Ole Miss fired head coach Matt Luke. What coaching candidates might be the right fit for the Rebel job?
College coaching is a brutal, brutal business.
Matt Luke loves Ole Miss.
He went to school there. Played there. Made himself into a solid head coach there. Everything about him was all about the Ole Miss football program.
He got the full-time gig, and wasn’t given enough of a chance.
Seriously, considering where the program was at when he took over, what did you want to see out of the guy to make the “trajectory” go in the right direction?
Ole Miss was a disaster, Hugh Freeze was pushed out, the program was hit by NCAA sanctions, and he still managed to at least put out an interesting team.
His 2017 team beat Mississippi State and got to six wins, even though it couldn’t go bowling.
But the 2018 Rebels lost their last five games, and this year’s version lost five of its last six games.
The Elijah Moore antics in what was this close to being a triumphant moment for the Rebels was likely the final nail in the coffin.
The offense was fantastic, though – even if it was the simplistic-but-deadly Rich Rodriguez ground game that made it happen – and the team was competitive.
Ole Miss gave LSU a problem, it lost to Auburn by six, dropped the Texas A&M game by a touchdown, and there was the late meltdown at Mississippi State.
For a program that’s undergoing an overhaul and rebuilding job, losing five games by eight points or fewer isn’t all that awful.
So who’s going to want this gig? Who’s going to want to deal with life in the SEC West year-in-and-year-out? Remember, the entire Freeze era didn’t bring any SEC titles.
This is all total speculation, but five guys who at least have to be on a list somewhere are …
5. Clay Helton, USC head coach
It’s worth a phone call.
Helton – has actually been solid at USC. He won a Pac-12 title, won this year despite a slew of quarterback injuries, and he built up a team that has the makings of a monster for the next few years. There’s a chance, though, that he’s not around to see it.
USC wants national titles, and four straight three-loss seasons doesn’t quite cut it. The program probably isn’t getting Urban, but it’ll go in a new direction if a superstar prospect pops up.
It’s at least worth a call to see if Helton – a Florida native who went to school at Houston and was an assistant at Memphis for ten years – might just be that Point A-to-Point B guy.
4. Mike Leach, Washington State head coach
If Ole Miss really wants to deal with the whole Mike Leach experience, this is the one guy who knows how to take a program that has to fight an uphill battle against the big boys and succeed.
He doesn’t win conference titles, and he won’t put Ole Miss in the national title hunt, but he’ll come up with an offense that will get the program to a bowl every year and be a thorn in the side of the big guys.
3. Bill Clark, UAB head coach
He’s never had a shot at a big gig, but over the last few years, no one has done a better overall job with the tools available to work with. He took the program from a coma to a Conference USA powerhouse going 28-11 in the last three seasons with a conference championship and a shot this year at another. This is the right next-gig-up for the Alabama native.
2. Sonny Dykes, SMU head coach
Throw it, throw it, throw it. Ole Miss might have risen to prominence under Hugh Freeze with a strong defense, get Dykes, and throw a scare into the rest of the SEC with an offense that keep the pressure on. He was okay at Cal – going 19-30 – and he’s had one good year at SMU in is two seasons, but at the very least, the O will work.
1. Mike Norvell, Memphis head coach
All he has to do is head about 75 miles south and take a left to bring his high-powered offense to the SEC. If it’s not Arkansas, this is the next-step-up program for him.
He might be a win over Cincinnati away from finally getting his first conference championship, and he still has yet to win a bowl game, but he’s been brilliant at coaching up speed, speed and more speed.