Fresh off back-to-back Cotton Bowl wins, the Ole Miss Football program had lofty expectations headed into the 2010 season. The ensuing decade can only be described as a train wreck, followed by a miraculous turnaround, followed by yet another train wreck. This decade has easily been the wildest in school history. Ole Miss just couldn’t stay out of the news. Let’s recap the embarrassing losses, upset wins, NY6 Bowls, and NCAA drama.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Before I say anything, I’d like to clarify that Houston Nutt is not a bad coach. He’s actually a pretty good coach. The problem with Houston Nutt is that he recruited lazily and quit on his team mid-contract. Nutt inherited plenty of talent from former head coach Ed Orgeron. With big names like Dexter McCluster, Michael Oher, and Mike Wallace already on his roster in 2008, Nutt led the Rebels to an impressive 9-4 finish, including a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech. The following year saw the same record and another Cotton Bowl win. After many tumultuous years, these performances were a welcome sight.
After signing 37 players in the 2010 class, the SEC made the “Houston Nutt Rule,” limiting each program to 28 players per class. The 2010 season began with an embarrassing upset loss to Jacksonville State. It didn’t get much better for the Rebels after that, and finished the year 4-8.
The following season was my first as an Ole Miss student. With a 14-13 loss to BYU in the home opener, we knew we were in for a very long 3 months. Fans showed up late and left early. Finding a group to go to the games with me felt like a chore. It was painful to watch my team finish winless in conference play, but I didn’t know any other way. I’ve loved the game of football since I could walk, and I wanted to be there rain or shine.
A Season Too Late
The university finally fired Nutt in early November 2011, but inexplicably let him finish the season as head coach. Ole Miss went on to lose its remaining three games, including blowout losses to rivals LSU and Mississippi State. Despite all the mistakes made by Ed Orgeron in his time at Ole Miss, he recruited his tail off and never stopped trying. That’s something Houston Nutt will never be able to say.
Nearly a decade after his tenure, Nutt is – rightfully – still the butt of many jokes. He packed it in early, took a massive buyout, and left the program in ruins. The world of college football noticed, and Nutt hasn’t coached a down of football since.
The Hugh Freeze Era
Hugh Freeze took the Rebels bowling after the worst season in school history, and continued to build on this momentum. His offenses were flashy and his recruiting classes were even flashier. According to the 247 ratings, the 2013 class was headlined by 5 stars Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Laquon Treadwell, and Tony Conner. The highly-touted freshmen made an immediate impact, with Hugh Freeze’s first “signature” win coming against #6 LSU in 2013.
I’ll never forget the feeling of everyone’s drinks raining down on me, as I watched Andrew Ritter’s 41-yard FG sail through the uprights towards our hysterical student section. Two years prior, I had sat in the same section, watching a Rebel receiver drop a go-ahead TD pass in a heartbreaking loss to Arkansas. What a difference a couple years can make.
The 2014 team rattled off 7 wins to start the season, including a massive upset over #3 Alabama in Oxford. The Rebels ended the regular season with a dominating performance against Dak Prescott and #4 Mississippi State. The second consecutive win over Alabama in 2015 was easily the highlight of the season. The Rebels went to another NY6 bowl, drubbing Oklahoma State 48-20 in New Orleans.
The remainder of Hugh Freeze’s time in Oxford was overshadowed by a comically-long NCAA probe, as well as issues in his personal life. As evidenced in Steven Godfrey’s article, the NCAA seemed intent on finding evidence of wrongdoing, regardless of how many times they came out empty handed. Steven is an excellent investigative journalist, and I’d like to thank him for exposing the inconsistent approach taken by the NCAA. Although the NCAA vacated many of the wins earned during his tenure, I’ll forever be grateful towards Hugh Freeze for making my final years of college my most memorable.
Matt Luke – Present
After the NCAA handed Ole Miss a two-year bowl ban, Matt Luke stepped up and took the job when nobody else would. He kept the program intact and did the best he could with limited scholarships and low morale. Many were critical of his in-game play calling. He could have won about 4 more games than he did this past season, but, unlike Nutt, he never gave up. He was reportedly on the road recruiting when he found out he was fired. Luke deserved a better sendoff, but it was clear his time was up. As AD Keith Carter said, “The apathy within the fan base was too much to overcome.”
The news of the Lane Kiffin hiring came right before the end of the decade. It only seems right at this point to make a big splash after 3 years at the bottom.
Only time will tell if Kiffin will lead the Rebels back to the top of the SEC West, or if Rebel fans are in for another decade of repeating, “Just wait ‘til next year!”