There’s no getting around how underwhelming the announcement of Matt Luke as the Rebels’ new head coach felt for many.
Part of the disappointment came from the big names being thrown around as potential candidates, such as Willie Taggart and Charlie Strong. Also fueling the fire was the belief that officials who had no business getting involved in the decision pushed the move, rather than promoting an outside-the-box approach based more on merit.
The outrage was valid at the time, but lacked context. The NCAA penalties hadn’t yet been announced, but if Ross Bjork had at least a vague idea of what was coming, it wouldn’t have made a ton of sense to pour money into an outside hire just to get the team through sanctions.
Aspirations for the football program will rise as the weight of the investigation lessens over time, and a coaching search can take place free of constraints. Until that day comes, though, the harsh reality is that things could get worse before they get better. All that Rebel fans can lean on for the time being is some sense of stability, and that’s why Matt Luke is where he is.
Coaching at Ole Miss isn’t the most sought-after job at the moment.
In terms of salary, Oxford may be a top-10 spot for a coach, but the NCAA mess complicated things, ultimately making the attractive features of the job irrelevant.
It would have been near-impossible to sell a clear vision to the best available candidates, given the uncertainty of the program’s future, both short and long term. It’s not clear how long it will take to rebound from the scholarship reductions and overall impact the investigation has had on recruiting. On top of that, there’s the possibility of some of the team’s top-end talent transferring.
Those risks don’t include the inevitable truth that the new head coach would have to rapidly beef up a 2018 recruiting class that currently ranks 71st by the 247Sports composite. Only so much can be done there in a short amount of time, and the previous class didn’t crack the top 30. The idea of having to inherit an already depleted roster made this job even less desirable.
The locker room will need a morale boost, and Luke provides that.
It’s remarkable that Luke was able to keep the team together through a rough season. Until the Egg Bowl victory, they didn’t have a quality win to plant hope or pride on, yet they still didn’t quit.
The players were chanting “We want Luke” after the win in Starkville, and at some point, that attachment to the coach has to be considered. Under normal circumstances, likability should only go so far when being evaluated, but as long as the NCAA cloud looms over, it holds more weight than it otherwise would.
Ole Miss football has been hard to watch the last two years, so not everyone will necessarily value the continuity that Luke offers the same way. Regardless, the team’s ceiling remains pretty low in the near future, so waiting on a more apt time for a staff overhaul isn’t an absurd notion.
This was never simply a decision of hiring the unqualified, but home-grown, guy over a field of more worthy candidates. It’s true that Bjork has had since July 20th to find his coach, but nothing about this process was easy for all the reasons listed above.
The news of Matt Luke’s promotion is less about the judgment that went into the call, but more about what this implies about the state of the program. It took a grim set of events to get where we are today, and nothing’s going to change anytime soon.