Ross Bjork aimed all along to hire a sitting Power 5 head coach. He traveled the country to find one, interviewing eight candidates for the Ole Miss job. Turns out, Bjork did hire a sitting Power 5 head coach. He happened to be sitting in a chair in the Ole Miss head coaches’ office.
“Since August Ross has worked tirelessly to find the best head coach for the Ole Miss Rebels, and Ross has found him in Matt Luke,” Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said Monday.
Luke interviewed for the job with Bjork on Friday, met with him again on Saturday, and on Sunday the trio of Luke, Bjork and Vitter met to seal the deal. Luke was announced as the new Rebels coach on Sunday night.
“We compete in the SEC. We compete on the national stage. Our goal is to win championships. We searched for a head coach that is a proven winner, that knows how to run a program in all facets, a CEO head coach. Someone who’s a recruiting machine and a leader of men. I set out to find that person,” Bjork said. “In the final analysis, Matt Luke is the best person, the best leader and the best coach and here’s why.
“Coach Luke has the best plan for success. He will evaluate our current program and make necessary changes. He will bring accountability, structure and continue to change the culture in our program. His tough-minded, no nonsense attitude, his blue-collar approach, his nonstop, year round work ethic is exactly what we need for our program.
“Coach Luke improved our team from last year despite having only one week to prepare for the job. The players believe in him. With a whole offseason with which to recruit, make the right adjustments, we can see that he has a plan that will translate to success.”
Some have knocked the hire as a comfort move with the NCAA black cloud lording over Oxford — Bjork said Monday Ole Miss was no closer to hearing a resolution — but Bjork sold hiring Luke as the more difficult move. “The easy decision was to hire someone new. Bring in a splash hire,” Bjork said. “In reality, the hard decision was to drill down, assess our program, be strategic and hire the right coach.”
So how did Luke sell himself to Bjork?
“Everybody knows that Ole Miss is my dream job. Everybody knows how much I love Ole Miss and how my family is entrenched at Ole Miss, but that’s not the reason I wanted to be hired here,” he said. “I wanted to be hired here because I’m the right man for the job. I’ve been playing and coaching at this level for 20 years. I’ve been under some of the best head coaches in this country, and I fully understand what a championship program looks like.”
Sunday night’s move marks the sixth different rung Luke has touched on his climb up the Rebel football ladder. He started as a center from 1995-98, then moved to a graduate assistant in 1999. He returned as the offensive line and tight ends coach under David Cutcliffe from 2002-05, and returned again as co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in 2012. Then came the promotion to interim head coach following Hugh Freeze’s July dismissal and, finally, his ascension to head coach on Sunday.
Having someone who’s already been with Ole Miss through thick and thin matters, especially at a time when “thin” may be on its way back thanks to the NCAA.
“I’m born and raised in Mississippi. I’m proud to be a Mississippian,” Luke said through tears as he closed his opening statement. “I’m proud to be born to born and raised in this state. Ole Miss is a destination job. It’s not just my dream job, it’s a destination job, and I am truly honored to be the head coach at the University of Mississippi.”
Closing note – Ole Miss spent $137,000 with Turnkey Search firm on this one.
To clarify some misinformation out there about the search firm fee – It was $137k not $2,000,000.
— Michael Thompson (@mtjrolemiss) November 27, 2017