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Nutt still thinking about that Nebraska job

Remember those weird, wild, flight-tracking days of late 2003/early 2004? Then Athletic Director Steve Pederson had controversially fired Frank Solich at the end of the 2003 season and the Huskers’ search for a new coach was officially a mess. Seemingly every coach with a pulse had his name mentioned in connection with the Nebraska job.

Some — Bo Pelini, Turner Gill — made sense. Others — Steve Spurrier, Bill Cowher, Urban Meyer — less so. When Bill Callahan, who had just been fired by the Raiders, officially took the job on Jan. 9, 2004, there were reports that he was pretty far down the list of Nebraska’s preferred candidates.

Take then Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, for example. That was a name that gained some traction. Pederson flew down to Arkansas for one of those tarmac meet-and-greets in the first days of 2004. That meeting went pretty well. So how close was Nutt to taking the job?

“There was about a six hour window where I thought ‘maybe it is time to go,'” he told Hail Varsity Radio on Tuesday. “I wanted to talk to Tom Osborne and I couldn’t get the number at the time. I wanted to visit with him. I was pretty close there for a window of time.”

Close enough that Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Jan.2 that he thought there was a “90 percent chance” Nutt would leave for Lincoln. The difficulty in getting Osborne on the phone perhaps wasn’t surprising given some of the former coach’s comments during and after the search, but it wasn’t just a missing phone call that kept Nutt in Fayetteville.

“I just felt like my work wasn’t done at Arkansas. We had recruited very, very hard,” Nutt said.  “That’s when we had Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Matt Jones, Shawn Andrews, some really good guys that we had recruited really hard so we knew we had a good team that was coming back.”

That’s half-right. Guard/tackle Andrews left school a year early and was selected with the 16th pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, but Nutt may not have know that at the time he was mulling Nebraska’s offer. Do-everything quarterback/receiver Matt Jones was a senior in 2004 and he too was a first round pick the following year. Felix Jones and McFadden didn’t show up until 2005, and Nutt needed them. After going 5-6 in 2004 and 4-7 in 2005, the coach was in danger of losing his job.

With now Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn running the offense, Nutt righted the ship in 2006, going 10-4 and taking the Hogs to the SEC title game. But an 8-5 record in 2007, along with some off the field controversy, was enough for Nutt to finally pull the plug at Arkansas. He resigned on Nov. 26, 2007, days after beating top-ranked and eventual national champion LSU. Less than 24 hours later, Ole Miss hired Nutt as its new head coach. Over the next four seasons, he compiled a 22-24 record with the Rebels before getting fired in November of 2011.

Not surprisingly, given the roller coaster ride that comprised the eight seasons after Nutt was offered the Nebraska job, the coach still occasionally wonders what things would’ve been like for him in Lincoln.

“We were doing some good things at Arkansas and when things do go right in the world that we’re in your name does get mentioned,” he said. “Of course, I had such an awesome respect for Nebraska. There were so many times where I look back and say, ‘you know, what if I’d gotten on that plane and came to Nebraska.’

“It’s hard. I’m an Arkansas boy and loyal but I always was flattered about that. Sometimes I think about that a lot. If I’m not in coaching sometimes you think. But, no need to look back. Look forward. It looks like Coach Pelini’s got things rolling now.”

Nutt got the chance to see Nebraska, and Coach Pelini, up close this week as he was in Lincoln broadcasting his college football show on SiriusXM Radio on Monday.