Today is November 18, 2019, and it’s time for a hard reboot.
Sure, it may not be journalistically responsible to discuss the termination of a football coach who is still employed (with job security, apparently) by the higher education institution that we are all fans of, but fuck it, this is a fan site and we do what we want here. And we’re not just talking about the head coach.
Ole Miss is in the middle of yet another stumbling down an alley drunk season, sitting at 4-7 and out of bowl contention after a trouncing from No. 1 LSU. Now the season comes down to in-state bragging rights for a Thanksgiving day win over Mississippi State, a game that the Rebels could easily lose by a wide margin if the wrong team shows up.
Yet, the university “hired” a chancellor nobody wanted and there is still no athletic director in sight to try and put this football program back together, three years removed from a NCAA investigation that is still causing pain and agony for all involved.
But, chancellor and A.D. be damned, we are here to just worry about the head football coach that is now 15-20 overall and just 6-17 in the Southeastern Conference. Despite a few “gets” here and there in recruiting, winning is what pays the bills, it’s what puts butts in the seats, and it’s what generates excitement and optimism for the future.
And right now, none of that exists with Matt Luke at the helm.
Luckily, there is someone that did exactly what Ole Miss needs to do right now on which to mirror its process. Three years ago this December marks the time when Baylor University decided that it was time to make the tough decision and to unplug the machine and then plug it back in.
Matt Rhule was hired, replacing interim coach Jim Grobe, to pay the bill and fix it. After a 1-11 first year on the job, he then turned in a 7-6 campaign in his second season and is now 9-0 in just year three after implementing his own brand, system, staff, and all-around swagger to the Bears program that is now out from under the disgusting cloud of Art Briles.
So if you think it can’t be done, just look at Baylor. They had a scandal that was far, far worse than a few rental cars and sleepovers on a couch, but nevertheless, the program found themselves at a crossroads and had a tough decision on their hands. Stick with what you know, hire from within, stay the course, status quo, all that. Or...
Shake things up!
Go find a qualified leader, and attempt to fix the problem head-on without hiding behind charades and smoke and mirrors with excuses and bail outs due to “loving Ole Miss”.
So, we think it’s time for Ole Miss to do this.
If Matt Luke is not the answer now, he never will be.
You have to ask yourself one question...
“Is Matt Luke putting this program in the position to win games?”
That’s the first step. From there, you can decide what you want to do moving forward. If you can’t definitively answer yes, than it’s time to pull the plug. And you can’t.
Luke deserves a lot of credit for doing a fine job. He took over a program in disarray and bridged the gap between Hugh Freeze and the NCAA island that Ole Miss was left on after he ransacked the program and squealed on everyone to save his own ass.
Ole Miss might be getting better in some spots, building depth at certain positions, and winning recruiting battles here and there. There is an abundance of athleticism in Oxford, and part of that is because of Luke. He loves his players and his players love him. That strong player/coach bond is undeniably important, but it doesn’t equal results on the field.
The Rebels are losing the same games, the same way, for the third year in a row and the program cannot afford (literally and figuratively) to go on like this much longer.
Week in and week out, personnel decisions raise eyebrows, confusion magnifies the glaring inability to make in-game adjustments, and clock management leaves late-game possessions without enough time to comeback. Ole Miss has played 11 games thus far in 2019, and will not qualify for a bowl game at less than .500. Of those games, losses to Memphis, California Berkeley, Texas A&M and Auburn ended in one possession’s reach, while five games were within striking distance. Hindsight is 20/20, but minor, inexcusable details in each loss added up to a sum too great to overcome.
Luke’s love for the school aside, if the program and team as a whole is not performing well enough to win close games, especially within the division, then it’s not working.
Recruiting could be affected negatively.
Two years ago, the NCAA flipped college football recruiting on its head by introducing the Early Signing Period. Traditionally, college football’s National Signing Day is the first Wednesday of February. As of 2017, recruits now have the opportunity to sign with their college team over a month before National Signing Day, in late December.
For coaches, this takes the timeline for in-home visits, official visits, and offer letters, and moves it up by about a month and a half. This changes the dynamic in-season, and forces staffers to hit the road mid-week. In addition, once the regular season ends, the window between the clock hitting zero and December 18th is less than three weeks. That means a program has around 25 days to rally the troops and convince their targets to sign to the university. While not everyone signs in December, it is a crucial component that has critical impact on a class.
If a coach is relinquished of his duties mid-season, it provides more of a buffer to forming a cohesive identity from which to pitch. If a coach is let go after the season, it leaves a program recruiting without a coach, or forces a new hire to come in and pick up the shambles as best he can.
