Defensive Mindset

Issac Gross

Houston Nutt was informed a week ago Monday he wouldn't be retained as Ole Miss head coach in 2012. Issac Gross, an Ole Miss commitment and frequent visitor, had grown close with Nutt and staff.


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When Gross heard the news, he thought about the ramifications. He digested what had happened. In a way, his future, in the matter of a day, had been clouded with uncertainty. Ole Miss is a week into its search for a new head coach.

Famed Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning is the co-chair, along with Mike Glenn, of a five-member committee whose hands hold the future of Ole Miss football.

"It didn't change not one bit, man," Gross said earlier this week of his commitment. "The only thing it is with me, when the new coach gets there, if he accepts me and he watches film on me and he has a place to put me and I'm OK with where he puts me, then I'm going to compete. I'm ready to go."

He decided to focus on academics and his team, South Panola. The Tigers were scheduled to face Jackson Murrah in the opening round of the 6A Region-I playoffs the following Friday, a game they ultimately won 42-14.

This week, same story. South Panola, now 9-3 on the season, takes on Madison Central Friday in the second round.

"I'm trying to not let it get to me right now. I'm looking forward to just basically handling it after football season," Gross, who entered the game with Murrah with 56 tackles and seven sacks on the year, said.

Still, even Gross, rated a three-star prospect by Scout.com, has an opinion on what type of coach Ole Miss should hire. He believes Ole Miss would do well to aim for a defensive-minded coach, though he is admittedly biased as a defensive lineman.

"For me personally, I would honestly say another defensive coach. You bring back the excitement of hitting, knocking helmets off and all the hard-hitting guys flying around, laying the wood to everybody, that brings excitement," he said. "I love defense. I tell guys all the time, I'm not an offensive player. I really don't like offense.


Issac Gross
File Photo

"Defense wins games. When you bring somebody who's real hyped, when you've got a head coach who really knows his defense, that's it there. That's the coach. That's the coach you want, and that's the coach you want to be with who can bring a strong defensive program.

"Everybody wants to see fantastic players or whatever on the offense, but everybody's really there to see the high-flying hits and people getting carried out. That's football. It's a physical sport. Everybody's there to see the defense."

Ole Miss could go in a number of different directions with the hire. Gross, well, he'll wait and see. He remains committed to Ole Miss, the school he committed to in July and grew up watching. But he has options.

His other notable offers include Alabama, LSU, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

"The Ole Miss players I grew up around watching or whatever was Eddie Strong, Jamarca Sanford, Peria and big John Jerry -- all them guys. I'm kin to them guys, too. Just watching those guys play, I know how it was when those guys was there. I know Ole Miss has a lot of potential. It's just something about Ole Miss," he said.

As with the search for a successor to Nutt, there has been no shortage of opinions -- be it on message boards or on Twitter or throughout the blogosphere -- on what has gone wrong for Ole Miss this season. The Rebels are 2-8 overall and 0-6 in Southeastern Conference games with two games left to play.

To Gross, a lack of leadership is evident.

"I just believe Ole Miss, they have really good players. Coach Nutt was a good coach, and I know he cared about his players," he said. "What it looks like they were missing was just positive leadership. To me, guys that wanted to play, guys that really wanted to win. Guys who cared about winning, who couldn't lose, who didn't like to lose, who it meant something when they lost.

"I don't like to lose. Redshirt or not, if I go there, I just want to be one of them guys -- win or lose -- I want to still have the right things to say to them guys; bring back that animal instinct. Want to win at all costs, all the time. Win."

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