[Disclaimer: I am not in Matt Luke’s head, so a lot of this is speculation.]
It’s 2002, and Matt Luke has just been hired away from coaching the offensive line at Murray State. He has joined David Cutcliffe’s staff at Ole Miss, and enters a great situation: he’s coaching future draft picks Terrence Metcalf (3rd Round), Ben Claxton (5th Round), and Chris Spencer (1st Round). Life couldn’t be much better for the 25 year-old. He’s back where he belongs.
See, Ole Miss is in Matt Luke’s blood. He played in Oxford. His father did too, as did his brother. He grew up going to the Grove on Saturdays. In a way, it’s home.
And the future is very, very bright. Eli Manning has two years left of eligibility, and head coach David Cutcliffe, thought to be a quarterback whisperer, has a team that’s competing in the SEC. Matt Luke is destined for success and the incredible glory that comes from helping steer the team you’ve loved since childhood to college football significance and prominence.
Two years later, there is only chaos.
Eli is gone. There isn’t a capable quarterback on the roster, and the team is in shambles. The defense is bad. The offense is bad. This team just doesn’t have the talent it needs to be able to compete in the SEC. Luke has to see Cutcliffe, a man he greatly respects, ousted. There is tremendous uncertainty around the program.
A few weeks later, it is announced that the new head football coach at Ole Miss will be USC’s defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Ed Orgeron. More chaos. Orgeron decides to keep Luke on staff. For two years, Luke watches as the program he bled for writhes in squalor. The team wins three SEC games in two seasons. Luke has to get out. He can’t watch as this happens to Ole Miss. So he decides to get back to work for David Cutcliffe again at Tennessee, where Cutcliffe is offensive coordinator. Two years later, he follows Cutcliffe to Duke, watching as his Rebels experience an incredible high followed by horrendous lows brought on by the hiring of Houston Nutt.
In 2012, Matt Luke got the call to return to Oxford under Hugh Freeze, who Luke had worked with under Ed Orgeron. He was back in Oxford, helping to build something sustainable and powerful. A year later, he was tutoring Laremy Tunsil, possibly the best offensive tackle in football.
And Ole Miss was winning. 7-6, 8-5, 9-4, 10-3. Everything was great. Finally, he had pride in his alma mater, which looked to have someone capable at the helm. Luke just brought in the top rated tackle in another class, Greg Little, and was the associate head coach and ready for another season. That season, as you all know, didn’t go well, with the team finishing 5-7 with a loss to Mississippi State that must have upset Luke. He had been part of this tremendous building effort, and everything had just fallen flat all at once. Demoralizing.
A few weeks later, Luke was being linked to the South Carolina opening, and it seemed to be a reality. Ultimately, he chose to stay at Ole Miss as co-OC and an unofficial type of head coach in waiting.
Little did he know that turning down South Carolina would ultimately make him the head coach at Ole Miss before the Rebels played another down of football. See, the leadership ahead of him that seemed so capable of pulling everything together and building a consistent program, failed. It failed bigtime. Now, Matt Luke had seen his alma mater run into the ground once again. Another high followed by another low. But then an immediate high in being named head coach.
So Matt Luke is tasked with generating yet another phoenix-like rebirth for a program that simply cannot help but wildly swing between success and failure. I imagine he’s eager to get to work, but … there’s a lot to be done, and recruits just aren’t coming. So how could he convince anyone of worth to sign with Ole Miss this season? Win a bunch of upsets early and be named permanent head coach, I guess. And I say this as someone who’s pretty firmly against an in-house hire, but ... Ole Miss fans should be hoping that happens. Some type of wild storybook 9-3 season that ends with Matt Luke named head coach is potentially one of the better possible outcomes. I don’t think it will happen or anything, but it would be an incredible development for the program.