Monday, March 1, 2021

Matt Luke Looks To Keep Emotions In Check During Head Coaching Debut

Ole Miss Head Coach Matt Luke. Photo by Steven Gagliano 

For the first time in his career, Matt Luke will lead the Rebels out of the tunnel as the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday when the Rebels take on the South Alabama Jaguars. Luke took the reins after Hugh Freeze’s resignation, and in his first press conference, Luke embraced his roots as a Rebel when speaking about what this opportunity means to him and his family.
“I’ve been an Ole Miss Rebel all my life. It’s all I can remember,” Luke said. “From seeing my dad’s 35 helmet hanging in my den, pictures of his playing days hanging in my room; making the five-hour drive from Gulfport to Oxford to watch my brother, Tom, play; wearing the #17 jersey in The Grove; playing touch football. I can’t believe that I’ve spent 14 years of my life as a player or coach here. I can truly tell y’all today that this is my dream job. It’s a job I’ve been preparing my whole life for. I feel more strongly now than ever that I’m the right man to run this program.”
Now that fall camp has concluded and game day is almost upon us, Luke discussed what he would be feeling on Saturday as the team takes the field. Luke has always been a passionate coach, but he is going to do his best to check his emotions at the door on game day. 
“It’s going to be emotional,” Luke said. “This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’m just excited about the opportunity, excited about walking through The Grove, and excited about locking the Vaught and representing my University and trying to put a team on the field that everybody’s proud of. I’m very, very excited. That’s going to be one of my biggest challenges this game is controlling my emotions. To be a very efficient and organized head coach and not let my emotions getting to me. But, I’m excited and prepared for it.”
Luke mentioned that he has continued to receive advice from former Rebel head coach David Cutcliffe and that he has always been a student of the coaches he’s worked under. While OC Phil Longo and DC Wesley McGriff will call the plays on Saturday, Luke discussed what his role will be as he works to become an “efficient and organized” head coach.
“You have to manage the clock; you have to manage timeouts, field goals and when to go for it,” Luke explained. “If I am going to go for it, I need to be able to let Phil Longo know that on second down if he’s got two downs. Just being able to manage the clock and be an efficient head coach and making good gameday decisions. I think you have to be in the game to do that, and I don’t think you can be all emotional and running around. I think I can be into the game and be a motivator, but I want to make sure I’m making good decisions, helping out the defense, helping out special teams—do we want to go for a block, or do we want to be punt safe? Just the little things that make you a very efficient and good head coach.”
As for the game itself, Luke spoke highly of South Alabama, who has shown the ability to compete with and beat SEC teams in the past, having beat Mississippi State last season. A quick and stout defense late in games, along with an experienced offense were Luke’s biggest concerns heading into the week.
“They didn’t give up any points in the second half,” Luke said. “Obviously, that was very impressive. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kane and the job he does on defense. No. 1, Jeremy Reaves, he’s their best player on defense. He’s a very good player and very talented. He can show up at corner and safety. Their leading tackler is back, Darrell Songy. They do a lot of movement, and they aren’t going to stay still. They’re going to move around and do a lot of blitzing. So we definitely have a challenge there. On offense, they have a really good running back and both of their quarterbacks coming back. It’s going to be a challenge on both sides of the ball.”
Kick-off for Saturday’s game is set for 6:30 p.m. central time at Vaught Hemingway Stadium.

Steven Gagliano is the managing editor of He can be reached at