Wins Are Football's True Bottom Line

by George Waldon  on Monday, Feb. 5, 2007 12:00 am  

Much has been made of growing fan base division surrounding leadership of the Razorbacks football program, the culmination of a 10-4 soap opera of a season and the ensuing post-season melodrama.
How wide the chasm or narrow the crack remains a popular topic for debate.
But lest anyone forget, Houston Nutt's selection to be CEO of Razorback football after the 1997 season was born of division.
Nine years ago, the search committee for a new head football coach was divided.
News accounts at the time portrayed it as a 3-3 split between Nutt and Tommy Tuberville, then head football coach at Ole Miss.
It begged the question of why such a committee would be organized with an even number of members in the first place. But in the end, University of Arkansas Chancellor John A. White is credited with wrangling a deciding vote.
Nutt's unabashed enthusiasm was embraced, and a new regime was launched. How successful is the Nutt era?
In the business world, the measurement of success is simple: profits vs. losses. The measurement in sports is just as simple: wins and losses on the field of play. No credit is given for moral victories, which is just a sugar-coated way of saying disappointing losses.
The most telling of win-loss standards is the results of the Razorbacks against Southeastern Conference opponents.
With SEC wins and losses as the scale, Nutt took a sub-average program (18-29-2) and transformed it into slightly above average. His record actually was below average (31-34) until this year's 7-2 showing.
This track record helped fuel the current firestorm. Fans believed the program changes heading into the 2006 season, including the hiring of Gus Malzahn as offensive coordinator, signaled a new approach to achieve better results.
The Razorbacks reeled off 10 victories in a row through an impressive combination of skill and mojo, but a trademark of Nutt's program reared its ugly head: a losing streak, defined as two or more losses in a row.
The three-game streak punctuated by the frustrating loss to Wisconsin in the Capitol One Bowl marked Nutt's 12th losing streak during his nine seasons at the helm. His worst are four-game strings in 2000 and 2004.
During the pre-Nutt SEC era (1992-97), Joe Kines and Danny Ford combined for nine losing streaks in six years. The worst was a five-game slide during 1997.
Mathematically, Nutt's losing streak average per season of 1.3 is an im-provement on his predecessors' 1.5 average.
There are those who still wonder what the state of the football program would be if Tuberville had been chosen. Tough to say, but it's easy enough to track what he's done during the past nine seasons for comparison's sake.
While Nutt has been at Arkansas, Tuberville was the head coach at Ole Miss in 1998 and at Auburn since.
His 1998-2006 record against SEC opponents is 48-26 (65 percent). Tuberville has averaged less than one losing streak per season, seven out of nine. His first year at Auburn produced his worst, a five-game nosedive.
Another interesting win-loss stat to examine is close SEC games, specifically games decided by seven points or less.
In the pre-Nutt SEC era, Kines and Ford combined for a 9-4 record in close conference games. Nutt's record is 16-15. Tuberville's is 17-7.
Throw in close bowl games and the record doesn't change for the pre-Nutt era.
Nutt's record goes to 16-17, and Tuberville's, 20-9.
In nine years of head-to-head meetings, Nutt holds a 5-4 victory margin over Tuberville.
While Nutt remains on the hot seat, it should be noted that Tuberville survived a strong push to oust him at Auburn as well.
When the flames were the hottest, Tuberville enjoyed a 13-0 season in 2004 that arguably should have resulted in a national championship.
Razorback fans can hope the crucible will produce something approaching that level of success next season. However, with Malzahn gone, hopes for a more wide-open offense and a change in the status quo appear dashed.
When Nutt was hired nine years ago, who could've foreseen the highly-regarded high school coach would join the Razorbacks as offensive coordinator?
By a strange coincidence, the two shared the front page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports section the day after Nutt's first day on the job in Fayetteville. Nutt is pictured at his desk on the phone, and Malzahn's photo accompanied an article about Springdale's Shiloh Christian School making its first state football championship game.
Heading into Nutt's 10th season, a favorable schedule and returning talent is expected to yield a healthy dose of wins. Last season's somewhat magical, though angst-ridden, performance will be tough to duplicate.
A question lingers for many fans: Is the 2006 season as good as it will ever get under Nutt's watch? And for some, an even bigger question is will 2006 be as good as it will ever get, no matter the coach?
A Wikipedia entry on Nutt included this entry, with the bent of a wise-cracking and frustrated fan:
"Nutt, however, has yet to fulfill his promise to get Arkansas a National Championship. Through the 2006 season, Nutt has yet to bring the Razorbacks an overall SEC Title. Early predictions are that Nutt and Arkansas will win their first SEC Championship in 2021."
Winning solves many things, and the expectations remain high for the CEO of Razorbacks football to take Arkansas to the Promised Land.

To read what sportswriter Orville Henry had to say about Houston Nutt's hiring in 1997, click here.

Click here for a comparison of Coach Houston Nutt to Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville.



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