Ole Miss Officials Were Told Not to Harm Houston Nutt’s Reputation

In its 2011 separation agreement with former football coach Houston Nutt, the University of Mississippi agreed to “direct” top officials for the school’s athletics foundation and university not to make any statements about Nutt’s tenure that could harm his reputation as a football coach.

USA TODAY Sports reviewed that language on Friday, which has been part of an agreement both sides have kept confidential since it was signed on Nov. 25, 2011. Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, provided it to USA TODAY Sports after the school informed him earlier Friday it intended to make it public through the Mississippi Public Records Act.

The wording of Nutt’s non-disparagement clause has been central to the defamation lawsuit he filed last month against Ole Miss and its athletics foundation, alleging top school officials including former football coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork concocted a misinformation campaign in 2016 to suggest the majority of the school’s NCAA violations occurred under Nutt’s watch.

The wording also underscores why Ole Miss refused to apologize to Nutt or engage in settlement talks.

“Outside of any obligation, legal or otherwise, to reveal the terms of this Agreement to third parties, the University agrees not to release or disclose information related to this agreement,” the clause reads. “The University further agrees to direct members of the control groups for the Foundation and for UM not to make any statement relative to Nutt’s tenure as an employee that may damage or harm Nutt’s reputation as a football coach.”

Mars said university attorneys told him the control group includes seven titles:

The Chancellor of the University of Mississippi Dan Jones
The Director of Athletics Pete Boone
The Senior Executive Athletics Director John Hartwell
The Executive Associate Athletics Director Lynette Johnson
The General Counsel for the University of Mississippi Lee Tyner
The Executive Director of the University of Mississippi Athletic Association (“UMAA”) Danny White
UMAA Board of Governor Members Don Fruge, Cal Mayo, Max Williams, and David Blackburn
Among those names, only Johnson, Tyner, Fruge, Mayo and Blackburn are still employed by the university.

Ole Miss has consistently maintained that it has satisfied its obligations to Nutt under the terms of the agreement and owes him no apology. It rejected a settlement offer that included a public apology and a $500,000 donation to fund a commission for ethics in Mississippi college sports.

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Source: USA Today