OXFORD – Matt Luke will not return as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, the school announced Sunday night.
Little more than a week ago change seemed unlikely as Luke, a popular former player and assistant coach, received a strong vote of confidence from new athletics director Keith Carter.
A players’ meeting was held Sunday night at The Manning Center.
Changes began to swirl late Saturday with new chancellor Glenn Boyce unhappy with the handling of football player Elijah Moore, sources said, after Moore’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty played a big part in the Rebels’ 21-20 loss at rival Mississippi State.
Moore scored a potentially game-winning touchdown with 4 seconds left. He promptly ran to the corner of an end zone and lifted a lock to mimic a dog urinating.
Moore was then allowed to reenter the game as part of the kickoff team.
Ole Miss will owe Luke, offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez and defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre roughly $15 million in buyout money.
On Nov. 22, Luke seemed to have the full backing of Carter.
“I think our football program is headed in a great direction. I’m so excited about coach Luke. He’s our coach, and we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity we have next week in Starkville. We’re excited about where recruiting is and excited about where the future is headed. We’re going to get behind coach Luke, and we’re going to try to get after the Bulldogs next week and get to that fifth win,” said Carter minutes after Boyce introduced him as the permanent AD.
Carter did not return text messages seeking comment earlier Sunday. His comments were very different when the school emailed their official news release shortly after 8 p.m. on Sunday.
“After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level,” Carter said in the release. “While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.”
Carter will address media in a press conference Monday morning at 11.
“A search is underway to find a new head coach who can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality. We will be looking for the leadership, energy and commitment to excellence necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference and galvanize our passionate fan base.”
Luke was rushed into the head coach position as interim in 2017 when former coach Hugh Freeze was fired for inappropriate personal conduct.
Luke’s first team, though not bowl-eligible, went 6-6 and ended the season with an upset victory at No. 14 MSU on the field where he just coached his last game.
Luke ends a three-year run with a 15-21 overall record, 6-18 in the SEC and just 3-15 in SEC West games with two wins against struggling Arkansas.
Luke also carried the burden of NCAA sanctions from the investigation that lasted through the Freeze tenure.
Only this season did the Rebels climb back to their full allotment of scholarships, a number that will be challenged with a number of players expected to enter the NCAA transfer portal.
Luke was praised as a strong recruiter when the interim tag was removed in 2017, and his 2019 signing class included five-star running back Jerrion Ealy, quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and running back Jarod “Snoop” Conner who helped the Rebels climb to No. 2 in rushing in the latest release of SEC statistics.
MacIntyre helped the defense make big gains in slowing down the run though the last two running backs the Rebels faced surpassed 100 yards, and pass defense was a problem most of the season.
The end result was a 4-8 record, 2-6 in the SEC.
The current class of 2020 commits is ranked No. 23 nationally, No. 10 in the SEC.
The NCAA’s early signing date is Dec. 18.