Column: Hiring Matt Luke was the right decision

Posted on Nov 29 2017 - 7:59am by John Macon Gillespie

No one really expected it, but it came anyway.

Matt Luke is officially the 37th head coach in the history of Ole Miss football after having his “interim” tag dropped Sunday night. Most fans and analysts around the nation believed Luke wouldn’t be able to secure the job after a season riddled with controversy and adversity got the team off to a slow start.

However, a six-win, Egg Bowl-claiming season later, Luke is now fixated as the Ole Miss head coach for at least the next four years. Was it the right move?

It’s no secret that coaching at Ole Miss is Matt Luke’s dream job. Luke grew up in Gulfport and attended Ole Miss, where he played football from 1995 to 1998, including a senior year that saw the departure of Tommy Tuberville after the infamous “pine box” incident. After graduating, Luke stayed on at Ole Miss as a graduate assistant in 1999. Luke would later return to the Rebels’ staff from 2002 to 2005, and of his 19 years of coaching, 11 of them have been spent at Ole Miss. Add that up with his playing career, and Luke has been a part of Ole Miss athletics for 15 years.

Matt Luke talks about his excitement for the future of the football program at Ole Miss after being named the new head coach. Luke served as the interim coach for the 2017 season and finished with a record of 6-6, an improvement from the season before. Photo by Billy Schuerman

To put it simply, Matt Luke is an Ole Miss Rebel, and he is glad to be here.

Though Luke’s love for the university may be unparalleled, the burning question is whether he can lead a successful program in the SEC West. Luke inherited a mess in July when Hugh Freeze resigned after a pattern of personal misconduct. A team that was reeling from the loss of a successful head coach and an ongoing NCAA investigation fell into the hands of a man who has always wanted this job.

The cards were stacked against him, but Luke preserved.

After numerous tough losses, an adversity-laden team like Ole Miss could have easily folded. Losing by 63 points to Alabama and blowing another late game to Arkansas on top of an NCAA scandal left no doubt in the minds of many that Ole Miss and Luke’s career were done.

They were not.

Matt Luke and his staff held together a team that, for all intents and purposes, should not be where it is today. A 6-6 record may not seem like much, but after Ole Miss’ difficult season, it’s almost a miracle. Ole Miss should not have won six games after what it went through at the beginning of and throughout this season, but it did. It should not have won the Egg Bowl, but it did.

Sure, Luke has connections to Ole Miss, and many prominent boosters and Oxford residents wanted to see him land the full-time job, but it is not a bad hire by athletics director Ross Bjork. The players seem to respond to his leadership, and it is evident that they support the hire. After the Egg Bowl win, many Ole Miss players chanted “We want Luke!” in the locker room and voiced, via social media, their desire to see Luke land the full-time job.

In the uncertain waters that Ole Miss finds itself, the Rebels need a coach who can hold together this talented roster and successfully recruit to maintain a level of success. Matt Luke has proven his ability to do both, and he has the potential to lead this Ole Miss program for many years to come.

A column opposing this opinion can be found here.