LITTLE ROCK — Impressed by Mitch Mustain’s humility and vocabulary, an astute observer to the right praised the young man on both counts only minutes into Mustain’s speech to the Little Rock Touchdown Club. After the former quarterback at the center of a controversy that rippled through the entire state had completed a Q and A, add frank, smart and stand-up guy to Mustain’s profile.
Caving to a perceived obligation to listen to the former High School Player of the Year from Springdale who played at Arkansas for a year before transferring to Southern Cal, the time was well spent. Mustain described himself as a “terribly boring person,” but he isn’t, and dismissed his long list of accomplishments by saying they can be found on the Internet.
He also came across as somebody who knew in his gut that Houston Nutt would never surrender the offense to Gus Malzahn, but signed with Arkansas anyway.
Mustain’s appearance before the Touchdown Club dovetails with the showing of “The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain” on Friday night at a documentary film festival in Hot Springs. He talked a little about the film (“I think it answers a lot of questions”), about playing football in his front yard, about listening to Paul Eells do play-by-play of Razorback football, and about wanting to be a Razorback. Back then, he didn’t even know Southern Cal had a football team, he said.
Before climbing on a stool in front of almost 300, Mustain made it clear that nothing was off limits. Club president David Bazzel took advantage, asking about the role of Mustain’s divorced parents and the skills of Pete Carroll vs. Lane Kiffin, among other things.
Asked about Nutt early on, Mustain said it was “a lot easier to talk to the camera.” Both Nutt and Malzahn were offered opportunities to appear in the film, but both declined. Mustain said he thought Nutt might accept the offer, but that he knew Malzahn would not and included the sweeping indictment: “There were a lot of promises made that shouldn’t have been made.”
He also said that shortly after unsupervised workouts began in the summer of 2006, there were several clues that the Malzahn hurry-up offense was not going to replace Nutt’s run-first approach. He said he asked Malzahn for an explanation and Malzahn told him that the transition would take time. Nutt said something similar earlier this year.
“It was kind of destined not to work,” Mustain said.
He said he had no regrets about comments critical of Nutt after the Arkansas coach, reveling in a 2005 victory over Ole Miss, told Razorback announcer Chuck Barrett: “That was a called play Chuck and I called it Chuck.” Mustain said Monday that Nutt’s comments were “very unprofessional.”
Nutt learned about Mustain’s soon-to-be published comments shortly before Arkansas played at South Carolina in ‘06 and Mustain was benched after his first pass was intercepted.
Unhappy at Arkansas because “I didn’t buy into the philosophy of what they were doing,” he transferred to USC where Carroll was in charge. Carroll could handle any situation, knew the name of every player, and what made them tick. For instance, Mustain did not respond to yelling so Carroll talked to him. “I can’t remember what he said, but I felt six inches tall and like I had let the whole world down,” he said.
Asked what he would do differently, he said, only half-joking, “I would have gone to the Naval Academy.”
Mustain, who has a degree from USC, works at a high-tech firefighting training center in Arizona, and still plays Arena League Football, said fans still wish him luck “even if they don’t understand.”
Before taking questions, he spent a couple of minutes talking about Eells and how the Little Rock television sportscaster who was killed in a car crash in the summer before Mustain’s freshman year had given him a T-shirt with a handwritten, “Can’t wait to call your games.”
“It’s probably better that he wasn’t here for that mess,” Mustain said.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.