Thus, making a change in November immediately after the Egg Bowl could be considered risky, but the potential to make an attractive hire that would generate excitement on the recruiting trail and help to secure a top-25 class moving into 2020 outweighs the risk.
Skeptics are usually concerned with making a coaching change this close to a signing day, but you can’t sacrifice your program’s trajectory for one recruiting class.
Last year, this same Ole Miss team hired new coordinators and were able to secure signatures from high-profile prospects like Jerrion Ealy, Lakia Henry, Jonathan Mingo, John Rhys Plumlee, and Sam Williams. Recruits love being sold to and coaches are professional salesmen. And guess what, if it doesn’t work and you miss out on a few because you fired a lame duck head coach who hadn’t beaten anyone in the West outside of Arkansas and Mississippi State, then you just regroup for 2021.
What is there to lose?
Also, speaking of excitement, a new coach would bring some much-needed energy to the fanbase that is all but completely checked out from relinquishing their home field advantage and not buying season tickets whatsoever.
The lack of identity on offense is concerning.
After the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, mostly everyone was thrilled. Ole Miss was welcoming in a former Power 5 head coach who had won National Coach of the Year and was the creator of the modern spread option offense that literally everyone uses.
Now, Ole Miss is sitting here with just three wins, with an offense that is absolutely one-dimensional and predictable as hell. And if this trend and play-calling continues, it’s going to not only affectively continue to make life difficult for anything to be successful on offense, but it’s going to decimate recruiting. We have seen it with the departure of Miles Battle and Demarcus Gregory, two wide receivers who did not see the opportunity for success in an offense that doesn’t value the pass.
It’s 2019 and a team needs to be able to throw the football effectively in college football. Plain and simple, the game that was born 150 years ago has evolved. The growth is more complex beyond simple concepts, but for all intents and purposes, the pendulum has shifted away from the run and moved toward throwing the ball into space. There is the ability to throw from Rodriguez’s spread option offense, yes, but it has been minimal and inefficient thus far. Rolling out from play-action, as Plumlee has done all season, creates a vulnerability in pressure that does not come from dropping back.
There is a good balance that can be attributed to successful offenses in the NCAA, and that consolidates to getting the best players the ball.
As the offensive coordinator, Rodriguez refuses to acknowledge that idea, keeping consistently bland with predictable formations and repetitive uniformity. It is starting to show why both Michigan and Arizona moved on from his antiquated schemes. Rodriguez and Luke continue to not only run the ball on first down 75 percent of the time in conference games, but they’re playing a quarterback who was asked by other top programs to switch positions— because of his inability to throw down field.
It is time to find a system and a coordinator that can coexist with today’s game.
Timeliness is of the essence.
There are already two Power 5 schools with head coaching vacancies similar, or more desirable, than the Ole Miss Rebels.
Florida State is a program with a larger national spotlight than Ole Miss, in an equally as prominent conference, with more money and an easier path to compete in its division. After losing its head coach Jimbo Fisher to Texas A&M, the program hired Willie Taggart, the “next big thing” in coaching. The expectation was to return the program to top-tier relevancy. Instead, he went 5-7 in his first year and went 4-5 in his second. Why did he coach just nine games this season you might ask? Because mediocrity didn’t cut it.
Florida State wasn’t winning games, so he was fired. The program didn’t tolerate losing and will pay three buyouts, totaling over $20 million, for a fresh slate. It is an absurd amount of money for a coach not to coach, but what’s the point if he can’t win games.
Arkansas is a brand with equal relevance to Ole Miss on a national scale, and a program with a similar financial portfolio. It also hired a coach within the same time period, and expected to rebuild a program that was the bottom of its division. Instead, Chad Morris went 4-16 in his first (and only) twenty games. Arkansas refused to accept its continuous downward spiral and wasn’t winning games, so he was fired.
The longer that Ole Miss waits, whether weeks, months or years, the more programs will move on from their current head coach and hit the market. That market is only so saturated with proven winners, and the well will be dry if/when Luke is let go.
Getting out ahead of the competition can never be a bad thing.
If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting.
A wise man once said, “there’s a tremendous amount of risk in playing it safe.”
That is what Ole Miss is doing, playing it safe. The man who jumped from offensive line coach to interim head coach beat Mississippi State and won over the boosters with his jolly disposition and genuine passion for Ole Miss. Hiring Luke was safe.
Now, three years and a 6-17 conference record later, reports rumor that he and his staff is expected to retain their jobs through the 2020 season, and quite possibly into 2021.
Playing it safe is no longer the solution to a deep-rooted problem, and a bold decision needs to transpire to break a repetitive cycle of monotony that will fester deep into a program and eat it from the inside out. We believe that time is now.
Today is November 18, 2019, and it’s time for a hard reboot.