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Petrino, Nutt calling the shots

Current, former UA coaches represent minority in SEC

By Bob Holt

This article was originally published April 18, 2008 at 4:41 a.m. Updated April 19, 2008 at 4:41 a.m.

— Arkansas' new head football coach and its old one will be the only two among their SEC peers calling plays next season.

Bobby Petrino, hired as the Razorbacks' coach Dec. 11, will continue to call plays, as he has most of the time over the past 24 years as either an offensive coordinator or head coach in the college ranks and NFL.

Houston Nutt, who wa s Arkansas' coach the previous 10 years and now is at Ole Miss, is reclaiming his play-calling duties after a two-year break.

After Arkansas finished 5-6 in 2005 and 4-7 in 2006, Nutt reluctantly relinquished the playcalling to an offensive coordinator, first Gus Malzahn and then David Lee.

With a fresh start at Ole Miss,Nutt again will doing what he may enjoy most about coaching.

"We had two bad seasons at Arkansas and everybody felt there [needed to be a change]," Nutt said Thursday on the SEC coaches' spring teleconference. "But I'm back calling plays now. I just love being a part of the game. You're into it. To me, it just keeps you much closer to your team."

South Carolina's Steve Spurrier was the only SEC head coach who called plays last season, but he plans to have his son, receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr., fill that role next fall.

The move generally is viewed as a way for Spurrier to enhance his son's coaching resume rather than a reaction to the Gamecocks losing their final five games in 2007 after a 6-1 start.

Spurrier, who has been calling plays going back to 1983 when he was head coach of the United States Football League's Tampa Bay Bandits, stressed that he still will be offensive coordinator, but that it might be time for him to delegate some responsibilities.

"Last year I'm sitting there writing down third-and-1s, third-and-8s, red zone, twopoint plays, and putting them on a wristband and da-da-da-da," Spurrier said. "And everybody [on the coaching staff] is sitting there looking at me, and I said, 'I'm doing everything around here, right?'

"They said, 'That's how you do it, Coach.' And I said, 'You know what? It's time to maybe let you guys get a little more involved.' "

Spurrier said play-calling has "changed a lot" since he started doing it 25 years ago.

"When I first was a play-caller, sometimes I didn't even need a sheet," Spurrier said. "I'd probably already thrown it down after an interception or something and just called them off the top of my head.

"Nowadays, there are so many plays and formations and shifts and this, that and the other. You've almost got to have a sheet with you at all times and know exactly where all the plays are on the sheet."

Petrino said calling plays is something he's always enjoyed doing and planned to keep doing when he first became a head coach at Louisville in 2003.

"It's something I think is one of my strengths as a coach and allows you to develop closer relationships with the quarterbacks and the other players on offense," Petrino said. "You stay really involved in it.

"I certainly feel real comfortable with our offensive coordinator and our offensive staff, but [play-calling] is something I feel I can do well."

Arkansas' offensive coordinator is PaulPetrino, Bobby's younger brother. He coaches the receivers and will spend a lot of time during game weeks organizing the offense in meetings and practices.

"The best thing [Bobby Petrino] does is call plays," Paul Petrino said. "So it would be silly for him to ever not do that."

Georgia Coach Mark Richt gave up playcalling last season after doing it his first six seasons with the Bulldogs and for several years as Florida State's offensive coordinator.

Georgia was 9-4 in 2006 in Richt's last season calling plays and finished 11-2 last year when offensive coordinator Mike Bobo took over those duties.

Richt said being freed from the time consumed by preparing to call plays, he has focused his attention on improving Georgia's program in all areas and getting to know his players better on a personal level.

"You see the program from a different perspective," Richt said. "Before I was in the middle of the forest chopping wood like everybody else, and there's nothing wrong with that.

"I think there's some value to the leader being right in the middle of it. But once I moved away from that, I was able to ... see everything from a little bit different perspective, almost from the outside looking in."

Nutt said he's able to balance his head coaching responsibilities and calling plays.

"I've always managed it by being [in the meetings], in the mornings especially," Nutt said. "From 6:30 [a.m.] to noon basically you set everything up through the week and you take care of the head coaching responsibilities in the afternoon."

Bobby Petrino said he's never given any thought to why fewer head coaches are calling plays.

"It's something I felt when I was an assistant I wanted to do," he said. "With the idea in mind that when I was a head coach I still was going to do it."

Spurrier recalled that South Carolina had to rely on its running game, short passes and defense to beat Mississippi State 15-0 in the 2006 opener.

"We had all these pass plays ready and we worked on them all preseason, and then the ballgame rolled around, and guess what? We could not block their defensive line," Spurrier said. "Our quarterbacks couldn't get a dang pass off hardly.

"You can waste a lot of time scheming up if you can't block. So I'm going to try and help the entire offense and the entire team a little bit better [with] a little bit more time away from the exact play-calling.

"But that's not to say I'm not going to have a strong influence in play-calling."

Richt said it wasn't hard for him to give up play-calling, though he has made suggestions to Bobo, either between series during a game or during the week after studying tape.

"Most of the time I would hand [the suggestions] to Mike privately, let him look them over, and if he wanted to implement them, do it, and if he didn't, then don't," Richt said. "I know one thing as a play-caller and as a game planner - sometimes you just come up dry with ideas.

"To have somebody hand you some thoughts that can spark your mind a little bit, it helps."

Sports, Pages 23, 27 on 04/18/2008

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