MONGRUE: Player support not enough to save Luke

MONGRUE: Player support not enough to save Luke
SOURCE: Ole Miss Athletics (Source: Ole Miss Athletics)

(WLBT) - If you haven’t figured it out by now, SEC football is a nature documentary.

Eat or be eaten.

Nick Saban is going to go down as the best college head coach of all-time, yet a quick trip to Tuscaloosa and you’ll find Alabama fans calling for his job. The Crimson Tide have lost two games this season. Meanwhile in Starkville, an Egg Bowl victory led to a pretty epic, but also kind of perplexing, rant from Joe Moorhead telling everyone to “kick rocks” after rumors swirled about his future.

The cliché is that football is celebrated like religion in the Southeastern Conference, but in reality, it’s more of a pressure cooker. It can be an economy boomer when everything is firing on all cylinders, but when it’s not, the decision makers involved are hellbent on finding the right pieces before their program gets left in the dust.

Sometimes that can lead to a quick trigger.

Matt Luke had just one season as the head coach at Ole Miss where the program wasn’t held back by recruiting sanctions or postseason bans. For Keith Carter, that one season wasn’t enough to commit to the third-year head coach any further. The new Ole Miss Athletic Director making the move on Sunday night to oust Luke.

It was a move that caught everyone off-guard, none obviously more so than Luke who had spent the day recruiting for the Rebels before he got the news. After all, it was only a week ago that Carter, after getting the interim tag removed from his title, gave Luke a full vote of confidence. But an Egg Bowl loss later and all of the sudden the Rebels are without a head coach right before a crucial early signing period on December 18 and now have a minor player mutiny on their hands.

After the move became public, Carter held a meeting with the players and to say that it did not go well would be an understatement. Multiple players stormed out of the meeting early, some even claiming that they are thinking about leaving the program. Freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee met with the media afterwards and his demeanor was that of someone who was just told that baby Yoda killed his dog (Everyone watch The Mandalorian).

If you spent an ounce of time around the Ole Miss program over the last three years of Luke’s reign, the first thing you’d know is that the relationship between Luke and his players was a genuine one. A Mississippi native who played for the Rebels from 1995-98, Luke was one on of Hugh Freeze’s best recruiters because of his ability to sell in-state talent on coming to Oxford and what it meant to be a Rebel.

In essence, Luke was one of them.

It’s because of that background that he was the easy choice to take over amid the Freeze fiasco to both stabilize and galvanize a team that flew too close to the sun and got burnt by the NCAA.

But while that “one of us” mantra gets you through the door, it’s the wins that keep you in the building.

Just ask, ironically enough, former Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron. He landed his current job at LSU eerily similar to Luke at Ole Miss -- minus the sanctions. Yeah, things seem to be working out just fine now, but even the Louisiana-native Orgeron had dodge the torches and pitchforks from the LSU faithful following a pair of early season losses to Mississippi State and Troy.

Bottom line, the wins never really came for Luke with Ole Miss going from 6-6 in 2017, 5-7 in 2018 and now 4-8 this past season. The Rebels in that span never once got above sixth place in the SEC West and lost their last two Egg Bowls. As far as recruiting, Luke never put together a class that ranked higher than ninth in the SEC since 2017 according to 247sports.com -- but, to be fair, some of that falls on the sanctions.

Those results simply do not instill confidence going forward, especially for a new athletic director who got his job after a kind of controversial search.

There will never be a true opportune time to part ways with a coach, but Carter felt like the best time was now and past results kind of back him up on that. Having been living under the dark cloud left by Freeze for the last few years, football at Ole Miss can finally start with a clean slate and that has to be exciting, with a pinch of scary.

The shame of it all, as is the case with every coaching change, is that someone with a family lost a job and I think that aspect gets lost a lot of times in this nature documentary. But in the case of Luke, he was told to get out by the place that made him. I can’t imagine that feeling. This was his dream job.

Unfortunately, not all dreams have a happy ending.

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