In the Nutt home, no one drank alcohol and no one cussed. Every Sunday morning the family filed into the front pew at Immanuel Baptist Church. And as the boys got older, they filed into Central High, even as it became more and more integrated. Many of the Nutts' white classmates were pulled out of the school and sent to Catholic High, but the elder Houston held firm. Says Dickey, "People would call my dad and tell him, 'Better get your boys out of that neighborhood.' My dad would say, 'You don't understand. This is where we live. This is their school.' " Adds Dennis, "We didn't see things as black and white. The deaf community teaches you that. They're deaf. Black, white, Asian, whatever."
The Nutt brothers thrived at Central. From 1974 through '81 the Tigers quarterback and point guard positions passed from Houston Jr. to Dickey to Danny to Dennis. All four made all-state in football and basketball. All four played on a state champion in one sport or the other. All four earned college athletic scholarships, though Dennis, the baby, is the one who shone. He made All-Southwest Conference as a guard on the TCU basketball team and then spent two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. "I don't understand that," Dickey says with mock dismay. "We're better than he is."
To this day the brothers constantly tease one another, a practice that started and flourished in the backseat during those Pee Wee trips. "My daddy's the only man I know who could drive 75 miles an hour with four boys in the backseat, reach back without looking and slap the right one every time," Houston Jr. says. The bonds that formed on those weekend trips now extend across the state, from Fayetteville to Little Rock—where Houston and Emogene still live—to Jonesboro. The boys still discuss how their parents always gave them the gift of time. "It goes back to being in that car together, playing Pee Wee ball together," Houston Jr. says. "That feeling has stayed so strong and is such a good support system."
In a lonely, competitive business, a coach can always use an assistant he can trust or a brother who knows him as well as he knows himself. Houston Jr. and Dickey have both. After they put their kids to bed and have a catch-up conversation with their spouses, one brother usually phones the other.
Houston Jr. was the first to become a head coach, taking over the football program at Murray State in 1992. Two years later Dickey was promoted from assistant to head coach of basketball at Arkansas State. Brad Hovious, then the Indians' athletic director, presented Dickey with an NCAA tournament watch that Hovious had received while working at UTEP. "When you go to the NCAAs and get you one, you can give this back to me," Hovious said.
Fat chance. Arkansas State had gone 8-20 in 1994-95, and Hovious wanted so desperately to fire coach Nelson Catalina that Hovious agreed to let Catalina take another job at the school while being paid the head coach's salary. In other words, Dickey took over the Indians on a one-year trial basis without getting a raise from his $27,500 salary. Hovious called Houston Jr. and said, "I just offered your brother the worst job I ever offered."
"Brad, don't you worry about that," Houston Jr. replied. "He understands that, and he'll work through it."
A year ago, shortly after the Indians had gone 20-9 and shared the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship, Dickey got a phone call from Hovious, now an assistant athletic director at Rice. He was planning to be in Memphis, an hour or so away from Jonesboro, and wanted to catch up with his old pal. "Dickey drove over and we met at a barbecue place," Hovious says. "Dickey pulls out a little ring box. He gave me a Sun Belt Conference championship ring and said, "This wouldn't have been possible without you.' That just floored me. It meant the world to me."
The Nutts never saw hearing impairment as a handicap. Deafness was a part of their lives and called for no special treatment beyond learning sign language. "That was one thing my dad believed with a passion," Dennis says. "Somebody walked into a McDonald's once when we were in there and handed the person behind the counter a card that read, 'I'm deaf-mute. Would you please help me?' My dad really disapproved of people who did that. He walked up to that guy and signed, 'What's your name and what are you doing?' The guy was shocked. My dad signed to him, 'Just because you're deaf, don't be in here begging for money. Go get a job!' "
Dickey and Danny both have significant hearing loss in the left ear that has worsened with age. Deaf speech pattern, the handicap that develops when one doesn't hear well, is evident in their voices. Because Dickey doesn't hear high-pitched sounds, he ranks the development of the vibrating cellular phone right up there with the invention of glass backboards. "If my hearing goes [completely], it would be devastating to my job," he says. "I lip-read, but I do so much work by phone."