Immediately after Matt Luke was promoted on Sunday night, I stared down at my living room floor wondering where Ross Bjork and Ole Miss went wrong. That lasted about five minutes. Then, I started thinking about how Luke can be a success at Ole Miss and how Bjork might be a genius.
It is no secret that Luke was down the pecking order on Ole Miss’ head coach hot board, hell, he wasn’t even on ours, but the fact remains that after finishing 6-6 and winning the Egg Bowl, the former Ole Miss center, student assistant, tight ends coach, offensive line coach, co-offensive coordinator, and interim coach is now leading a SEC program.
But is it all bad? Sure there have been some coaches who have been interims and then gone on to be named the permanent head coach and it ended poorly. But, there have also been some names that were tagged as interims, were promoted to full-time head honcho, then became extremely successful. Before, you get #madonline, let me explain.
Phil Fulmer, Tennessee
Everyone’s favorite orange pullover-wearing goofball stepped in for Johnny Majors’ Vols in 1992 and finished strong while the head man was recovering from heart surgery. The Winchester, Tenn. native took over for good once Majors couldn’t hack it anymore and boy did he ever build a monster program (152–52 overall record, 96–34 in the SEC) after starting out as a poor ole interim.
Fulmer turned Tennessee into one of the most miserable powerhouses of the 1990’s, winning 10+ games five times in six seasons. His teams were extremely physical, talented, and downright nasty on defense. He also started a nationwide phenomenon when he recruited outside of the Vols’ footprint, going after national names instead of staying put in his backyard. Something that set him and the Vols apart. As head coach, he won one national title, two SEC titles, and five SEC East titles and has been inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame.
George O’Leary, Georgia Tech
The Yellowjackets were struggling and needed a change so they fired Bill Lewis. In steps Mr. Rosie Red Cheeks himself, George O’Freakin’ Leary. His first two full seasons, he finished a combined 11-11, but after that he got the Ramblin’ Wreck going. He took Georgia Tech to back-to-back bowl games and even went 10-2 in 1998 and shared an ACC title with Florida State. And then beat nationally-ranked Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.
He followed that double-digit win season up with three more bowl games and 24 more wins. The former interim turned head man won ACC Coach of the Year in 1998 and 2000. He was also given the trophy for Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year in 2000 after GT went 9-3. Despite his exit coupled with NCAA violations, he went on to coach and build a program at UCF, winning 81 games, including a trip to the Fiesta Bowl in 2013.
Bill Stewart, West Virginia
Bill is the running joke whenever an interim has any sort of success. And for good reason. After Rich Rodriguez left the Mountaineers for Michigan, Stewart was handed the clipboard and the headset. He led WVU to an Orange Bowl victory over No. 3 Oklahoma. He was rewarded with a fat five-year deal the day after and he never looked back.
Bill went 9-4 three straight years after that and won the Big East in 2010. Despite winning 27 games in three years, Stewart eventually stepped away from his post as head coach, relinquishing it to the now Red Bull-chugging, hairline-dodging Dana Holgorsen. Tragically, two years later after Bill was working for WVU’s athletic department, he passed away after suffering a heart attack.
Clay Helton, Southern Cal
The former position coach at Duke, Houston, Memphis, and Southern Cal has found himself a home thanks to a dear friend of The Cup: Ed Orgeron. Back in 2013 when Ed Orgeron just quit hollerin and dipping coffee grounds, Helton took over and led the Trojans to a bowl win in the Las Vegas Bowl. Then, again in 2015, when Steve Sarkisian was battling personal issues, he took over again as interim and was later named the permanent head coach after not only winning over the players, but winning on the field.
Despite a poor start, Helton led the Trojans to a Pac-12 South division title and a place in the title game against No. 7 Stanford and Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey. All he’s done since then is win 10 games in back-to-back years and another division title. Granted it helps coaching and recruiting in California, but he took the permanent gig after only being as high on the coaching totem pole as offensive coordinator at Memphis and is now one of the brightest coaches in the game.
Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Hugh Freeze Lite has a similar resume to our dear, sweet, grown baby boy Matt Luke, and he is also someone who did not look back when being handed the reigns. After joining the Clemson staff in the early 2000’s as an assistant for Tommy Bowden, he eventually took his job after he went 3-3 and resigned. Dabo went 4-3, won an emotional game against in-state rival South Carolina to become bowl eligible, he was hired as the permanent head coach the next month. Despite his reputation as a good recruiter, his hire was very unpopular among fans and alumni and it was viewed as a risk. Hmmmm, sounds familiar.
Since then, Dabo has virtually taken the college football world by the balls and shoved everyone out of the way. After a 9-5 year, a division title, and a bowl win, he followed that up with a 6-7 year that was lackluster. Then, hell broke loose. In a good way. He has won 10+ games every single year since, five bowl games, six division titles, three ACC titles, he’s had a Heisman Trophy quarterback, and toppled Alabama for a national title. And the hell breaking loose doesn’t stop there. His worst recruiting class was his first (36th) and since then he has never finished worse than 27th and has had a class ranked as high as 9th. You could say he’s the poster child for interim coaches everywhere.
So, ya see, it’s not all so bad. Matt Luke has a tough road ahead of him with the NCAA uncertainty, a depleted defensive roster, and some staff changes that need to be made, but success has been found in a hopeless place before by an interim coach. And hey, he could do it, too. My advice: just do whatever Dabo is doing. That seems to work pretty well.