Pete Boone's third failed coaching tenure will officially be his last at the University of Mississippi. After an adversarial relationship with David Cutcliffe (the program's most consistent coach in three decades) ended in a hast firing, and despite weathering the entirety of the Ed Orgeron debacle, the stunningly schizoid run of Houston Nutt at Ole Miss was given an official expiration date on Monday, and Boone along with it.
The Rebels fired their third football coach since 2004 on Monday. This time the administration's trigger man, known to have had stilted relationships with all three men, overshadowed a head football coach's dismissal. Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones announced that Boone would step down as athletic director, but would stay up until but not exceeding December 2012. The timetable move is assumed to appease fans frustrated with the overall malaise of the Rebels' "Big Three" sports (a glut we outlined earlier today) while still standing tough against the "Forward Rebels" campaign that has dogged Jones and Boone through various newspaper ads and media outlets. Jones, still young in his tenure as Chancellor, likely wants to send a message that he won't be bullied
Sources have told SBNation.com that it's highly unlikely Boone will stay on until December 2012, and that a replacement will likely be named by next summer. Boone is the chair of the SEC athletic director's association and will see out the remainder of the 2011-'12 academic year.
Jones also announced that Boone will not be involved in the search for a new Rebel coach (Boone famously declared that Nutt would be his "last head coaching hire" in December of 2007), and that a committee co-chaired by former Ole Miss player Archie Manning and FedEx Executive Vice President Mike Glenn. Jones also confirmed that the same committee would chair a search for a new athletic director. Jones said that Manning and Glenn had yet to meet regarding the matter.
When questioned, Jones also responded to the other most notable topic surrounding Ole Miss: the continued controversy among a vocal group of fans and alumni regarding the replacement of the schools' Colonel Rebel on-field mascot with the Mississippi Black Bear. Jones slammed the dissent by stating that "schools with a pig and a chicken for mascots have had plenty of success," and remained steadfast in supporting the student-led vote for the black bear.
As for Nutt, the lame duck coach seemed shaken at first while addressing the media, but quickly launched into trademark proselytizing. He cited Ole Miss' location relative to other SEC schools as a hindrance to recruiting (a fact he used to highlight the school's potential when he was hired in '07) and various injuries (most notably linebacker D.T. Shackelford this spring) and recruiting misfires as a reason for his 6-14 record the last two seasons. Nutt also told the media "you're not far off" repeatedly, in reference to the talent recruited to Ole Miss in Nutt's last two signing classes.
How Ole Miss handles the two-fold hiring process will define the long-term future of the university's athletic identity. Despite the on-field implosion under Nutt since last season, money has poured into the "Forward Together" capital campaign (unofficially titled to respond to dissent groups like "Forward Rebels"), created to address building a brand new basketball arena and bowling in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, among other projects.
In a bizarre turn, Nutt inadvertently endorsed the fund raising efforts when he acknowledged that a program the size and funding of Ole Miss' created a challenge competing in the SEC. "It's like fighting giants out there sometime. Do you think Florida likes having four losses? Do you think Tennessee does? They're going to do everything they can to get better."
Nutt will coach the final three games of Ole Miss' season: this Saturday's homecoming against Louisiana Tech, November 19 hosting undefeated LSU, and the season finale at Mississippi State November 26.
For more on Houston Nutt, Pete Boone and the living, breathing Southern Gothic drama that is Ole Miss, visit Red Cup Rebellion.