Matt Luke is out at Ole Miss, a move that surprised those in the industry and was the polar opposite of celebrated inside the Rebels’ locker room. From the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
The University of Mississippi made the decision to move on from football coach Matt Luke on Sunday night after three years at the helm. Athletics director Keith Carter addressed the football team in the Manning Center on campus, explaining the direction he wants the program to go.
Carter’s address didn’t resonate with every player. A handful of players stormed out of Carter’s meeting early.
After the meeting concluded, junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt said “half the team” is talking about leaving. Tuitt said if the entire coaching staff is dismissed along with Luke, he doesn’t think many players will stay with the team.
Now, it’s not unusual at all for players to lash out after their coach is fired and his assistants seem to be following him out the door, but it’s important to understand the state of play inside the Rebels’ locker room.
AD Keith Carter was not promoted to the big chair until late last month, after a six-month run as the interim AD. Prior to that he was the deputy AD for development and resource acquisition. He’s a former Rebels basketball player who, according to his bio page on the university web site, continues to serve as the color analyst for Ole Miss basketball radio broadcasts. All this to say: Carter didn’t fire Luke without input, and he won’t hire the next coach without input. This search is in its infancy and could go in a number of different directions from here, sources tell FootballScoop. Ole Miss begins looking for its new coach flat-footed, having done no prior legwork with candidates before firing Luke, sources say. (This, by the way, is an occasion where it makes perfect search to use a search firm and Ole Miss is doing just that, retaining the services of Ventura Partners.)
Having said all that, it’s important to start with the known quantities.
The elephant in the room is actually a Tiger, as the hottest prospect on the market happens to be the most familiar to Ole Miss — Mike Norvell. The 38-year-old is 37-15 at Memphis, with one of those wins being a 15-10 Tiger victory over Ole Miss to open this season. He’s right up the road, he’s got his team at 11-1 and ranked in the top-20 heading into the American championship game on Saturday. What’s the catch?
Obviously, Ole Miss isn’t the only job on the market, and Florida State got a significant head start on the Rebels. The Tallahassee Democrat wrote Tuesday that an announcement introducing the Seminoles’ next coach isn’t expected until the weekend — indicating they have their new hire in place, and it’s someone coaching in a championship game. We wrote yesterday about why many in the profession believe Norvell already has a handshake agreement with Florida State.
But Norvell is far from the only coach this weekend who would make a lot of sense in Oxford.
One is Billy Napier, who is in the midst of leading Louisiana-Lafayette to its best season in school history.
— Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns® Football (@RaginCajunsFB) December 1, 2019
The 40-year-old has led ULL to two Sun Belt West championships in as many seasons on the job — the 10-2 Cajuns face 11-1 App State for the conference title on Saturday — and is one of the few (only?) coaches to work for Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban. Sources have told FootballScoop that Napier maintains a strong interest in the job.
Another coach just waiting to be plucked away by an SEC school is UAB’s Bill Clark.
Clark is a longtime Alabama high school coach who went 11-4 in one season at Jacksonville State in 2013 and 6-6 at UAB in 2014. UAB then killed its program after the ’14 season, brought it back to life in 2017, and Clark made it even better. The Blazers went 8-5 in 2017, 11-3 and won Conference USA in 2018, and today stands at 9-3 with a shot at a second straight C-USA crown on Saturday.
This is a true modern-day football miracle, and Ole Miss could use a miracle worker right now. Having endured NCAA probation, a transitional class between Hugh Freeze and Matt Luke and now another transitional class between Luke and the next coach, the Ole Miss roster has far more in common at this point with Arkansas than Alabama. The 2019 team was heavily reliant on an excellent freshman class, and the program was similarly optimistic about its 2020 class.
That optimism was detonated by Sunday night’s decision to fire Luke, throwing the ’20 class into a state of transition.
Now that we’ve talked about the external candidates, it’s time to look inside the building. Carter has a relationship with defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre going back years. Would it surprise anyone if Ole Miss ultimately elevated a second straight internal candidate to the big chair? And while we’re on the topic, a faction of the Ole Miss fan base is publicly waxing nostalgia about the good old days of Hugh Freeze. “We are Ole Miss,” as they like to say.
The last Ole Miss search, after Freeze resigned in the summer of 2017, saw Ross Bjork pursue Willie Taggart and Dave Doeren before Bjork settled on removing the interim tag from Luke. The point is: all options are on the table here. This is Ole Miss we’re talking about, a school that decided to move on from its coach in part because it lost its rivalry game after a player celebrated a potentially game-winning touchdown by pretending to urinate like a dog.
We will keep you updated as more becomes clear on this search.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.