Houston Nutt, whose time at Ole Miss from 2008 through 2011 now includes NCAA allegations included in an ongoing investigation, has sued the school.
The complaint alleges the Rebels pulled off “a carefully orchestrated misinformation campaign” designed “to mislead the media, Ole Miss boosters, and potential recruiting prospects” about the investigation and thereby “place undue public blame on Nutt, contributing to his difficulty in finding another coaching job.”
As if current head coach Hugh Freeze, who’s alleged to have overseen the bulk of the infractions, didn’t have enough problems.
His Thursday session at SEC Media Days was already the first chance reporters would get to take a crack at him after Ole Miss’ latest response to the NCAA’s allegations.
Nutt was fired after going 24-26. The school hired Freeze to replace him in 2012. The football program is currently facing 21 NCAA allegations. The majority are Level I, the most serious classification, and most are tied to Freeze’s football staff. The most major exception is an allegation that two of Nutt’s staffers helped fix ACT scores for recruits.
Nutt’s lawyer, Thomas Mars, argued to Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde in June that when allegations against Ole Miss were coming to public light in 2016, the school wrongly shifted blame to Nutt.
The lawyer’s argument, Forde writes, was that “someone or some group of people at Ole Miss” leaked to reporters, including SB Nation’s, that the allegations were mostly not against the current staff. That shifted focus to Nutt’s administration. (Some reports indicated that few of the violations were connected to football at all.)
“I’m 100 percent certain the information was leaked by the university,” Mars told Forde. “And I’m absolutely certain I could prove that in court.”
The actual complaint, obtained by SB Nation, goes into more detail.
The suit is formally filed with Nutt as the plaintiff vs. Ole Miss’ athletics foundation, as well as the university and its board of trustees.
The crux of the argument is that Nutt’s severance agreement was violated by Ole Miss making statements about Nutt’s tenure that could be potentially damaging.
The complaint goes after the hostage-style video Ole Miss released in February 2017 to update the public on the NCAA case. The complaint alleges that Ole Miss’ AD, Ross Bjork, and Freeze lied.
In the video and the accompanying transcript, AD Bjork falsely stated: ‘Consistent with the NCAA’s very strict requirement of confidentiality in all investigative matters, we have not publicized any information related to this investigation before today,’” the complaint argues. “AD Bjork made this statement knowing it was false. Coach Freeze also knew that AD Bjork’s statement was untrue.
The complaint brings up reports by seven journalists, from Yahoo!, Mississippi State talk radio, Rivals, Fox Sports, the Associated Press, and ESPN.
It claims Freeze and Ole Miss misled each. The complaint also alleges Freeze made false statements to recruits in an effort to deflect blame.
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. In some of these conversations, 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.
Nutt is seeking punitive damages for the following, per the complaint: lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, and legal fees.
SB Nation is also referenced in the complaint, regarding this post about something a recruit says Freeze told him:
Q: We’ve heard a lot about negative recruiting at Ole Miss with the NCAA thing going on, what has Ole Miss said to you about that?
“Well, Coach Freeze told me when you’re that big and out there with faith in Christ, he’s like, ‘What do you expect? Jesus got nailed to the cross.’ So, he was just telling me sometimes things like that happen, but that’s never going to change how he’s going to treat his players and take care of them. Even if — I don’t know if he really did make the mistake, doing what he did or not — but I can just tell he’s a good person, great person. I know they’re looking at maybe a bowl suspension [for 2017]. I don’t know what they’re gonna do. But I don’t think that’ll affect anything as far as how he treats his players and stuff like that.”
The complaint describes this as Freeze allegedly “going to extraordinary lengths through social media and otherwise to promote his self-image as a deeply spiritual Godly man who’s done nothing wrong and is being persecuted.”