SPORTS EDITOR BLOG — Sports Illustrated columnist Stewart Mandel isn’t a loved figure in the state of Mississippi currently, and he knows it.It was Mandel’s column, located HERE that was released on Monday about Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt’s decision to recruit and ultimately sign former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli that has every Rebel fan up in arms right now.
Mandel called Nutt a “dirty” coach who is “willing to eschew his integrity if doing so might pay off in a couple more W’s. He’s not so much a winner as a survivalist.”
The fact that Mandel used the word dirty to describe Nutt sent Ole Miss fans into overdrive on the message boards and to Mandel’s e-mail address. He said that while his column upset a high percentage of people in Mississippi, there were just as many positive responses from Arkansas fans who thought it was great somebody finally wrote an article about Nutt and the way he really was. Of all the things that have come out of the column, Mandel said Tuesday he never realized how much the Arkansas fan base really dislikes Nutt.
Mandel went on to say that he used the word dirty to describe Nutt rather than another word because of the decision he made on Masoli. Mandel believes that Nutt didn’t have to take in Masoli, that he didn’t have to coach like he was on a year-to-year basis. It was Nutt’s decision to take Masoli, combined with the way Mandel has seen Nutt act since the end of his tenure at Arkansas and his signing of a player like Jamar Hornsby two years ago, that led to him using the word dirty.
Mandel wanted to make it clear that he thought the word dirty is used too lightly by fans when describing a coach who they believe does anything and everything to win games. He said that word gets tossed around too often and that it is misdirected at coaches and programs over incidents that they have no control over.
In this case, he thought Nutt had the ability to tell Masoli no and to not have him be a part of the team. It was because of the way Nutt has assembled a team the past two years that made Mandel really believe that Nutt was continuing his precedent with the signing of Masoli, a player who lied to his previous coach, Chip Kelly, and now has the ability to play right away because of what Mandel called a “loophole” in the system that was intended to be used for a good reason, not one year of playing football.
“He has the choice. He made the decision to take this guy and win just as many or games as he had been or not and maybe not win as many games,” Mandel said.
Mandel said that he wasn’t asked to write his column by his editors who may have been looking to counteract a very pro story about Masoli that was released by Sports Illustrated on Thursday. Mandel said he essentially could have been writing the same story about a coach with what he called a similar pattern to Nutt just as easily.
Mandel said that he has spoken to Nutt in the past for articles and actually asked to speak with him for this article, but was not able to. Mandel pointed out that Andy Staples, who also works for SI.com, was successful in reaching Nutt about Masoli and in part, used some of the quotes in that story to help write the article.
Mandel then added that he thought Nutt was a good coach who he had a lot of respect for and that he was better than this and didn’t have to take on Masoli. He thought Nutt appeared desperate by this move.
He did add that he didn’t know how Houston Nutt thought about Masoli and why he thought Masoli would work out in Oxford. Ultimately, Mandel admitted he may possibly be wrong about the situation, but it was his opinion now about Masoli-to-Ole Miss that was a major component of the column.
Editor’s Note: Stewart Mandel and I talked for close to 35 minutes Tuesday afternoon in the attempt to gather information as to why he wrote his column the way he did. My biggest problem, and main reason for contacting Mandel, was him using the word dirty to describe Nutt. I understand that Nutt’s decision may not be popular outside of the state, but to me when the word dirty is used to describe a coach, it implies outright cheating and sanctions from the NCAA. That is not the case here with Masoli. Mandel’s right, there is a loophole that allows kids like Masoli to transfer without sitting out, but Nutt was not the only coach that looked into taking Masoli and would not have been the only one who took him.
I think the NCAA does need to look into this rule, along with many other subjects in college football, because in this case, Masoli does get a second chance without paying the penalty of sitting out like a lot of other student-athletes have to. The verdict I got from Mandel was that the word dirty is misused too often by fans and media to describe a coach or program. It’s a word that shouldn’t be used to describe transgressions made by a player at a school, but rather about a coach that has intentionally disregarded the rules. And even then, it has to be used with prudence.
We associate people with words all the time and in this case, Nutt is attached to the word dirty. That’s unfair, because Nutt has been quite generous to the people of Oxford and Lafayette County since he’s arrived. He’s made the program better and without the specter of the NCAA lurking around. Hopefully Nutt can overcome this negative word-association, but it may take time and another reason why we all have to be careful in how we label. (August 3, 2010)