Hard work is something the returning Ole Miss football players better get used to during the next several months based on what head coach Houston Nutt said during his final weekly press conference Monday. As the 2010 season wore on, it became apparent that the Rebels were missing several things that it takes to win games in the Southeastern Conference. The first was pure athletic ability.
Everyone knew that losing players like Dexter McCluster and Kendrick Lewis and Marcus Tillman would hurt, but outside of Brandon Bolden and Jeremiah Masoli on offense, there really wasn’t enough firepower to offset the abundance of talent that was vacated following last year’s Cotton Bowl.
Another important factor that the Rebels didn’t have going for them was a dedication to the week-to-week gameplan orchestrated by the coaching staff. Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe talked about that particular aspect after Saturday’s season-ending loss to Mississippi State. You could tell Powe was dismayed by the younger players and their inability to grasp the finer points of preparation.
Nutt talked about many subjects Monday, but it was apparent that he wants his players to work harder than they did this past year, including the way they carry themselves on and off the field.
“You go back to work ethic, attitude, and those players that make a complete commitment. It’s not easy being a collegiate football player in the SEC. It takes love, dedication, discipline, and those are hard and meaningful words,” Nutt said. “You have to hold them accountable to the work ethic. It starts with unity. The upcoming seniors have to play their best ball. The baton goes to them. They have to do a better job of leading and we as coaches have to do a better job as well.”
Ole Miss’ defense, as well as coordinator Tyrone Nix, drew a lot of criticism from the fans during the year. The unit ranked No. 11 in the Southeastern Conference and No. 81 in the nation in total defense. The Rebels ranked No. 102 in pass defense while the team was ranked 91st in turnover margin. Nutt talked about the defense, which entered the year with nine seniors in the two-deep, and how they have to improve.
“We didn’t do a good job this year. That’s the bottom line. We expected much better. You can point at injuries such as Kentrell Lockett. The bottom line is that we gave up too many big plays,” Nutt said. “There were times we weren’t lined up and we misplayed the ball. It seems like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong this year. From every bounce to every step, it was just bad. It falls back on us coaches. It starts with me. We are going through everything, watching and evaluating and trying to make everything right and get it back to where it was and even better.”
In order to gain some of these goal accomplished, Nutt said he would look at having underclassmen be voted on as captains.
“I think that is where guys like D.T. Shackelford will play big roles. This may be the first time we vote on guys for captain not on the senior level. I wish we had done that this year,” Nutt said. “There are no boundaries because the (senior) class is so small. It’s the work ethic and holding them accountable. They will know if they truly love football after this season. There will only be survivors left. They will go so far that they refuse to take a step back. We are going to push them to the edge if not over. We are going to take them there.”
Everything Nutt said about the future of the team Monday sounds good, but will it all work? That’s a question that can’t be answered until the ball gets kickoff off in 2011. There are some things I’m sure about moving forward. Nutt is going to do his best to make sure his players understand that they have to do more, that they have to achieve at a higher level and they have to be more accountable for their actions. If they don’t, they will be replaced by younger players and they may not have a second chance like some players have gotten here recently.
Nutt has been called a player’s coach in the past because of his caring nature. He’s a nice guy, a genuine person who is different that most head coaches in this league and in the nation. But even nice guys have to win to keep their jobs and he knows that another losing season will not be good for him or his staff. The players better understand that as well. These next few months will be tough, they need to be, but the hard work that is on the horizon will help everyone associated with the Ole Miss football program in the future as they all try to get back to winning and making bowls once again. (November 30, 2010, Page 8)