“They’ll have to carry me out of here in a pine box,” then-Ole Miss head coach Tommy Tuberville promised the Rebel fan base toward the end of the 1998 season.
Tuberville, who had come in and brought change to a program that bore the weight of NCAA sanctions in 1995, was rumored as potentially taking the Auburn head coaching position and wanted to assure that he was in Oxford to stay.
However, just days after the 1998 Egg Bowl, Tuberville did not leave Oxford in a casket but on a jet headed for Auburn, Alabama.
Ole Miss fans might remember Tuberville as the man who resurrected a program from the Billy Brewer era of NCAA scandals. In 1994, the NCAA committee on infractions found the university guilty of 15 violations that ranged from a lack of institutional control to offers of cash, plane tickets and cars to prospects by staff members and boosters. Sound familiar?
Tuberville came in and made Ole Miss relevant again, but his untimely departure removed all fond memories from the minds of the Rebel-faithful.
When Tuberville departed from Oxford in such a controversial fashion, Matt Luke was a senior and captain on that 1998 Ole Miss football team. Although David Cutcliffe came to Oxford and coached Luke’s final game as a Rebel, a victory in the 1998 Independence Bowl, the wounds were still fresh.
The point: Matt Luke is a Rebel who knows turmoil.
Now fast-forward 19 years and after Hugh Freeze’s departure from Ole Miss due to unethical conduct, Luke is called in to lead the Rebels through the 2017 season.
Sure, this isn’t how he imagined taking over the Rebels. Sure, he is the head of a team reeling from another NCAA investigation and head coach scandal. Nevertheless, Matt Luke has been here before and knows what the program needs following a year that has left it broken.
Through the first eight games, the Rebels find themselves at the bottom of the SEC West, and when their team does not perform, sports fans look for a scapegoat. But Matt Luke is not the man with whom the anger should lie.
A Rebel since birth, Luke is a good football coach thrown into an undesirable situation. Tasked with keeping a team and fanbase that has every reason to feel despondent about their current situation looking on the bright side, the on-field results are not his fault. Luke inherited a team that is inexperienced, confused and, truthfully, not very talented in certain areas. Not to mention, he has been dealing with an NCAA cloud and an entirely new staff of assistant coaches.
And even though the cards were dealt against him to begin with, the general consensus is that Matt Luke will not be the head coach at Ole Miss in 2018.
It’s a shame, but in a time where Ole Miss needs an experienced power-five head coach that can lead the program through the murky waters, turn recruiting around and bring brighter days to Oxford, Luke is simply not at that point in his career. That being said, he will eventually be a quality head coach, and if given the time, he could be one for Ole Miss.
However, Ole Miss has an angry fan base, a lackluster football team and a load of NCAA sanctions looming.
Time is of the essence.