Former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt filed a lawsuit against the school Wednesday, claiming it broke the terms of his 2011 severance agreement when football officials attempted to pin the majority of the Rebels’ recent NCAA violations on the 59-year-old CBS analyst.
In the lawsuit, which can be viewed in full at the bottom of this post, Nutt’s legal team alleges that current Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, athletic director Ross Bjork, and sports information director Kyle Campbell purposefully spread misinformation to a slew of journalists as off-the-record sources from 2014-2017. The campaign was a reaction to an NCAA investigation that found 15 Level I violations, including a lack of institutional control charge for Freeze.
Nutt is seeking an unspecified amount in damages for lost wages, emotional distress, embarrassment, attorney’s fees, and punitive damages. Ole Miss’s lawyer provided the following statement to the Clarion-Ledger:
“We have not yet been served with the lawsuit, but we are aware it has been filed. We were provided a short copy a short time ago. We will carefully review Coach Nutt’s claims and respond in due course.”
According to the lawsuit, only two of the 13 allegations in the NCAA’s initial Notice of Allegations fell under Nutt’s tenure; two more, carried out by a pair of former assistant coaches hired under Nutt, occurred in 2013 and 2014, two and three years after Nutt’s departure. Despite the bulk of the allegations taking place in the post-Nutt era, Freeze, Bjork, and Campbell reportedly spent the past three years secretly telling reporters that Ole Miss was not overly worried about the NCAA’s investigation, as the “majority” of allegations occurred under Nutt’s watch.
As part of Nutt’s severance deal—the two parted ways after he won six games in what would be his final two seasons—Ole Miss agreed to refrain from “making any statement relative to Coach Nutt’s tenure at Ole Miss that may damage or harm his reputation at a football coach,” per Nutt’s suit. Upon discovering the reports of Ole Miss using journalists—the suit alleges Freeze was “exploiting their trust and deliberately misleading them into tweeting and writing news stories that furthered Coach Freeze’s agenda”—Nutt opted to take legal action against his old program.
The journalists involved in the alleged spread of misinformation are not named in the lawsuit, but the various reports and tweets published as a result of the Ole Miss campaign were quoted in the piece, thus identifying them and their subsequent reports as the following:
- Journalist No. 1: Yahoo’s Pat Forde
- Journalist No. 2: Radio analyst Matt Wyatt
- Journalist No. 3: Rebel Grove and Rivals’ Neal McCready
- Journalist No. 4: FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman
- Journalist No. 5: The Associated Press’ David Brandt
- Journalist No. 6 is reportedly an ESPN employee that spoke with Campbell in January 2016;
- Journalist No. 7—ESPN’s Chris Low—spoke with Bjork shortly after the same day and tweeted the following:
The lawsuit goes on to cite four specific instances in which Ole Miss recruits or players were given the same information by Freeze. The most notable came when safety Deontay Anderson spoke with ESPN’s Gerry Hamilton for an Insider recruiting piece, telling Hamilton that he wasn’t concerned with the cloud of allegations, as they regarded “things that had happened in the past before [Freeze] got to Ole Miss.”
“It didn’t affect me,” Anderson said. “I talked to Coach Freeze about it. He said it was about things that had happened in the past before he got to Ole Miss. I knew he would be honest with me. When I first heard it, it didn’t shake me up,”
Freeze is scheduled to take his turn at the podium for SEC Media Days on Thursday, where he will have no off-record protection, should he actually still show up.