We’ve talked about the similarities between how Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney started things off at Clemson and how Matt Luke could potentially follow in his footsteps with how he handles his program, his hires, and his recruiting, most importantly.
Mind you, we’re not in any way saying that Ole Miss will be able to rattle off a 10-4 season and a berth in the Orange Bowl in year three. But, Swinney’s program got a nice boost after year three when he made a change at a coordinator spot and his recruiting started to take off, thanks to his staff sticking to their guns and doing it their way.
After an abysmal performance in said Orange Bowl where West Virginia scored 70 points and tied or broke eight separate team and individual bowl game records against a Tiger defense that was led by Kevin Steele, Swinney fired Steele and hired arguably the best college football assistant in college football, Brent Venables.
And the rest is history. Now, the Tigers have one of the most fundamentally sound defenses in the country, year-in-and-year-out, and recruit at an extremely high level on that side of the football.
On top of that, Swinney and the Tigers have won two national titles in three years and are one of the most impressive programs to this day, sparking their own dynasty that rivals what Nick Saban has built at Alabama.
So how does that compare to what Luke and Co. are building in Oxford?
The coordinators are in place to make things happen.
After last year’s 5-7 campaign, coordinators Phil Longo and Wesley McGriff were let go and former national coach of the year winners Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre replaced them. Like Clemson, Luke went out and found coordinators who have a tremendous track record and have initiated some momentum within the program.
The offense was great last year under Longo but it stalled in key situations whether it was in the red zone or against elite competition. Rodriguez should bring a semblance of consistency with the playbook and a cutthroat mindset that was missing last year in spots when the Rebels could have gone for the throat and scored six points instead of three.
On defense, we all know how it was. It was awful. The Rebels finished 90th in S&P+ defense and it really felt much worse than that. MacIntyre, much like Rodriguez, is looking to rebuild a reputation in the coaching world as a guy who isn’t just here to collect a check. He and the rest of the program knows that if they can build some confidence on that side paired with a potent zone read attack in the Hot Rod offense that the 2019 season could surprise some people if some things bounce their way.
Another thing that Swinney does a wonderful job of is letting his coordinators coordinate. He is the face of their program but he doesn’t micro-manage. Luke could take this to heart and let his guys do their thing on each side of the ball. If this is the case this season, things could start to churn in a positive direction for Ole Miss as they start the rebuilding process post-NCAA sanctions.
The recruiting rankings are what you make them.
Sure, nowadays Clemson is operating at a high-level. After all, they’re currently sitting in 1st per 247Sports team rankings for the 2020 class. But, it wasn’t always like that for Swinney and his staff. And they still were able to reel off eight-straight seasons of 10 wins or more. But, like I said it wasn’t always that easy.
In Dabo’s first full season, the Tigers finished 36th overall in 2009, good enough for 6th in the ACC. The next year, they were a modest 27th. It wasn’t until 2011 that they made their first top-10 appearance.
In 2018, Matt Luke’s first full class finished 32nd. And last year’s class finished 10 spots better at 22nd. So this year should be top-10, right? Not exactly, but things are trending in the right direction (Ole Miss is currently 20th).
But, before Clemson was churning out top-10 classes left and right, they had their ups and downs in the recruiting world as well.
- 2012 - 20th
- 2013 - 15th
- 2014 - 16th
- 2017 - 16th
Their last two classes have been locked and loaded with four and five-star talent, sure, but their staff believes in their evaluations and they do not stray from their process. Similar to that, Luke and his staff have stuck to their guns about their recruiting process and how they go about their evaluation process utilizing the camp circuit to facilitate offers and accept verbal commitments.
There has been some moaning and groaning because of the three-stars that Ole Miss has accepted as of late for the 2020 class, but fans should take solace in the fact that these offers and verbal commitments were earned after performing for the staff in a setting that they contrived for them to be able to earn an offer and to be accepted into the 2020 class.
Clemson sticks to their guns about their process, develops their players upon arrival, and turns them into impact dudes on either side of the ball. And as of now, Ole Miss is doing the same. Now it’s up to arguably the best staff in Ole Miss history to continue to find impact players and to develop them.
You need impact guys on both sides of the ball.
Clemson was able to sign guys like Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, Xavier Thomas, and A.J. Terrell in their last few classes. All have managed to make an impact in a short time. Now, look at Ole Miss’ last two classes and they are in line with their own impact dudes on each side.
Four-stars Matt Corral and Elijah Moore were reeled in in 2018 and last year’s class has five-star Jerrion Ealy, four-stars Sam Williams, Lakia Henry, and Dannis Jackson, and high three-stars Deantre Prince and Nick Broeker in it. Luke and his staff are counting on the above mentioned names to make an impact and to help them transition away from the NCAA cloud and back to winning conference games.
It’s one thing to sign highly-rated players but you have to find guys who are ready for primetime and equally as ready to make plays once they arrive.
Stay true to the brand.
Sure he can be a tad bit goofy on the sidelines, looking like he’s wearing a daggum tarp at times, but Matt Luke has certainly got some momentum going as we are heading into the middle of June. He’s hired two damn good coordinators and has made quite the impression on the recruiting trail, securing a top-20 class as we near the halfway point of the year.
This is something, if you remember, that we pointed out last time we talked about Luke and Swinney. One has stayed true to his brand in the ACC over on the East Coast and now he is in charge of one of the better-run programs in the country and looking to win his third national title in four years.
Again, not saying that’s going to be Luke and Ole Miss in year 11, but the comparison holds true. Swinney is true to himself and Matt sure as hell isn’t going to change for anyone. His motto “you don’t have to be blood to be family” rings true in recruiting circles. Whenever Ole Miss receives a commitment or a family takes in the campus for a visit, one thing is constant: family.
He is going to keep his mantra alive as long as he is in charge of Ole Miss football and you have to give him credit because that is a character trait that not everyone has. It’s just too bad character and integrity doesn’t win football games.
Again, no one here at Red Cup is saying that the Rebs will resemble anything close to Clemson any time soon, but the process that Swinney has implemented is something that is absolutely working and it appears to quite possibly be on the minds of Luke and his staff as well.
If not, they’re just simply being patient and letting their evaluations do the work for them. They’re not going to star-chase and go after recruits because of a rating that a web site gives them. They are hellbent on doing it their way and seeing it through.
Hopefully their way equals some wins this season.