If Ole Miss athletics was on more stable ground, it might consider jumping aboard the coaching carousel this year. Matt Luke did a decent job of keeping the program afloat in the wake of the scandals that led to Hugh Freeze’s dismissal, but he hasn’t been very competitive in SEC play. After serving as interim head coach, he had that tag removed towards the end of the 2017 season.
Ole Miss is just 6-16 in SEC play under Luke. The Rebels are 4-6 this season, with games against LSU and Mississippi State to come, so a sub-.500 season seems extremely likely.
Matt Luke went 6-6 in 2017, but slipped to 5-7 last year. Most SEC coaches would probably be let go in this situation, but Ole Miss reportedly plans on keeping Luke aboard for at least one more season.
As the school interviews athletic director candidates, according to a report by Football Scoop, the school has made it clear that it wants Luke to return for the 2020 season.
“Ole Miss is conducting interviews for find its next athletics director — Ross Bjork left for Texas A&M over the summer — and university leadership is stressing to candidates that retaining Luke for the 2020 campaign is in the best interests of the University, sources said. Ole Miss, sources tell FootballScoop, is quite far along in their process to hire their next AD.”
Matt Luke is an Ole Miss alumnus and has been on staff since 2012. This is also his third time coaching for the Rebels since being a graduate assistant in 1999. There are a lot of reasons why moving on is complicated.
The main one though is, of course, money.
“However, Luke’s contract would place his buyout around $6.5 million and, when combined with the contracts of offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, would push the cost of dismissing Luke well north of $12 million. University leadership has told AD candidates that is too much for the university to bear at this time.
“When adding that cost to the fraught situation of throwing a newly-hired AD directly into a coaching search, it’s clear why the Ole Miss brass is insisting on giving Luke the 2020 season and letting the new AD get settled in Oxford before undergoing a coaching search next winter, if necessary.”
Banner Society’s Steven Godfrey, a college football insider and Ole Miss alumnus, has confirmed Football Scoop’s report:
FWIW, I can confirm this. We've talked on #PAPN about Ole Miss operating very (very) slowly so that a new AD wouldn't realistically have time to make a change this year. Tails continue to wag dogs in Oxford. https://t.co/cg5Xz0XbP4
— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) November 14, 2019
This could wind up being a very busy hiring season for the SEC, depending on how things break these next few weeks. Arkansas has already fired Chad Morris. Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason have been floated as potential hot seat candidates. South Carolina’s president has set the stage for Will Muschamp to return in 2020, due in large part to a massive $18-$19 million buyout, but we’ll see how that looks if the team finishes 4-8 with a blowout loss to Clemson to end the year. Jeremy Pruitt’s situation at Tennessee seems to be improving, but a bad finish wouldn’t be great for him, while Gus Malzahn and Auburn are always somewhat in flux. Mark Stoops at Kentucky has been floated as a Florida State candidate, so there’s a chance that could open.
For now, though, it looks like Ole Miss will be staying put for at least another year.