The resignation of former head football coach Hugh Freeze following purported calls to an escort service left the Ole Miss program and fan base shell-shocked. Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for Ole Miss fans to rally and begin the inevitable prognosticating regarding the Rebels’ next head coach. Coaching hot boards flooded the interwebs, and one betting market even offered odds on who will be the next coach. We here at the Cup even joined in on the fun with our own Way Too Early Coaching Hot Board.
However, as tempting as it is to fantasize about the future, all of these predictions are likely premature. For a number of reasons, it’s in the Ole Miss football program’s best interest to take a wait and see approach regarding the next head coach.
Interim head coach Matt Luke provides experience and stability
The athletic department wasted no time in announcing Matt Luke as the interim head coach, including it in their initial statement publicizing Hugh Freeze’s resignation. Soon after, Ross Bjork affirmed the program’s confidence in Luke in the presser: “Matt is a great coach. He’s a leader. He’s a rock. He’s an Ole Miss Rebel. I’m especially confident after watching him address the team that he will lead this program through this difficult time.” In fact, SI Reporter Bruce Feldman, one of the first to report on Freeze’s resignation, stated “It wouldn’t shock me if interim head coach Matt Luke ended up keeping the job permanently.”
The cloud of the NCAA investigation continues to loom
Unfortunately, Ross Bjork emphasized in the press conference that Freeze’s resignation was completely unrelated to the NCAA Investigation and its numerous allegations. That means that Thursday’s decision to cut ties with Freeze is unlikely to generate much sympathy from the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, who will determine the program’s ultimate punishment sometime this fall. The ongoing uncertainty due to the potential for harsher punishment may make it difficult for Ole Miss to land some of its more ambitious coaching targets, particularly big name guys like Charlie Strong or Chip Kelly, who can afford to be more choosy. The committee probably won’t decide until midway through the 2017 season, which means Matt Luke will have some time to prove himself fit for the job.
Ultimately, Ross Bjork and company will have plenty of time to find a suitable new head coach. The self-imposed 1-year bowl ban had already rendered the 2017 season as more of a test run, and the new coaching search should solidify that status. After the season, with both the NCAA investigation and on-field results settled, the Rebels should be in a better position to decide who will lead the program in the future.