One of the most captivating elements in sports is the role of spectator, of the fan. For reasons that are tough to pin down, we effortlessly suspend realities: the reality that the outcome of any given game doesn’t matter. The reality that our real-life connections to the players are virtually non-existent. The reality that we toil and scream and churn our stomachs and gnash our teeth ... and this has no effect whatsoever of the outcome of the game.
It’s as if that feeling of helplessness is addictive. A stark departure from our real lives, where making positive inputs should yield positive results (and vice versa), we allow our hopes to be fulfilled or dashed at the whims of people we’ve never met.
Most fans, at some juncture in their fanhood, reach a tipping point. A point where the helplessness becomes too much. Too many bad, avoidable things happen in close succession, and we become less willing to invest the same emotional labor again and again.
By handing over the keys to the Ole Miss football program to Matt Luke, Ross Bjork and Jeff Vitter have caused just such a tipping point.
After leading an offensively loaded team to just six wins, including two absolute blowouts, three blown leads, and two other unnecessarily close calls, Luke takes over full-time for a team that has shown little to no improvement in a defense that already vastly underachieved. A team that is increasingly incapable of staying on the same field as Alabama, Auburn, or LSU.
And why was this hasty move necessary? Pick a reason, each more maddening than the next. Because of the threat of NCAA sanctions that Bjork has had years to mitigate. Because of over-involved boosters and former players who stand to increase their access to the program. Because a search firm paid thousands of dollars to conduct a national search that apparently failed terrifically to do so. Because one candidate’s personality did not properly endear him to the Ole Miss administration, wins and losses be damned.
Fair or not, Luke’s every move will be overanalyzed or worse: ignored. Each staffing change, each new recruit, each strategy move by Luke will bear increased weight because of Bjork’s decision.
And as much as that decision stings right now, I do believe that Matt Luke has a lot of desirable qualities. I believe that he’ll recruit well; I expect him to re-emphasize in-state recruiting, as well as need-based recruiting. I believe that he’ll do work to repair a nightmarish public perception of the Ole Miss football program, and I believe that he can continue to repair the psyches of Rebel players who fell so quickly from Sugar Bowl Champions to 5-7 in a single year.
Still, there are dozens of coaches with winning records as coordinators or head coaches, and Matt Luke is not one of them. Luke also carries with him the stigma of the Freeze administration, however faint.
A new regime, the right one, can quickly rid a program of many different kinds of poison. It can renew faith. It can buy time. With this decision, Ross Bjork and Jeff Vitter denied Ole Miss fans that kind of renewal. How much more faith, and how much more time do we have to give?