Head coach Matt Luke epitomizes what it means to be an Ole Miss Rebel.
Born in Gulfport, he was brought up in a household that bled red and blue. His father, who started his family’s deep Ole Miss ties in the ’60s, played defensive back under head coach Johnny Vaught.
“My father played here, my mom went here and then my brother was a quarterback here from ’88-’91,” Luke said. “I was on the line here from ’95-’98, and my sister went here after me. It’s who we are. We’re Rebels.”
Luke, now entering his 23rd year as a player or coach at the collegiate level, has risen through the ranks under the watchful eye of a number of veteran coaches. Having worked alongside national champion Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, among others, he is no stranger to success.
“I think the biggest thing with me is taking all the head coaches I’ve been around from Cutcliffe to Fulmer, Orgeron and Freeze, and taking the best of everything I’ve learned from them,” Luke said. “Take what they did really well and maybe what they did not so well and putting my own flavor on it to create my own philosophy.”
Of course, with the new position comes new responsibilities. After spending last year coaching the offensive line, Luke is now responsible for overseeing 53 men, as opposed to just the big men up front.
“It’s a CEO mentality,” he said. “I have spent a lot more time with the defense, and you get a chance to motivate in a lot of different areas, not just one position. I’ve enjoyed getting over there and getting to know those defensive guys. Going over there, sitting in their meetings, I’ve enjoyed motivating in a bunch of different spots instead of just hitting one position.”
During the transition, however, Luke has made it a priority to remain consistent in his coaching style, attitude and outlook regarding his players.
“You have to be yourself as a head coach,” Luke said. “Especially with these kids, who I’ve been around for 5 years, I can’t just all of a sudden be somebody else. I’m Matt Luke, and I’ll stay that way.”
Standing by his morals, values and systematic beliefs, Luke expects his team to come together, playing with vigor and raw emotion.
“We’ve been talking about mental toughness and playing together,” Luke said. “I want to put a product on the field that all the Ole Miss fans will be proud of, but win, lose or draw, if you be yourself, you can put your head on a pillow and sleep at night.”
This weekend will be the head coach’s first test in his new role. The Rebels kick off their 2017 season against South Alabama at 6:30 Saturday night in front of a home crowd. After preparing his whole life for that moment, he’s ready to prove he’s the man for the job.
“This is my dream job,” Luke said. “This is something as a lifelong fan of Ole Miss, as a player for Ole Miss, as a coach for Ole Miss, I’ve been in every aspect. I don’t know about any other job in the country at Alabama, LSU or wherever, but I do know that at this school and this time, I’m the right guy to do this.”