The problem with hecklers is that it's difficult to acknowledge them without letting them win. After all, the job of a heckler is to knock you off stride, get you off message -- make them the center of attention instead of you. For more than two years now, Dan Mullen has been heckling Houston Nutt and getting very little in the way of results.
For example, Nutt was asked last year about Mullen's habit of referring to Ole Miss as "the school up north." Nutt brushed off the question, about the best way you can handle that kind of thing, basically implying that whatever Mullen said wasn't worth Nutt paying attention.
This year, asked about billboards placed on the Mississippi borders implying that the Magnolia State belongs to the Western Division Bulldogs, Nutt misfired. Asked about the billboards and whether they affected Ole Miss or recruiting, Nutt started out strong. "You checked recruiting this past season, right?" Had he stopped there, it would have been a strong response, putting Mullen in his place and answering the question. But Nutt went on.
It didn't affect us. We had the best recruiting in the state of Mississippi. You know, the thing that I want to do, I want our staff and I -- I want to go to Atlanta. it's one of the greatest games, greatest venues, greatest environments there is to win a championship. Ole Miss has never been to Atlanta. That's all I really focus on. I don't really worry about it. Sometimes when coaches make a statement like that, I don't really worry about it. I don't concern myself with that because it all comes down to your body of work.
This is my 14th year here. So I know this. Alabama, LSU, those guys, Florida have been holding up this crystal ball in this conference for the last five years the SEC has won. I've been to Atlanta twice to experience that wonderful, wonderful atmosphere. So I feel like I know the roadmap to get there.
And to waste your time and energy, using just valuable energy on something like that is a waste of time. You better be concentrating on recruiting, concentrating on winning, helping your players become a better person and a better football player.
That's almost 200 words Nutt spent on something he says he doesn't "really worry about." Even for Nutt, whose answers are often winding and verbose, that's a lot of time to devote to something that's not important. And Nutt answered the question or similar questions two more times, once drawing on The Blind Side and a group of players who left Ole Miss before last season to make his point about exciting things happening in Oxford, and the other time suggesting "we have marketing people to do that."
And I find myself thinking, "Dan Mullen finally did it. He got into Houston Nutt's head." It's a battle Mullen has been fighting for months now, and for the first time he looks to be winning it.
The better answer was given by Brandon Bolden, who was also asked about the billboard campaign.
"I thought it was funny," he said. "They beat us two years straight, they deserve to say it's their state, this, this, that or whatever."
Then, Bolden added: "But, I mean, we have another game."