Ex-Ole Miss Coach Nutt Alleges Defamation in Lawsuit

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Former University of Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer Wednesday, alleging key figures including current coach Hugh Freeze and athletics director Ross Bjork violated the school's 2011 severance agreement with him by pushing a false public narrative that the bulk of its ongoing NCAA infractions case involved violations that occurred under Nutt's watch.

Freeze is scheduled to speak Thursday at the SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.

Mississippi is expected to appear in front of the NCAA's committee on infractions this year. The school has been accused of 21 violations tied to its football program, a number of which Mississippi has acknowledged occurred.

The school instituted a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2017 season but is fighting the most serious charges of lack of institutional control. The school also is defending Freeze, who could face significant penalties for failure to monitor.

While some of the charges date to Nutt's tenure, including allegations that two former assistants set up fraudulent ACT exams for three recruits, the bulk of the case always has been focused on misconduct linked to Freeze's staff.

Nutt's lawsuit alleges that Freeze, Bjork and sports information director Kyle Campbell "reached an agreement in 2014 to carry out a carefully orchestrated misinformation campaign, the specific purpose of which was to mislead the media, Ole Miss boosters, and potential recruiting prospects about the true nature of the matters that were being investigated by the NCAA."

After Yahoo Sports reported on Jan. 29, 2016, that Mississippi had received its notice of allegations from the NCAA, the school declined to release it publicly.

Instead, multiple reports across a variety of local and national media outlets anonymously quoted people connected to the school saying the allegations were largely connected to the Nutt era (2008 to 2011).

According to the suit, which obtained phone records for Freeze, Bjork and Campbell, they spoke with those reporters before their stories were posted containing misleading information about the notice of allegations and Nutt's involvement.

"During the 10 days leading up to the crucial weekend recruiting event, Coach Freeze initiated 'off the record' conversations with numerous sports journalists for the specific purpose of creating multiple false and misleading news stories, Tweets and other social media comments supporting the above-referenced false narrative, i.e., that the NCAA's focus was on the former football coaching staff and Houston Nutt in particular."

Nutt had earlier sought an apology from Mississippi but did not receive one, thus pushing the lawsuit forward.

"We gave Ole Miss several opportunities to do the right thing, but they treated us like we were just an annoyance," his attorney, Thomas Mars, told USA TODAY Sports.

The case was filed in the Northern District of Mississippi Oxford Division.

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July 13, 2017


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