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Circle of Death: Houston Nutt’s demise brings Ole Miss right back where it started from

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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If Sunday's reports of Houston Nutt's demise as Ole Miss head coach were premature, it was only by 24 hours: Multiple sources say the axe has fallen this morning, putting the Nutt administration out of its misery after four years, back-to-back losing records and 12 consecutive SEC losses dating back to last season. A press conference has been scheduled for 2 p.m. Central.

For a certain segment of Ole Miss fans — the one that effectively buried Nutt in September, on the heels of a 30-7 embarrassment at Vanderbilt that sealed the Rebels' fate as the worst team in the league — Nutt is already something of a ghost, showing up weekly from beyond the grave to interrupt the ongoing search for his replacement with another depressing facsimile of an SEC team. For everyone else, the season has played out as an extended funeral dirge, at best: The Rebels are 0-6 in conference play, rank dead last in every major defensive category, rank next-to-last in every major offensive category, and just blew their best chance to end the skid Saturday with a 30-13 flop against equally hapless Kentucky.

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They've only come within two touchdowns of an SEC opponent once, in a five-point loss to Arkansas, in which Nutt's former team erased an early 17-0 deficit with 29 consecutive points in a little under two quarters. His immediate response to the collapse: To declare victory over a local reporter who'd predicted a blowout. In retrospect, he's lucky to have made it out of that press conference.

All of which will forever obscure that fact that, as of about this time in 2008, Ole Miss fans loved Houston Nutt. That fall, with an outfit that had won all of 10 games in three seasons under predecessor Ed Orgeron, the Reverend's first team upset the eventual national champion on the road, beat Arkansas, Auburn and LSU, demolished Mississippi State and routed heavily favored Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl en route to a 9-4 finish and a No. 14 ranking in the final AP poll. It was such a smashing debut that a nearly identical season in 2009 — in which the Rebels again finished 9-4, won the Cotton Bowl and landed in the top 20 of the final polls — was regarded as a failure. Then, the real crash.{YSP:MORE}

Beginning with the 2009 Egg Bowl against Mississippi State, Ole Miss has dropped 14 of its last 15 in-conference, including back-to-back losses to both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. It lost its 2010 opener to Jacksonville State after blowing a 21-point halftime lead. It lost the 2011 opener to BYU without scoring an offensive touchdown. The SEC felt compelled to pass a new recruiting rule to combat Nutt's enthusiastic embrace of "oversigning," and even the surplus of recruits couldn't staunch the staggering attrition rate from the program after they signed on.

Earlier this year, the university chancellor was forced to publicly respond to anonymous threats by fans who wanted Nutt and athletic director Pete Boone fired. The last good thing that happened to this team was LSU botching the final seconds of a possible comeback in Oxford almost two years ago.

Nutt will reportedly stay on to close out the season, beginning with this Saturday's visit from Louisiana Tech (the game opened today as a pick 'em), which frankly shouldn't feel much different than his doomed presence on the sideline over the last month. Maybe the official reality of his exit will roll back some of the clouds and win a little sympathy from the softer hearts in the house. Everyone else will be busy calculating how much it will take to hire Kirby Smart or Gus Malzahn.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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