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ESPN's Aschoff talks Houston Nutt and the future of Ole Miss football

AUSTIN MILLER: What are your overall thoughts on the Houston Nutt’s four seasons at Ole Miss?

EDWARD ASCHOFF: I think things started off better than anybody could have ever imagined with back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories. He was the king of town. People loved Houston Nutt, and he was really engaging. He fit in well with the community and was exactly what a team like that needed at the time after the disaster with Ed Orgeron.

The problem that he had was he didn’t recruit as well as Orgeron did. He won with a lot of Orgeron’s players. When it came time for him to recruit, he struggled. He lost the battle in the state of Mississippi to Dan Mullen his first year he was there. I don’t think Ole Miss really recovered from that. He (recruited) well this year. He brought in his best class. A lot of recruiting mistakes really hurt him the last couple of seasons and it finally caught up to him.

As well as he did this year in recruiting, it was way too much for him to get out of it. You can’t get blown out by Vanderbilt and Kentucky in the same year and expect to keep your job. It’s just unheard of in the SEC these. I think it was time to make a change and a change throughout. Not just Houston Nutt, but the athletics director as well.

AM: Where did it go wrong for Houston Nutt?

EA: I think one of the main things is that he could never find a consistent quarterback. Jevan Snead started off his career with Houston Nutt pretty rocky, then he had the game against Florida and everything changes. People are talking about him being a possible Heisman candidate in his second year under Nutt and things just fell apart for him. He was a guy that people thought would be a top-10 pick and he was never drafted. I think that was a huge hit for him.

The Jeremiah Masoli experiment didn’t work out. I don’t think what happened with the entire offense last year can really be blamed totally on Jeremiah Masoli. He wasn’t a good enough quarterback to really lead this team to more than four wins and the record speaks for itself. This year, he shuffles through three guys for five weeks. And Randall Mackey seems like he’s a leader and he’s talented, but it just didn’t seem like he’s ready right now. And it’s hurt the program. The offense can’t really move the ball and is one of the worst in the league. Not having consistent, good quarterback play has been a huge issue since he’s been at Ole Miss.

AM: What are realistic possibilities for Ole Miss in the SEC?

EA: I think, right away, patience is going to have to be the key for whoever is fired. This is not just for the head coach, but it’s also for the athletics director and the chancellor. Ole Miss is not on the level of Alabama, LSU, Florida or Georgia. Ole Miss hasn’t been really relevant since the 1950s and 1960s and that’s not good at all.

Realistically, there is a lot of talent in the state of Mississippi and there is a lot of talent around the state of Mississippi. You can win at Ole Miss. It’s not like this is a program that will never win again. You just have to be able to recruit in your state, somebody that will be charismatic and bring attention to the school. I thought Houston Nutt would be that guy, but it didn’t seem like it. You think Ed Orgeron would be that guy, and he brought in a lot of talent, but he just wasn’t a good coach.

Right now, to put Ole Miss up with the top of the SEC is ridiculous at this point. It’s all about building this program up and it’s going to take time. The next person that comes in is going to have to have more than two or three good years to get this program really competitive with the LSUs and Alabamas of the world.

AM: What is Ole Miss looking for in their next head coach? Some early names to look for?

EA: Up-and-coming guys like Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong, I think, could bring a lot of excitement to the program and recruit very well.
I think Charlie Strong is a guy that can definitely recruit the state of Mississippi. He coached under Billy Brewer for a year. He loves Oxford. He told me, before, that he would love to retire in Oxford. You bring him and the problem with that is he’s doing well at Louisville right now and maybe there are bigger opportunities down the road for him.

Kevin Sumlin is a guy whose name’s been coming out a lot with coaching moves here and there.

Or you could with a hot coordinator. Gus Malzahn is someone that everybody wants. He’s an offensive genius and I think he could energize the program. Maybe Kirby Smart at Alabama. (Ole Miss) has a lot of options. With the talent around the state, someone can win. It’s all about bringing in someone that’s going to be able to recruit and be able to coach, and that’s something Ole Miss has struggled with for a long, long time.

AM: If you were a part of the search committee, who would be your top choice for head coach?

EA: You want somebody who’s got experience and going to come in. The thing is you don’t want a quick fix. I don’t think that (Ole Miss) is going to try and go after the biggest fish possible and just come in immediately and kind of do what Houston Nutt did - win his first couple of years and then figure it out. I think Charlie Strong would be a great hire for (Ole Miss).

The question is do they have enough to lure him away from Louisville, considering what he’s been able to do in a year and a half. His record hasn’t been terribly great, but he’s building something there, if you can pull him from that. I think he can recruit the state. He’s familiar with Oxford. He’s familiar with campus. I think he would be a draw. He was a great recruiter at Florida. He knows the SEC. I think that he would someone to look at. At this point, I think it’s going to come down to: will he want to work elsewhere, now that he has a head coaching job?