Nutt turns down offer to remain Razorbacks coach

Updated: November 27, 2007, 12:26 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Embattled Arkansas coach Houston Nutt resigned Monday, giving up his job three days after directing the Razorbacks to a victory over top-ranked LSU. Defensive coordinator Reggie Herring will coach the team in its bowl.

Nutt told Chancellor John A. White that he wanted to close a chapter in his life.

"Houston's decision to resign was neither forced, or encouraged, or requested," White said.

ESPN.com first reported on Monday that the second-longest tenured football coach in the Southeastern Conference would not be back.

Nutt might not remain unemployed for long. Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Nutt and his representative have already had discussions about the former Arkansas coach replacing Ed Orgeron at Ole Miss or Guy Morriss at Baylor.

The Rebels, who also are considering former Washington coach and current Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel for the job, apparently are prepared to pay Nutt as much as he was making at Arkansas, close to $2 million per season.

Nutt said he was hopeful that his departure would unify the state, which had been torn with turmoil surrounding the football program.

"Deep, deep down in my heart as an Arkansan, as person who loves the Razorbacks so much, [I wanted] for the state to come together as one," Nutt said. "At this time, I didn't think we could have one heartbeat."

Rumors of Nutt's departure surrounded the program after the loss last winter of key recruits and a popular assistant coach. Trouble mounted for the coach after the Razorbacks lost their first three Southeastern Conference games after a turmoil-filled offseason.

"It's sad that it had to end like this," star running back Darren McFadden said. "Coach Nutt, I love playing for him. He's a great coach."

Arkansas concluded an 8-4 season Friday with a 50-48, triple-overtime upset of then-No. 1 LSU on Friday, and White responded by offering Nutt an annual salary of $2.4 million annually to remain coach, ESPN.com has learned.

Nutt is second only to the legendary Frank Broyles in victories as Razorbacks coach.

However, Razorbacks supporters have been split in their opinion of Nutt since the controversy over the coach's recruiting and use of local stars Mitch Mustain and Damian Williams, the quarterback and wide receiver who transferred to USC after the 2006 season. Not only that, but an Arkansas fan acquired Nutt's cell-phone records through the Freedom of Information Act.

Two weeks ago, the university strongly denied reports that this would be Nutt's last season as Arkansas' coach. On Sunday, Nutt said White and Broyles wanted him to return, but he said more talks with the university were forthcoming.

"There's been the rumor mill flying around for a while around here. It seemed like it started back in January -- kind of kept you on the edge of your seat," center Jonathan Luigs said. "We came in, we were here for him, went through everything he went through. Just him going out like this is kind of sorrow, but it's something we have to accept."

Herring, in his third season as Arkansas' defensive coordinator, will take over for the time being.

"Although it is extremely difficult to see coach Nutt leave, I am honored and welcome the challenge of leading the Razorback football team and working with the other coaches on our staff as we prepare our team for a bowl game and as we continue to recruit," Herring said in a statement.

White said in remarks aimed at Razorback players that Nutt agonized with the decision.

"He was caught between his love for his family and his love for you," White said. "Razorback pride was given new meaning this year because of the way you guys conducted yourselves … under conditions that were less-than ideal."

Nutt's agent, Jimmy Sexton, and the university administration spent Monday afternoon negotiating how much Nutt will receive of the $3.4 million in annuities due to him in 2009.

Nutt will leave Arkansas with a 10-year record of 75-48 (.610) and three SEC West championships, including two trips to the conference championship game. In addition to the Ole Miss and Baylor openings, he is expected to be a candidate for the SMU job.

Athletic director-designate Jeff Long, who replaces Broyles Jan. 1, will direct the search for Nutt's replacement.

"Because of his love for Arkansas, for the University of Arkansas and the Razorback family, Houston has made a decision he believes will be in the long run the best for the university," White said.

The chancellor said Nutt's contract gave the coach a set of "golden handcuffs" under which Nutt would have to pay the university if he takes another coaching job while also forfeiting a significant amount of money. White said he would ask the Razorback Foundation to free Nutt of the obligations.

"Whether or not he remained coach of the Razorbacks was up to him," White said.

Arkansas began this season in the Top 25 but fell out in September. The Razorbacks lost their first three Southeastern Conference games and ended up 4-4 in league play.

Nutt was hired in December 1997 to replace Danny Ford. Arkansas has never won the SEC in football -- the Razorbacks first played in the league in 1992.

A year ago at this time, Arkansas was preparing to play for the SEC title game. In fact, the Razorbacks started 10-1 in 2006. Then they lost to LSU, to Florida for the conference championship and to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.

Nutt's status was never the same afterward. In January, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left to join the staff at Tulsa, lending credence to speculation that not everyone was on the same page. A short while later Mustain left the team to transfer.

Malzahn and Mustain were both highly touted additions in 2006 from Springdale High School near Fayetteville. When they left, Nutt had an uphill climb to win back the fan base. Fans used the Freedom of Information Act to investigate his cell phone records. As the team struggled this year, planes were spotted at games towing anti-Nutt banners.

A friend of Nutt's family sparked a controversy when she sent Mustain a nasty e-mail before he transferred. A fan has since sued the school over the e-mail.

Arkansas did make some progress under Nutt. When he was hired, the team was coming off back-to-back 4-7 seasons. In 1998, Nutt's first season, the Razorbacks started 8-0 before losing at top-ranked Tennessee when Clint Stoerner fumbled late.

Arkansas went to bowls during Nutt's first six seasons.

"I'm going to remember the good times," Broyles said.

Nutt, 50, went to Central High School in Little Rock. He played quarterback at Arkansas before transferring to Oklahoma State following the 1977 season.

"My dream job. I thought I'd be here for a long, long time," Nutt said. "Sometimes things change and you have to make a hard decision."

Information from ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel and Chris Low, ESPN's Joe Schad and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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