Nutt sues Ole Miss
Former Hogs, Rebels coach alleges false statements hurt career.
HOOVER, Ala. — Former Arkansas and Mississippi head football coach Houston Nutt filed a civil lawsuit against the University of Mississippi and the Ole Miss Athletic Foundation on Wednesday.
The suit alleges a breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he says Ole Miss officials made during an ongoing NCAA investigation.
Nutt, a native of Little Rock, coached at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, from 1998-2007 before taking the Ole Miss job, where he coached from 2008-2011. He is currently a CBS TV analyst.
When his contract was bought out at Ole Miss, he signed a separation agreement in November 2011 that he alleges in his lawsuit was violated.
He is suing the school for what the suit says was a “long-running … smear campaign.”
The suit was filed by Thomas Mars of the Friday, Eldredge and Clark Law Firm in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Miss. It lists numerous claims
that current Ole Miss football Coach Hugh Freeze and Athletic Director Ross Bjork created a “false narrative” regarding the nature of the NCAA’s long-running investigation.
Citing Freeze’s and other school officials’ phone records obtained from the school, the suit details numerous “off the record” communications in January 2016 from Freeze and Bjork to media members that allegedly influenced reporting about the January 2016 Notice of Allegations by the NCAA.
Nutt claims newspaper reports and posts on social media by reporters after “off the record” conversations with Freeze and others made it seem the violations occurred during Nutt’s four years as Ole Miss coach.
When the Notice of Allegations was made public more than four months later, there were 13 football violations alleged by the NCAA, nine of them while Freeze was head coach.
“Coach Freeze had knowingly lied to the journalists and recruiting prospects by saying that the NCAA’s investigation had little, if anything, to do with him or his coaching staff and was instead focused on alleged rules violations by Coach Nutt’s staff,” the complaint says. “Coach Freeze falsely stated that most, if not all, of the NCAA’s allegations involved ‘Houston Nutt’ and his staff. At the time Coach Freeze made these statements, he was fully aware that they were patently false, yet he continued to make such statements, severely damaging Coach Nutt’s reputation. The protection of Coach Freeze became the University’s Number One priority in dealing with the NCAA investigation.”
The NCAA filed an updated Notice of Allegations in 2017 that charges Mississippi with 21 football violations, 17 of which are alleged to have occurred while Freeze was the head coach. Included in the allegations are that Freeze failed in his responsibility to adequately control and monitor the program. Ole Miss is disputing that charge, among others.
Nutt’s name does not appear in either Notice of Allegations.
Ole Miss released a statement Wednesday from general counsel Lee Tyner that said the school has not yet been served with the lawsuit.
“We are aware it has been filed,” Tyner said. “We were provided a copy a short time ago. We will carefully review Coach Nutt’s claims and respond in due course.”
Nutt’s lawyer, Walter Morrison, said he didn’t want to “try the case in the media.”
Nutt coached Arkansas to a 75-48 overall record and 42-38 in SEC play. He was bought out for $3 million in December 2007 and the next day signed to be the head coach at Ole Miss. He was 18-8, including two Cotton Bowl victories, and 9-7 in SEC play after two seasons.
The Rebels fell to 6-18 and 1-15 in league play the next two years and he was fired, receiving more than $6 million to be paid out over the length of the contract. Ole Miss and Nutt later agreed to a $5 million one-time payment.
Nutt, 59, alleges the smear campaign by Ole Miss has kept him from getting another coaching job and that under Mississippi law he is entitled to compensation for lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, attorney’s fees and punitive damages.
Ex-Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt coached at the University of Mississippi from 2008-2011, but he’s now suing the school and its athletics foundation for breach of his severance agreement because of false statements he said school officials made during a long-running NCAA investigation.