Houston Nutt had just finished his introductory press conference at the Gertrude Castellow Ford Center for the Performing Arts and he was floating a bit.
Some 1,500 fans had packed the state-of-the-art theatre on that late November day and embraced the former Arkansas coach with a warmth he hadn’t experienced in the last couple of years in Fayetteville. Another 500 fans had been turned away from the Ford Center once the building was practically bursting at its seams.
Then Nutt was reminded why those 2,000-plus fans had come to hear him. He represented hope after a four-year postseason drought and one of the worst seasons in the program’s history, one that ended without a win in the Southeastern Conference. That hit home when he left the Ford Center and traveled to the Rebels’ indoor practice facility. Nutt walked into the team meeting room and asked his new team how many of them had ever played in a bowl game. No hands were raised.
“That tugged at my heart now when not one could raise their hand,” Nutt said. “I want to take this group. I want our staff and these players, starting with these seniors who were sitting on the first row, I want them to experience a bowl game and to have those extra practices and all those things that could with it. It’s so, to me, valuable. That, to me, is the first step, the first start.”