Luke has task of keeping Rebels together
Published 11:55 pm Friday, July 21, 2017
OXFORD (AP) — The task of pulling together Ole Miss’ shattered football program is now in the hands of interim coach Matt Luke.
The 40-year-old was promoted from co-offensive coordinator on Thursday night in the stunning aftermath of coach Hugh Freeze’s resignation for a “pattern of personal misconduct” that started with the school’s investigation into a call to an escort service.
It’s just the latest issue facing the embattled Rebels.
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While Luke has been an assistant at Ole Miss during Freeze’s entire five-plus year tenure, his name has not been linked to the ongoing NCAA investigation of the program. Luke also has deep family ties to the university and north Mississippi, playing offensive line for the Rebels from 1995-98.
Now he has a 12-game audition for the full-time job.
It’s not an ideal situation , but it’s not completely bleak either.
“Matt is a great coach,” Bjork said when announcing Thursday the school was turning the program over to Luke. “He’s a leader. He’s a rock. He’s an Ole Miss Rebel. And I’m confident — and especially even more confident after watching him address the team — that he will lead this team and program through this difficult time.”
Bjork also noted that Wesley McGriff, the team’s defensive coordinator, has been promoted to associate head coach. Luke was not immediately available for interviews in the aftermath of Freeze’s resignation.
One former Rebel, Talbot Buys, said he believes Luke has what it takes to pull the team together in a pinch. Buys, a former Porters Chapel Academy star, played at Ole Miss for the past three seasons and graduated in December. Buys was recruited by Luke, and Luke was his position coach on the offensive line.
Luke also recruited another Vicksburg player, freshman offensive tackle Ben Brown from St. Aloysius.
“He is very passionate about what he does. He hates to lose,” Buys said. “With him growing up a Rebel and having played at Ole Miss I know he is going to put all his effort into succeeding in the role he is in. He has a great football mind, knows the game very well, and is a great recruiter.”
Luke is now in charge of a program that still has a talented roster — especially on offense — but is in the midst of a long-running NCAA investigation that’s already caused the school to impose a one-year bowl ban for the upcoming season.
The offense features several promising young players, including sophomores like quarterback Shea Patterson, left tackle Greg Little and receivers A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.
Luke needs to hold on to them to have success. But it is unclear if any players on the current roster will transfer in the wake of Freeze bombshell.
Bjork said “it’s hard to say” if there will be any roster changes. He said players are currently in summer workouts and several are in summer school. They’ll also have a few days off before preseason camp on Aug. 2.
“We will give them space. We will listen,” Bjork said. “And whatever they decide to do, we will support them.”
One silver lining for Ole Miss is that the program should be on solid financial footing whenever officials hire a full-time coach — whether that’s Luke or someone else.
Freeze had multiple years remaining on a contract that paid him more than $5 million annually. Bjork said that if Freeze had not resigned, he would have been fired with cause under a morals clause in the contract.
Because of that, the AD said there is “no buyout, no settlement” moving forward.