OXFORD • Ole Miss players are dealing with anger and confusion, athletics director Keith Carter acknowledged on Monday.
So he wasn’t surprised by some of the backlash he experienced when he led a players’ meeting Sunday night to let the Rebels know he’d fired their coach, Matt Luke.
Carter estimated that between eight and 10 players walked out of the meeting.
Luke was called off the road recruiting and told to return to Oxford. He was expected to meet with players later Tuesday.
“We want to do everything we can to support our players, and I know for them to understand why we’re doing this, It’s hard for them because they love their coach,” Carter said. “They love what they’re doing. They’ve played extremely hard this year. They’ve been competitive in so many games. For them, to have this happen, it’s hard. It’s a hard situation.”
Junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt told The Clarion-Ledger on Sunday night that “half the team” is talking about leaving.
On Monday, junior defensive end Ryder Anderson said that’s not how he sees things.
“I don’t think that’s true. I think a lot of people were definitely upset last night, but I mean, if anything, I feel like, just like coach Luke would want us to do, we’re going to band together and move forward from here.”
The meeting was difficult, but Anderson left it hopeful.
“It was a good meeting. Keith had a lot of good things to say from the point that he was just being very honest with us,” Anderson said.
Ole Miss concluded a 4-8 season Thursday with a 21-20 loss to rival Mississippi State. It was the Rebels’ fifth loss by eight points or less.
Several players who walked out have since contacted Carter, and follow-up meetings with some have been scheduled.
“I had several of those guys text me after the meeting, apologizing, saying that, ‘We lost control of our emotions. We shouldn’t have walked out.’ And I appreciated that. I responded to them saying, ‘Hey, I want to sit down with you, I want to talk to you.’
Carter was named interim athletics director when former Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork accepted the same job at Texas A&M.
Now 11 days into the permanent position, Carter is faced with balancing the emotions of players and finding the next coach to lead them.
“The most important thing right now is we want to make sure that emotionally they’re in a good place,” Carter said. “We want to show them ultimately that we’re going to bring a coach in that’s going to help them get over that hump, help them be successful.”