You can go home again, but it’s a little tougher when you know half your home state despises you, or at least has recently. Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt spoke Monday at the Little Rock Touchdown Club — his first public appearance in his home state since he left Arkansas in 2007 to take the head-coaching job at Ole Miss.
“I had a few butterflies, but it was a good nervous, though,” says Nutt, who lives in Santa Fe New Mexico and serves as a studio analyst for CBS. “[David Bazzel] had asked me a couple of years. I appreciate him asking me, and I thought now was a good time to come back and see my mom and brothers.”
An overflow crowd filled the
Embassy Suites banquet hall to hear the Little Rock native. The crowd seemed receptive and a long line formed with fans seeking photos and autographs. Following the program one attendee said, “I wonder how many of these people hated him six years ago?”
“The crowd was great,” Nutt says. “There’s a lot of great memories, and we did a lot of good things. There’s a couple of things that I wish had maybe gone a little different because I wanted to be here forever. It all works out for a reason, and I’ve been blessed to have this many years. I appreciate everybody showing up — it was good.”
By the end of his 10-year tenure there was a segment of the fan base that was frustrated with a myriad of things. Nutt resigned in 2007 three days after Arkansas stunned LSU 50-48 in three overtimes at Baton Rouge.
The coach left with a $3.65 million dollar buyout from university officials and an unprecedented send-off press conference. Soon after, Nutt agreed to terms with SEC West rival Ole Miss. That didn’t help his popularity.
“That was the toughest thing. Coming out of the visitor’s locker room with another team after I’d been raised here. That’s as tough as it gets,” Nutt says. “I wish I had mentioned that today. There were so many things I wanted to say, but it is hard in 30 minutes or less. That was very, very tough to have kids you recruited on the other side. Coming out of the wrong dressing room was hard.
“Arkansas was home, and I wanted things to be different because I wanted to be there a long time like Coach [Frank] Broyles. I wanted to be there a long, long time. In today’s world it is hard to be Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno. “It’s hard, so I am thankful for the 10 years I had.”
There are going to be some fans that never let go of their hatred of Nutt, but Monday the crowd seemed to appreciate the coach’s attempt to break the ice. He admitted he’d been hurt by the comments and also said he wished he “could have done some things differently.”
His coaching performance is debatable, but it was apparent Monday that he is passionate about his home state and the program he coached for a decade. And glad to be welcomed home — at least by one crowd.