Keith Carter has made some great decisions as Athletic Director, and Ole Miss has a new excitement. Lane Kiffin is officially a Rebel.

Welcome, Lane Kiffin

The coach has journeyed from coast to coast, racking up wins and experience under some of the sport’s finest minds to salvage an Ole Miss program on the verge of total and near-irreversible fan disconnection if change hadn’t come. When Matt Luke got fired, the Ole Miss family held their collective breath. Nobody was expecting Lane Kiffin, and with so little time before Early Signing Day, the apprehension was palpable.

When Ole Miss announced the hiring of Lane Kiffin, you could feel the collective sigh of relief for miles around.

Thank you, Matt Luke

With the benefit of hindsight and with this ship sailing in the right direction with good leadership steering it, it’s time to thank Matt Luke for what he did for Ole Miss.

I won’t lie. I was one of Luke’s biggest critics. I’ll stand by most of the criticism, such as his questionably conservative play calling, clock management blunders – the list goes on. None of it matters now, nor should it going forward. Regardless of how he ended up as a head coach, those mistakes were present in all three years Luke led the team. In a results-driven business, those decisions and a lack of results get you fired.

What we need to thank Matt Luke for is keeping a program alive in the face of what could – and maybe should – have been total collapse.

Where we’ve Come From

In the wake of Hugh Freeze’s stupidity off-the-field, Matt Luke inherited a talent-loaded, but listless program. But talent without direction can only get you so far. In the face of an bowl-less future  and a roster to be hurt by scholarship reduction, transfers, and decommitments, Luke needed to find a way to get, keep, and motivate players.

And by God, he did it.

Matt Luke brought a team of young men together to get them to play out of love for each other, for their school, and for their own pride. Go back and watch “The Season” with Matt Luke at the helm. Tell me you wouldn’t run through a brick wall for that man. Matt Luke found as close a connection to his players as I could ever imagine a coach having. What more evidence do you need than the emotions shown by players in the immediate wake of his firing? Players threatened to transfer and told the media that firing Luke was a bad idea. That raw emotion shows how much Luke meant to those young men. It shows how valuable he should also be to Ole Miss fans.

Keeping it Together

Had someone else taken over the helm instead of Luke, someone whose family hadn’t gone or played here, someone with just a bit less love for Ole Miss than Matt Luke had, this program could have collapsed before Luke’s interim season was over. If Luke couldn’t motivate players to stay, and had players left en masse rather than a few here or there, this program would have spent three years in a row looking like Arkansas did this season. Were they a pretty three years? No. Were they what anyone wanted? No. Could they have been a lot worse? Undoubtedly.

Matt Luke played the hand he was dealt, and kept the program from collapsing into Freeze Crater. He deserves a place of honor in the annals of Ole Miss history. Luke is one of a select few who can correctly say they’ve given almost their whole life to this university. Moreover, he stepped up to be “The Guy” when few others could or wanted to. As much as I criticized his on-field performance, there’s no denying that his off-the-field actions are the reason Lane Kiffin came to The Grove.

Thank You

Everyone should wish that Matt Luke’s departure came under better circumstances – he deserved better. But we can still ensure that his legacy is dictated not by what happened on the field, but what he did outside the lines to hold Ole Miss together.

Thank you, Coach Luke.