Last week, University of Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt sat at the roulette table of life down on his luck. He had just suffered another huge loss when Raymond Cotton decided to transfer and when he looked down at his chip stack, he realized his next play had to be all-in.
Things haven’t really gone Nutt’s way over the past couple of months. Last year, many college football pundits thought that the Rebels would be a sleeper in the SEC West. But in their first real test of the season, they were beaten by South Carolina in Week 3 and stumbled to a 9-4 overall record, which included a 4-4 finish in the conference.
Following the season, Nutt lost his starting quarterback when Jevan Snead surprisingly entered the NFL draft instead of returning for his junior year. That left Nathan Stanley to compete with Cotton (a highly touted underclassmen) for the Rebels’ starting quarterback job.
But last week, Cotton decided to leave the program, which left the Rebels with Stanley and former junior college star Randall Mackey as the only other quarterbacks on scholarship.
So Nutt decided to take a chance.
Former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (whom the Ducks kicked off their team following his second arrest in less than six months) sent his release papers to Ole’ Miss and after previously stating that the school wasn’t interested in the talented, but troubled player, Nutt caved.
Over the weekend, Masoli officially decided to enroll at Mississippi and will now walk onto the football team. Despite his numerous off-field issues and inconsistency as a passer, he’s easily the most talented quarterback on the Rebels’ roster and assuming he stays out of trouble, there’s little doubt that he’ll start for Ole’ Miss this fall. (Nutt didn’t open himself up to be ridiculed only to use Masoli in special packages – assuming he can learn the offense, the former Duck will start.)
Some will criticize Nutt for taking a huge risk on a player that could cause embarrassment for the program if he screws up again. Fans will point out that Nutt took a chance on former Gator Jamar Hornsby (who was kicked off Florida’s football team after using a dead student’s credit card), only to watch the defensive back get in trouble less than a month later.
But what would fans have said if Nutt had the chance to bolster his roster and instead decided to take an inexperienced Stanley into battle against SEC opponents? What if Stanley was a disaster and Ole’ Miss finished 1-7 in the West?
People can shout integrity from the rooftops all day long, but winning trumps all else for college head coaches. Their win-loss record determines whether or not they’ll still have a job at the end of the year, which is why many of them (not just Nutt) take risks on players like Masoli who have sketchy pasts.
Speaking purely from a football standpoint, the risk is worth the reward in this situation. It’s not like Nutt is making any major long-term investments here – Masoli only has one year left of athletic eligibility. If things don’t work out, Masoli will be gone in a year and Stanley (who wouldn’t have started anyway if Snead had returned for his junior year) can take over next year. And if Masoli gets arrested again in a month, the Rebels can dump him and the worst thing that happens is they’ll be in the same spot they were before he enrolled at the university.
Again, no matter what some fans or media members say, wins and losses are what define head coaches and their programs. That’s just the reality of the situation. It would be great if only those players who worked hard and stayed out of trouble were given the most chances, but talent has and always will win out in the end.
Given his options, it’s hard to blame Nutt for going all-in. And who knows – maybe the No. 8 will come up. (Did you see what I did there? I was using the roulette theme the entire piece and then used Masoli’s No. 8 in that final reference. Yeah, you get it…)