Hugh Freeze is out as Ole Miss’ head football coach, with multiple outlets reporting the university found at least one call to an escort service on his university phone.
His interim replacement, the school announced Thursday evening, is offensive line coach Matt Luke, who takes the job just a month and a half before Ole Miss’ first game.
Luke, an Ole Miss alum who hails from Gulfport, Mississippi, is entering his sixth season as the Rebels’ offensive line coach.
In all, it’s his 10th year on the Rebels’ staff. He’d been serving as co-offensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the team’s offensive line. Luke was a four-year letterman on the line from 1995 to 1998. He worked as a student assistant for the Rebels after that, and he returned to coach their tight ends after a spell coaching offensive linemen at Murray State.
Luke entertained an offer from South Carolina to take its vacant offensive line coaching position in the offseason, multiple sources told SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey.
Ole Miss retained Luke with an aggressive offer, specifically as a fallback interim coach if Freeze didn't survive an ongoing NCAA scandal, those sources said.
Freeze’s predecessor at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt, recently filed a complaint against the school’s athletic department in a U.S. district court in Mississippi. Nutt’s lawyer turned over information about the call to Ole Miss, Yahoo’s Pat Forde reported on Thursday.
Nutt alleges Ole Miss manipulated members of the media into pinning a series of NCAA violations on his administration. As it’s turned out, most of the NCAA’s allegations against Ole Miss fall under Freeze’s watch.
Luke is stepping into a challenging situation in Oxford.
July is an extraordinarily late time to step into a head coaching role. The Rebels’ 2017 opener is Sept. 2 against South Alabama. Luke has familiarity with what Ole Miss does from his years coaching in the program, but the timeline here is nonetheless short.
No matter what Luke does in his first year at Ole Miss, he won’t reach the postseason. Ole Miss self-imposed a bowl ban in February, after it made public a batch of NCAA violations in addition to ones that had come to light in May 2016. Self-imposed sanctions like bowl bans are a common tactic for schools who want NCAA mercy.
Sources told SB Nation’s Godfrey that there are no new developments into the NCAA’s investigation, which is now about a half-decade old.
Until his resignation, Ole Miss appeared prepared to back Freeze against a torrent of NCAA charges. Firing him over its NCAA troubles would’ve been a risky play for the school.
Freeze’s departure doesn’t mean Ole Miss isn’t facing more NCAA problems. The school has yet to go before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions, and the NCAA has yet to render a formal punishment for anything it believes the football program did. Luke inherits this dark cloud from his former boss.
Ole Miss’ 2017 team might not be bad.
Freeze’s departure could lead to transfers, so nothing’s for sure, but Ole Miss still has former five-star quarterback Shea Patterson and a host of potent skill players on offense. An SEC schedule is hard, and Ole Miss missed a bowl game last year. But the Rebels still have more high-end offensive talent than most of the country.
There’s still talent on the defense, too, from when Freeze went on a brilliant recruiting run that’s now been called into question. If Ole Miss won some games this year, nobody would be surprised.
But on the whole, the program has miles to go to dig out of its current hole.
Luke is the man charged with grabbing the shovel.