If only Ole Miss had told Nutt it was sorry

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

Ole Miss’ mess is spread­ing to Starkville, Miss., Mem­phis and even Lit­tle Rock, and it will hurt the Rebels foot­ball pro­gram in the months to come and could bruise Mis­sis­sippi State’s.

It all started when for­mer Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Hous­ton Nutt, a na­tive of Lit­tle Rock, filed suit against Ole Miss for breach of con­tract and breach of good faith be­cause of an al­leged smear cam­paign in 2016.

When Nutt was fired at Ole Miss in 2011, he set­tled for a lump sum of $4.3 mil­lion, and the school agreed it would never do any­thing that would dis­par­age Nutt’s rep­u­ta­tion.

But when Ole Miss was served no­tice of an NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Nutt con­tends for­mer head coach Hugh Freeze told re­cruits and re­porters the vi­o­la­tions were for ac­tions that oc­curred when Nutt was the head coach.

As it turns out, of the 21 foot­ball vi­o­la­tions un­cov­ered — in­clud­ing 17 clas­si­fied as ma­jor — only four were when Nutt was the Rebels head coach. It has been re­ported Nutt was not named in the NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Freeze, a for­mer high school coach in Mem­phis, was named in 17 vi­o­la­tions.

This is not just a brush fire be­tween two schools who hate each other and are point­ing fingers and call­ing each other names.

It has be­come a po­lar­iz­ing un­civil war be­tween two fan bases who both be­lieve they are be­ing wronged.

No mat­ter how in­tense this gets it will not af­fect the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville be­cause it is not a party to any of this.

The rea­son Lit­tle Rock is even a foot­note is be­cause Nutt wanted to hire the best at­tor­ney pos­si­ble, and he did so in Thomas Mars, who is a fear­less top shelf trial lawyer for the Fri­day Firm.

He also has ex­pe­ri­ence as gen­eral coun­sel of Wal-Mart and served as di­rec­tor of the Arkansas State Po­lice.

Mars is to lawyer­ing what Tom Brady is to quar­ter­back­ing.

Nutt is not speak­ing on the record about the law­suit or of what is go­ing on in Ox­ford, but Mars said Nutt was not associated with the phone num­ber that led to Freeze’s fir­ing.

Mars’ big­gest con­cern may be win­ning a law­suit against Ole Miss in the state of Mis­sis­sippi de­spite the fact it was filed in fed­eral court.

Ole Miss al­ready has asked the NCAA for two Mis­sis­sippi State foot­ball play­ers to be present for ques­tion­ing when it faces the sanc­tions com­mit­tee.

The Mis­sis­sippi State play­ers al­legedly told an NCAA in­ves­ti­ga­tor they were of­fered il­le­gal ben­e­fits by the Rebels.

For­mer Ole Miss player Laremy Tun­sil sacked the Rebels on NFL draft night in 2016 when he said some of Freeze’s as­sis­tants gave him money.

The sim­mer­ing at Ole Miss blew up when Freeze was fired for “a con­cern­ing pat­tern” of calls that led the Rebels lead­ers to be­lieve he had vi­o­lated the morals clause of his con­tract.

Mars had shared some phone records with Steve Robert­son, a re­cruit­ing writer for a Mis­sis­sippi State web­site.

Robert­son is a rad­i­cal Bull­dogs fan. He dis­cov­ered the phone num­ber to an es­cort ser­vice, and it has turned out to be crit­i­cal.

Then on Fri­day, Ole Miss fi­nally re­leased the names of 12 of the 14 boost­ers who have been ac­cused of pro­vid­ing Ole Miss play­ers and re­cruits with il­le­gal ben­e­fits.

Now more law­suits have been filed, and more than likely this is just the start of a long le­gal bat­tle. It is no doubt tak­ing the ri­valry be­tween Ole Miss and Mis­sis­sippi State to a new level.

The only as­so­ci­a­tion it has with Arkansas is be­cause Nutt wanted a great lawyer, who at first sim­ply asked Ole Miss to apol­o­gize to Nutt. At that point, the school was heav­ily de­fend­ing Freeze and re­fused to say it was sorry.

If it had, this wouldn’t be a story that is go­ing to be played out for a very long time.

WALLY HALL

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