Houston Nutt’s resignation at the end of the season could mean another short-term recruiting hit for Ole Miss.
Ole Miss has obviously struggled recently, losing 12 straight conference games, and Nutt is 24-23 in his four years in Oxford. With his departure, recruits will have to wait and see not only who is named the new head coach, but how it affects the rest of the coaching staff, including many of the assistants who have been key in building relationships with the Ole Miss commits.
“It’s unfortunately a tough business,” said Lance Pogue, who has been coaching in Mississippi for 20 years, including the last five at Batesville South Panola. “It’s hard because you build relationships with these coaches. But we are in a time when college football is so big. The bottom line is winning and losing.”
The Rebels currently have a dozen commitments but strangely only two from the Magnolia State, both of whom play for Pogue at South Panola -- Under Armour All-American DT Issac Gross, who is No. 36 in the ESPNU 150, and linebacker Temario Strong.
Still, Pogue doesn’t feel the coaching change will affect where Gross and Strong end up.
“I think these teenagers, especially here, don’t get caught up too much in this coaching stuff,” Pogue said. “Our guys are so focused on our team. I am sure our guys will want to see what kind of direction the program will be headed and I don’t expect them to change. You have to understand the proximity. Ole Miss is 20 to 21 miles away. I don’t see it being a major issue with our kids. That’s life. That’s football.”
Still, it’s change. And recruiting is a relationship business. That’s tough for a high school senior to accept, especially considering signing day is less than three months away. Much will depend on how quickly a new coach is named in Oxford and the scheme and staff he brings in.
Four-star running back commit Kenno Loyal (Decatur, Ga./Columbia), who has rushed for over 1,200 yards and 15 scores this season, learned of the news from his coach Mario Allen. What happens next with Loyal is up in the air.
“I told him this morning right when I found out,” Allen said. “He was surprised and honestly, I don’t know how it will play into his decision. He will wait and see what their next move is. I know teams like Georgia and Alabama have been flirting with Kenno but I don’t understand why they have not offered yet. Right now we will see what happens.”
Another Rebel running back commitment from the Peach State is athlete Michael Hilton, who says despite the news of Nutt’s departure, he is solid with Ole Miss. For now.
“When I first heard I was shocked and couldn’t believe it happened,” said Hilton, who committed to Ole Miss over Mississippi State, and Kentucky. “My coaches and teammates asked me what I was going to do. I’ll tell you what I told them, I am an Ole Miss Rebel but I’ll keep my options open. I need to know how they (the new coach and staff) will use me and what scheme they are going to run. I need to get a good vibe. I plan on talking with coach (Tyrone) Nix tonight or tomorrow. I did make an official visit to Southern Miss a few weeks ago and I may have to take some more official visits after the season.”
Three-star cornerback commit Jordan Batiste (Lutcher, La./Lutcher) didn’t take the news as well. He’s upset about what happened, especially considering he’s graduating high school next month and was planning on enrolling in January.
“I am very of confused right now,” Batiste said. “I talked with coach (Gunner) Brewer today and he really didn’t what was going to happen. I’m a December graduate so this is a real concern to me right now. I plan on taking a couple of officials, maybe to Pitt and Vandy. They were schools on me early. I will take an official to Ole Miss. I wouldn’t want to go to school without knowing the coaches. I don’t know what I will do.”
One Ole Miss commitment who will most certainly open things back up is three-star running back Jaylen Walton (Memphis, Tenn./Ridgeway). According to his coach Duron Sutton, they saw this coming and were prepared for today’s announcement.
“Yeah, we saw the writing on the wall so there’s not much to talk about,” Sutton said. “Jaylen was going to open things up anyway. He doesn’t know who the coach will be so he’s really under the eight ball right now. Then you don’t know if the new coach or staff will want him or any of their other commitments. They will have to re-evaluate everything. Right now Cincinnati, Memphis, Missouri, Mississippi State and Kentucky are teams he’s considering for visits.”
Ole Miss will have its work cut out for it. It’s one thing to have a class loaded with in-state commitments, but this group features 10 out-of-state commits from five different states. The Rebels have to find their next coach, assemble a staff and try to bring everyone back together again.
This is something that 32-year Mississippi coaching veteran Bobby Hall of Madison Central says is of the highest priority for the Rebels.
“Ole Miss has a lot of issues,” Hall said. “All of Ole Miss people are pulling in different directions and they are very divided right now. Ole Miss can be successful but they have to be united and they are not right now. It will take a lot of things and a lot of work. There looks like there will be some changes taking place. Whoever the new people are have to have those leadership qualities and unite everyone. It should be an easy chore. I think the two hires Ole Miss makes [at coach and athletic director] are going to be crucial.”