New Tulsa assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn didn't say he had philosophical differences with Arkansas coach Houston Nutt.
What the former Razorbacks offensive coordinator did tell Rivals.com on Tuesday morning was that he couldn't wait to get started with the Golden Hurricanes on the staff of their new head coach, Todd Graham.
"I've had a relationship with Coach Graham for a long time," said Malzahn, who abruptly parted ways with the Hogs after just one season - a season in which Arkansas won 10 games, played for the SEC title and Malzahn was named Rivals.com's National Offensive Coordinator of the Year. "He's an old high school coach, and we always talked about working together.
"We started talking when he got the job (he was introduced on Friday as Steve Kragthorpe's replacement), and I'll be an assistant head coach and I'll get to call the plays. His philosophical background is similar to mine in that he likes the no-huddle, spread offense. It's a great opportunity."
Malzahn declined to discuss the specifics of his departure, other than admitting it came together quickly. Speculation has been rampant that he didn't have as much responsibility for the offense as he believed he would have when he made the leap from head coach at Springdale (Ark.) High School to the SEC. Malzahn told Rivals otherwise, and said rumors surrounding his role were untrue.
"I called the plays," said Malzahn, who also responded that those duties were never taken away during the season.
Malzahn said he didn't get a chance to talk to many of the players before deciding to move on.
"They play for the University of Arkansas," Malzahn said. "I wish them nothing but the best. They have some excellent players. They'll have a great season. They'll do well."
Malzahn did say he had told a few players that he had accepted the job at Tulsa, including quarterback Mitch Mustain. Mustain, a Rivals.com five-star prospect for Malzahn at Springdale, had followed his coach to Arkansas. He became the starting QB for the second game of the season, went 8-0 then was pulled from the lineup in favor of sophomore Casey Dick.
When asked about his role in the quarterback switch, Malzahn said, "I'd rather not get into all of that."
Nutt announced at a news conference late Tuesday that Mustain had asked for and been given his release. When asked if that meant the QB was transferring, Nutt replied, "I guess you'd have to ask Mitch that."
Mustain and his mother, Beck Campbell, had not returned phone messages as of early Tuesday evening.
Nutt also said at Tuesday's news conference that nothing had been set in stone regarding changes on the offensive staff prior to Malzahn's departure. He said it was a possibility Malzahn still would have called the plays next year.
The departures of Malzahn and Mustain continue what has been a tumultuous end to the season for Arkansas. A book about Springdale's 2005 season entitled "Year of the Dog" caused a stir when it quoted Mustain as being critical of Nutt's offense. According to the book, the youth said the Razorbacks had a better chance of securing his services if Nutt were fired.
Kurt Voigt, author of "Year of the Dog", a book chronicling Arkansas' recruitment of Mitch Mustain and his Springdale High School teammates spoke to Rivals Radio about the departure of Gus Malzahn.
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Kurt Voigt, author of "Year of the Dog" and a sports writer for The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas, said yesterday on RivalsRadio that Malzahn and Nutt had reached a crossroads because Malzahn hadn't been given what he was promised.
"Over the weekend, from what we are told, he cornered Nutt and asked him point blank if he was gonna have control of the offense next season," Voigt said. "It's clear that his input had diminished as the season went along. Coach Nutt informed him no, that there were plans to bring in a co-offensive coordinator and Gus would be moved back to more of a position coach.
"There was tension there from the get-go on this hire. There was a lot of speculation whether Houston Nutt wanted to hire him in the first place. He had always been the offensive coordinator and had run the offense and called the plays his entire time at Arkansas. It finally came to a head this weekend, and Gus was never going to have a shortage of opportunities. He found the right one in Tulsa."
Efforts to reach Nutt on Tuesday were unsuccessful. This statement from Nutt about Malzahn's departure was posted on the school's official athletic website, www.hogwired.com:
"We are very appreciative of the many contributions Gus made to our staff and to our program during his tenure with the Razorbacks. In his first season as a coach at the collegiate level, he was an integral part of a team that won 10 games and won an SEC Western Division championship. I wish him nothing but the best both personally and professionally as he takes on his new role."
Four of Malzahn's Springdale players had joined him in Fayetteville – Mustain, tight end Ben Cleveland and wide receivers Damian Williams and Andrew Norman. The parents of Mustain, Cleveland and Williams met with Arkansas Athletic Director Frank Broyles in the weeks following the SEC Championship game loss to Florida to discuss their displeasure with the offense. Williams, who had 19 receptions for 235 yards and a pair of TDs, was given his release and transferred to Southern California.
Only Auburn attempted fewer passes in conference play than Arkansas. The Springdale parents expected to see the pigskin fly, not the Hogs rooting around on the ground.
"Our boys are used to catching 60 passes a year," Rick Cleveland, Ben's father, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "They want to go to a college where they get the same opportunity."
Whether it was Malzahn or Nutt, Arkansas mostly kept the ball on the ground. With a solid offensive line in front of one of the best running-back tandems in the country, it was hard to argue with the strategy. Sophomore Darren McFadden piled up a school-record 1,647 yards and 14 touchdowns and finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy voting. Fellow sophomore Felix Jones added 1,168 yards and six TDs.
Mustain's numbers were far more modest. He attempted more than 20 passes in a game only once. In his eight starts he completed 64 of 122 for 853 yards and 10 TDs with seven interceptions. His best game came against Vanderbilt, when he completed 13 of 20 for 224 yards and three touchdowns.
Even with little from its passing game, Arkansas' offensive numbers improved dramatically over the season prior to Malzahn's arrival. The Hogs moved from 66th to 32nd in total offense and from 65th to 23rd in scoring offense.
Now the Hogs and Nutt will move on without Malzahn.
"We left on good terms with him," Malzahn said. "That's really about it. I'm really just looking forward to the job at Tulsa. That's my main focus right now."