Arkansas -- one with Nutt with the Razorbacks, another is the Arkansas State basketball coach.

In 2003, Arkansas beat two teams that Nebraska couldn't -- Missouri and Texas. The Cornhuskers, who improved to 10-3 with a 17-3 win over Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl, also lost to Kansas State this year. Interim coach Bo Pelini guided Nebraska to the bowl victory.

Nebraska's athletic budget is $53.6 million, compared to the $40 million Arkansas spends on athletics.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press