How a humble Dickey Nutt learned his lessons that led to Mizzou

Dickey Nutt is a believer.

The longtime basketball coach, follower of Dennis Gates and now Missouri assistant head coach, happily met the media on May 10.

He was there to explain why he chose Columbia. He was there to explain why he decided to return to a high-stakes position as an old-school coach in a game that is growing faster and younger.

The simple answer was Dennis Gates. The longest answer was that Nutt’s experienced mind can offer valuable perspective to new-age Gates staff.

While Kyle Smithpeters brings active ingenuity, Charlton Young brings a dynamic recruiting presence and Gates brings new excitement, Nutt brings a leveled spirit punctuated by loyalty.

After:Dennis Gates finishes building Missouri basketball staff with ‘crazy’ chemistry

Nutt was part of the first team Gates built at Cleveland State, but that recent history doesn’t take into account the more than 290 basketball games he won as head coach. Along with Nutt, Gates rounds out his team with the sole goal of bringing Missouri men’s basketball back to continued success.

“I’m the first to tell him that I don’t have all the answers,” Nutt said. “I was fired twice, you know. But I was there and I did.

Nutt’s “been there, done that” coaching career dates back to the 1980s.

He began his college career at Oklahoma State in 1985 when then-Cowboys coach Leonard Hamilton hired Nutt while he was coaching Stillwater High School. It was just the beginning of a coaching career in his family.

Nutt’s two brothers, Houston and Dennis, coached college football at Arkansas and Texas State, respectively. His father, Houston Dale Nutt Sr., was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001 after serving as athletic director and basketball coach at Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock for more than 35 years.

At OSU, Nutt coached alongside Hamilton and assistant Bill Self before moving to Arkansas State. After attending Arkansas State from 1987 to 1995, Nutt was named head coach in 1995.

From 1995 to 2015 as the head coach of ASU and Southeast Missouri State, Nutt coached 583 games. He was the Sun Belt’s Coach of the Year in 1998. He brings more head coaching experience than any other member of the Missouri coaching staff.

He was also fired from his jobs at Arkansas State and SEMO. Nutt isn’t ashamed to admit it. This happened at Arkansas State despite coaching the Red Wolves to three Sun Belt titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance.

“They say you lose about 10% of your popularity every year,” Nutt said. “I stayed there for 13 years. Do the math on that one.

Even as Nutt’s tenures as head coach drew to a close, he quickly learned to move on.

After:Mizzou’s New Basketball Staff Explain Why They Followed Dennis Gates: ‘A Special Guy’

These lessons are not easy to learn, but with them came perspective.

“I tell our young coaches all the time that, ‘Hey, in this business, there are sort of two types of coaches: coaches that get hired and coaches that get fired,'” Nutt said. “What helped me was that I had a family, kids, a wife, and I couldn’t sit around moping. I had to try to get the next one.

His next step was to find Hamilton. Nutt’s former boss at Oklahoma State called him the day after Nutt was fired at SEMO and gave him a job on his team as a video coordinator.

It was a humbling experience. Not just because Hamilton was there to give a former assistant a chance to stay in the college basketball ranks, but because of where Nutt ended up.

Southeast Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt shouts instructions to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Missouri, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012, in Columbia, Missouri.

Nutt went from being a program manager to doing the things that for years others had done for him. He called it the best thing that ever happened to him.

“I’m in there with about six graduate assistants, trying to learn the computer where I’ve never turned it on,” Nutt said. “But it’s the best thing that ever happened to me because I learned how to get by with the computer. I learned how to get out of the age of the dinosaurs.

Not only did he learn more about the modern era of basketball, Nutt also met Gates when he was an assistant under Hamilton.

After about the third week on the job at FSU, Nutt said Hamilton put his arm around him and said Gates was the smartest coach he’s ever had. Nutt agreed and said Gates was still two games ahead of the opposition.

Nutt had the utmost respect for Gates when he took the job from Cleveland State. Gates could have stayed at FSU and been successful and made a lot of money, but Nutt saw how Gates took a risk. When Gates recruited Nutt, the coach didn’t question him.

“He said, ‘Are you coming with me? ‘” Nutt said. “I said, ‘Yes sir.'”

Why did Nutt jump at the chance to follow Gates? Maybe he sees something that others don’t. Maybe Nutt sees a shadow of his former mentor in Gates. It was a minor slip during his media session, but Nutt hinted at seeing shades of their former mentor, Hamilton, in Gates.

“I’m so grateful that Coach Hamilton has, I mean, excuse me, Coach Gates has faith in me to bring me with him,” Nutt said.

After:Why Charlton Young couldn’t turn down Dennis Gates’ offer to join Mizzou basketball

Nutt is not alone. In March, Ricardo Patton, Gates’ boss in northern Illinois from 2007 to 2009, told the Tribune that Gates also reminded him of a young Hamilton.

This combination of confidence and intelligence is what sold Nutt to Gates. What sold Gates to ensure he hired Nutt was how the humble former head coach fit into Gates’ vision for Missouri.

“It was important to find the people who I think could make it possible for us to be successful here,” Gates said. “Guys who would put, not their careers before anything, but the lives and careers of the players before all of us. And we have the right guys.

While being a humble former head coach is what gives Nutt the perspective Gates wants on his staff, Nutt also brings nearly three decades of coaching experience.

He said his experience allows him to figure out how to properly speak with a student-athlete in a particular position, or suggest a defensive pattern with three seconds remaining. There’s a reason Nutt has 279 wins on his resume.

After:Why now was the time for Kyle Smithpeters to join Mizzou Men’s Basketball in 2022

This year, Nutt will earn $165,000 as one of Gates’ three assistants, according to his contract which was acquired by an open records request. His contract is a one-year contract which can only be renewed if mutually agreed.

Whether Nutt stays in Colombia for a long time or a short time, he will provide a perspective that few American coaches can claim to have.

He will also bring belief that Missouri can return to glory under a new head coach he believes in.

“I’m very grateful, I’m happy to be here,” Nutt said. “I think we have everything in place.”

Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing sports coverage for the University of Missouri and Boone County. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at [email protected] or 573-815-1857.

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