Nutt sues Ole Miss

For­mer Hogs, Rebels coach al­leges false state­ments hurt ca­reer.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - WALLY HALL

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.

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