Ole Miss’ Luke in tough spot
OXFORD, MISS.» One of new Mississippi coach Matt Luke’s vivid childhood memories is seeing his dad’s Ole Miss helmet — No. 35 — hanging in the family’s den.
Then there were the years his family drove five hours each way between Gulfport, Miss., and Oxford to watch his older brother, Tom, play for the Rebels. A short time later, it was Matt’s turn, and he was a mainstay on the Ole Miss offensive line from 1995-98.
Now, at 40 years old, he is the new head coach of the Rebels.
“I can truly tell you all today that this is my dream job,” Luke said Monday, occasionally getting emotional as he talked. “It’s a job I’ve been preparing my whole life for. I feel more strongly than ever that I’m the right man to run this program.”
Luke’s dream job, however, is not a dream situation right now.
The past 12 months have essentially been a nightmare for the Ole Miss football program.
There was a disappointing 5-7 season in 2016 and a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2017 season because of an ongoing NCAA investigation. And then — most stunningly — head coach Hugh Freeze resigned in disgrace last week after a school investigation into his phone records found a “pattern of personal misconduct,” starting with a oneminute call to an escort service.
Now Luke is left to pick up the pieces. It’s a daunting task — preseason camp is just over a week away, and the Rebels’ first game is Sept. 2 against South Alabama.
“They just want to play football,” Luke said of his players. “They just want to go out and play the game they love. They want to go out, represent Ole Miss and win football games. It’s my job to make sure the focus stays on the players.”
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said Luke will be paid $500,000 over the next five months to be the head coach. That’s in addition to his yearly $660,000 salary as the co-offensive coordinator.
While Luke could keep the job in 2018 and beyond, Bjork offered no promises other than to say Luke is “going to be a great candidate for our job. We’re going to watch him up close and personal. He and I will interact on a daily basis.”
Luke was a safe choice to lead Ole Miss in the short term for many reasons.
Even though he was with Freeze in all five of Freeze’s seasons, he almost has completely avoided involvement in the Rebels’ long-running NCAA investigation. Luke is mentioned in just one of the NCAA’s 21 allegations, but he is not the focus of the allegation.
His offensive pedigree should provide continuity for a young, promising core that includes sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson, sophomore left tackle Greg Little and sophomore receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.
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