Oxford, Miss. — One of new Mississippi coach Matt Luke’s vivid childhood memories is seeing his dad’s Ole Miss helmet — No. 35 — hanging in the family’s den.
Then there were the years his family drove five hours each way between Gulfport, Mississippi, and Oxford to watch his older brother Tom play for the Rebels. A short time later, it was Matt’s turn, and he was a mainstay on the Ole Miss offensive line from 1995-98.
Now, at 40 years old, he’s head coach of the Rebels.
“I can truly tell you all today that this is my dream job,” Luke said, occasionally getting emotional as he talked. “It’s a job I’ve been preparing my whole life for. I feel more strongly than ever that I’m the right man to run this program.”
It might be Luke’s dream job. He has not, however, inherited a dream situation.
The past 12 months have essentially been a nightmare for the Ole Miss football program.
There was a disappointing 5-7 season in 2016 and a self-imposed bowl ban for the upcoming season because of an ongoing NCAA investigation.
And then — most stunningly — coach Hugh Freeze resigned in disgrace last week after a school investigation into his phone records found a “pattern of personal misconduct” starting with a one-minute call to an escort service.
Now Luke is left to pick up the pieces.
It’s a daunting task — preseason camp is just over a week away and the first game is on Sept. 2 against South Alabama.
“They just want to play football,” Luke said of his team. “They just want to go out and play the game they love. They want to go out, represent Ole Miss and win football games. It’s my job to make sure the focus stays on the players.”
Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork said Luke will be paid $500,000 over the next five months to be head coach. That’s in addition to his yearly $660,000 salary as the co-offensive coordinator.
While Luke could keep the job in 2018 and beyond, Bjork offered no promises other than to say Luke is “going to be a great candidate for our job. We’re going to watch him up close and personal. He and I will interact on a daily basis.”
Steele: UM third, MSU fifth
ESPN college football expert Phil Steele says while Michigan is capable of winning the East Division and the Big Ten championship, he still predicts a third-place finish for the Wolverines in the division.
Steele says Ohio State will claim the East and make the College Football Playoff.
He says Penn State will finish second in the division, followed by Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, Maryland and Rutgers.
Steele on Michigan: “If this pick were based purely on the talent on the field, the Wolverines would be No. 1 or 2 in the Big Ten, as coach Jim Harbaugh has done a great job recruiting, despite the plethora of NFL talent (11 draft choices in 2016) that was lost.”
As for the Spartans, Steele says, “The Spartans were 1-8 in Big Ten play but actually outgained league opponents by an average of 35.4 YPG.”