Attorneys for Ole Miss, IHL seek to dismiss Houston Nutt lawsuit

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Attorneys representing the University of Mississippi and the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning filed a motion in federal court Thursday asking that former Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt’s breach of contract lawsuit be dismissed.

Earlier in July, Nutt filed the federal lawsuit against IHL, the university and the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation, alleging that representatives of the athletic department breached his contract by orchestrating a misinformation campaign to mislead “the media, Ole Miss boosters and potential recruiting prospects about the true nature of matters that were being investigated by the NCAA.”

Lauren Wood, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal via AP

Hugh Freeze speaks to Ole Miss alumni on April 26 in Tupelo as Chancellor Jeff Vitter, left, and Athletic Director Ross Bjork listen. 

The lawsuit, filed during the week of SEC Media Days, garnered immediate national media attention as Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork, former head football coach Hugh Freeze and sports information director Kyle Campbell were specifically targeted in the suit.

Oxford attorney Cal Mayo, who is representing the university and IHL but not the athletics foundation, filed the motion for dismissal on Thursday, saying his two clients cannot be considered citizens of the state, as the original lawsuit stated, and cannot be sued in federal court.

The motion seeks to have the entire case dismissed by the federal court. If that happened, Nutt could refile the lawsuit in federal court without naming the university and IHL as defendants, or he could file the original lawsuit in state court.

“The first step before you file a lawsuit is to determine if the court has jurisdiction,” Mayo said. “Here, the federal district court clearly does not.”

In the original lawsuit, Nutt’s attorney argued that Freeze initiated off-the-record conversations with several 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,” and “that the NCAA’s focus was on the former football coaching staff and Houston Nutt in particular.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Freeze, backed by the Ole Miss athletic department, purposefully misled recruits and boosters about the severity of NCAA charges that fell during his own tenure as head coach.

Later in July, Freeze’s phone records showed a call to a number associated with a Tampa-based escort service. Freeze resigned on July 20 as head football coach shortly before that news was made public. Bjork and Ole Miss Chancellor Jeff Vitter, in a news conference the same day, cited a discovered “pattern of personal misconduct.”

“Once we looked at the rest of the phone records we found a pattern,” Bjork said. “It was troubling.”

Nutt, who now lives in Texas but coached at Ole Miss from 2008-2011, won back-to-back Cotton Bowls in his first two years before posting a 4-8 record in 2010 and a 2-10 record in 2011. His contract with the university continued despite being fired.