Mississippi coach Houston Nutt said Friday he has a zero-tolerance contract with new quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Nutt spoke about the former Oregon player for the first time as the Rebels newcomers and freshmen reported for training camp. Unexpectedly down a quarterback with just a few weeks to preseason practice, Nutt says he wasn't convinced he could trust Masoli until he brought him to campus last weekend.
"You have an obligation to this organization and that's what I felt," Nutt said. "After weighing everything out, especially after we got him here on an official visit, got Jeremiah here, looking him in the eyes, and he understood. I'll have a contract with him. He understands it will be zero tolerance and he has to do what's right."
Masoli will join the team as a walk-on and can play this season if the NCAA approves a waiver request. Masoli, who won't talk to the media until at least Monday, was thought to be a Heisman Trophy candidate before Oregon coach Chip Kelly kicked him off the team after his second brush with the law in six months.
The Rebels became interested in Masoli after losing backup quarterback Raymond Cotton, who transferred to South Alabama just two weeks before preseason practice began. That left Nutt thin at quarterback and more willing to gamble that Masoli can be trusted to stay out of trouble.
Nutt said he spoke with the quarterback and his mother, did his research and sat down with athletic director Pete Boone to make a decision.
"I just felt like this was important and the right thing to do at this time," Nutt said. "You can always argue both ways and I understand that. I've got to be oblivious to that. I have to be focused about our team and the players. Sometimes that doesn't always feel good, it's not a feel-good decision. But I do feel good about this."
If cleared to play by the NCAA, Masoli seems a perfect fit for Nutt's Wild Rebel offense and could challenge starter Nate Stanley for his job. Nutt was content to use multiple quarterbacks the past two seasons at Ole Miss, alternating between dropback passer Jevan Snead and more shifty running backs.
Masoli guided the Ducks last season to their first Pac-10 title since 2001 and their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1995. The 5-foot-11, 220-pounder is a two-year starter who threw for 2,147 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 668 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009.
Nutt said he has spoken with Stanley and the team's only other scholarship quarterback, junior college transfer Randall Mackey, about bringing in Masoli. He said Stanley, a redshirt sophomore, was receptive to the idea, especially after being injured during spring practice and missing time.
The coach also said he had the support of the team's leaders.
"I feel like we have enough good going on in our locker room, we have enough leadership, guys like Jerrell Powe and Kentrell Lockett and Johnny Brown, Lawon Scott, Jonathan Cornell," Nutt said. "I feel good about these guys that are leaders and the heartbeat of our team and they also were very adamant about having another guy like that in our program."
Along with the positive feedback, Nutt has received criticism for the move. Masoli pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor second-degree burglary for his role in a theft at an Oregon fraternity in January. He was suspended for the 2010 season, though Kelly allowed him to practice during spring drills. But Kelly kicked Masoli off the team after the senior was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and driving on a suspended license after a traffic stop in June.
Masoli launched his own website, www.jeremiahmasoli.net, to combat what he said were misconceptions about his behavior and successfully convinced Nutt he can be trusted. Not everyone else agrees. But Nutt's not paying attention to them.
"I don't listen to too much outside," Nutt said. "I listen to really what's inside our program, inside this building, our coaches, players, our families. It's more that family, and it's very positive."