Ole Miss has reportedly decided to make a coaching change.
Matt Luke, the man who took over for Hugh Freeze in the summer of 2017, has been fired after three seasons with the school according to multiple reports. The news was first reported by Rivals’ Rebel Grove and later announced by the school.
“After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level,” Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter said in a statement. “While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.”
Luke had a record of 15-21 in that time at Ole Miss and his record had declined by a game each season from 6-6 to 5-7 and then 4-8 in 2019 after the Rebels infamously lost the Egg Bowl Thursday night.
Ole Miss scored what could have been a game-tying TD with four seconds left but Elijah Moore mimicked a peeing dog in his touchdown celebration. The tying extra point was moved back 15 yards because of the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty that Moore was assessed and the kick sailed wide to give Mississippi State the win.
Ole Miss never went to a bowl in any of Luke’s three seasons because of NCAA penalties imposed on the school. The school self-imposed a bowl ban in 2017 because of NCAA violations and the NCAA added the 2018 season onto that initial ban, though Ole Miss wouldn’t have been eligible to go to a postseason game anyway.
AD was “excited” about Luke a week ago
Things change quickly in Mississippi, apparently.
Carter said a week ago in an interview with the Clarion-Ledger that he was optimistic about the football program’s direction under Luke.
"I think our football program is headed in a great direction," Carter told the paper. "I'm so excited about Coach Luke. He's our coach. We couldn't be more excited about the opportunity we have next week in Starkville. We're excited about where recruiting is and excited about where the future is headed. We're going to get behind Coach Luke and we're going to try to get after the Bulldogs next week and get to that fifth win."
Carter’s statement is yet another reason why you can’t always take an AD’s vote of confidence about his coach at face value. Something clearly happened to make him change his mind.
Per Rebel Grove, the buyout for Luke and his staff is in the range of $17 million. Luke had hired former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre to run the defense ahead of the 2019 season and also hired former Michigan and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez to be the team’s offensive coordinator.
“I want to thank Coach Luke for his devotion to Ole Miss,” Carter said in the statement after Luke’s firing. “His integrity, class and dedication to this program and our student-athletes is unsurpassed, and we will always appreciate how he stepped up at a time when his university needed him the most. We wish him the very best, and he will always be a cherished member of the Ole Miss family.”
Luke took over in awkward fashion
Luke, who played football at Ole Miss, was abruptly elevated to the team’s head coach in July 2017 when Freeze resigned following the revelation of a “misdial” on a school-owned phone to an escort service and a “pattern of conduct” per then-AD Ross Bjork.
The phone records were unearthed as part of a lawsuit against the school by former coach Houston Nutt.
Luke spent the 2017 season with the interim tag attached to his title before Ole Miss made him the team’s permanent head coach after the season.
His firing means there are three coaching openings among the 14 teams in the SEC. Arkansas moved first when it fired Chad Morris and Missouri fired Barry Odom on Saturday after beating Arkansas on Friday.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports
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