On Sunday, Matt Luke was named the 38th head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. On Monday, during his first press conference as the head man, it was announced that he is being provided with quite the lucrative wallet when it comes to hiring assistants.
Now, he has to make the tough decision of deciding who will stay and who will go. The coaches currently on staff should be applauded for the job they did holding this team together, keeping them from quitting, and coaching them to a 6-6 finish. But, if Matt Luke wants to take the next step and elevate Ole Miss football back to access bowls, top 10 recruiting classes, and College Football Playoff rankings, he’s going to need to make some changes.
Swinney is in his ninth full season as the head coach at Clemson and he has made several staff changes, some that were no doubt hard on him. Departing with original staff members is not an easy thing to do. But, this is a business, and if Luke wants to keep his job and improve business, he will need to make these tough decisions and hire the best men for the job.
Let’s take a look at just how Dabo tranformed Clemson from your average ACC program to a top 5 juggernaut today. And why Luke should do just that.
Dabo fired his coordinators when he needed to.
In his first full year as head coach after being promoted from his interim post, he went 9-5, won the Atlantic Division of the ACC, and beat Kentucky in Music City Bowl. Two years later, Swinney replaced his first offensive coordinator Billy Napier and hired Chad Morris. Napier had been with him from the start but once his production dipped (first losing season since 1998) Swinney did not flinch.
A few years later in 2011, Clemson was playing in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia and suffered one of the worst losses ever, not only in their history, but bowl game history, college football history, just...it was bad. The Tigers lost 70-33 and Kevin Steele was relieved of his duties shortly after. So that’s two long-time coordinators that were with Dabo from the start that he moved on from.
Dabo made a business decision after their scoring defense went from 13th to 81st. That’s what championship coaches do. Matt Luke is going to have to make some tough decisions if he wants Ole Miss to be where I think he wants them to be. And that starts with who he surrounds himself with. Ole Miss’ defense was bad this year, there’s no hiding that. Most of it has to do with recruiting and collecting talent and depth. But, the assistant pool moneybag that he has been handed gives him the opportunity to either make changes or add an analyst or co-defensive coordinator to turn things around.
He also stays out of their way.
It’s easy when you have names like Brent Venables and Chad Morris and Jeff Scott and Kevin Steele in control of your respective units. But, great coaches aren’t always a great fit. There have been impressive staffs at places that don’t work. There’s no cohesion. At Clemson, Dabo is very open with not only his players, but his staff as well. Hell, that’s what he hired them for. To do their job. And Matt could learn a thing or two from this.
Coordinators need to coordinate. Head coaches need to manage said coordinators. But, also stay out of their way. It was a known problem when Hugh Freeze was in charge that he would mess with game plans, butt in on the play calling, and just cause an overall uneasiness with his staff. Not at Clemson. Dabo lets his coaches do their thing and he worries about managing the players, the game, and dancing in the locker room after it’s all over.
In my opinion (I very well could be wrong, mind you), I thought there were some games in 2017 where Ole Miss was either flourishing or struggling, and Matt might have butted in to make his own adjustments, suggestions, audibles. Instead, he should defer to his assistants, let them do what they’re paid to do, and trust that who he’s hired can get it done. Dabo might influence things at times, but ultimately he lets his coordinators coordinate.
Just be yourself.
Luke has already mentioned this several times since he became the head coach. He even said that Freeze told him as much. And that’s some sound advice. Dabo agrees. Whether you find him annoying or campy or downright silly, Swinney stays true to who he is and players respect it and respond to it.
Swinney’s “All In” mantra is demanding yet he is going to make sure that his players are having fun. This is where Matt Luke has already begun to plant his own seed of originality. His “Mississippi Made” campaign will be his own rallying cry for his legacy at Ole Miss, no matter how it finishes. He wants to build around the Magnolia State with kids who work hard, are tough, and resilient. Not a bad place to start.
This is true to Luke’s brand. He isn’t just all talk, he walks the walk. He is a former walk-on who worked his ass off to become a starter. Then, he worked his way up the coaching ladder as an assistant, position coach, coordinator, interim, and now head coach. Dabo is the same way. Players see that and respect that. And that’s the hardest part of coaching, earning the players’ respect. Well, that part is done.
Stay true to your brand.
Clemson is a top 5 program now. There’s no doubting that. But, before Dabo was winning ACC titles and hoisting the E-Cig National Championship Trophy, he was trying to figure out a way to separate himself from the rest. Not by copying what Nick Saban or Urban Meyer or Chris Petersen was doing, but by what he thought was best.
Before Dabo took over as head man, Clemson was averaging around 7.6 wins per year under Tommy Bowden. A far cry from the 10.6 they’re averaging under Swinney in his nine full seasons. But, it wasn’t thanks to some miracle Power Point or magic binder that he photocopied from the aforementioned coaches, he stuck to his gut and did his thing. And that’s exactly what Matt Luke needs to do.
Matt is his own man, that’s very clear. He has made it very clear what his vision is and what he wants to do at Ole Miss. And it is paramount that he stays true to that throughout his time as the CEO of the Rebel program. No matter if that’s four years or 14. The model of “have fun” and “bring your own guts” that Dabo follows is something that he is passionate about and his staff and players respond to that. Luke has an opportunity to create his very own brand that can resonate with his own staff, players, and fans. It can be done. Just look at Dabo. He seems to be doing just fine.
To be honest, coaching is not that difficult when you really think of it. I did it for almost 10 years on the baseball field. It’s essentially being able to connect with players, motivating them to strive for their best, and putting them in position to succeed. And the rest is rinse and repeat with the staff. Luke seems to be someone who can see the light and will continue to be himself AND be capable of making the tough decisions.
Now, don’t get it twisted, I’m not trying to say that Matt Luke is going to turn the SEC world on its head and become a conference title-winning, national championship-toting head ball coach in a matter of a few seasons like Swinney. After all, college football is ever-changing and the SEC and ACC are totally different monsters. But, the fact remains that Dabo was in a similar position that Matt is in and he took it and ran with it and made it his own.
When he was hired by Clemson, fans were outraged and claimed that a “good recruiter” could never win big.
Well, it worked out for them. Who’s to say it couldn’t work for Ole Miss?