Matt Luke

Ole Miss fired head football coach Matt Luke on Sunday. “Entering the Egg Bowl we were optimistic that a strong finish to the season could build momentum. However, after stepping away from the emotion of Thursday and evaluating the team as a whole, it was evident that the apathy surrounding the program was too much to overcome,” athletic director Keith Carter said during a Monday press conference.

Over the weekend, Ole Miss and Mississippi State made big coaching moves, one likely the right, but tough, decision to make a change from Mr. Rebel Matt Luke. The other totally whiffed.

Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State should be the first of the two coaches looking for a new job.

Moorhead’s team played relatively uninspired football most of the season and got outcoached in several losses.

Many fans hoped the Egg Bowl might be Moorhead’s last game after two years, but after a second consecutive Egg Bowl win, athletic director John Cohen met with Moorhead for more than four hours and is intent on keeping the coach he hired to replace Dan Mullen after he left for Florida.

It’s a decision that hasn’t played well with most fans. I guess Moorhead’s 14-11 overall record during his time in Starkville and his 2-0 record vs. Ole Miss is just enough to keep his job. Maybe state championships really are the most important thing at MSU.

Unlike Luke, though, Moorhead was handed the keys to a remarkably experienced offense and a defense that panned out to be arguably the best during the 2018 season. But Mississippi State struggled and finished with a disappointing 8-5 record in a year that was supposed to be something special.

In 2019, it was obvious the Bulldogs would regress, but MSU struggled all season. The Bulldogs lost to Kansas State after leading 24-17 in the fourth quarter. After beating Kentucky, Moorhead’s team rattled off four straight losses, including a 10-point loss to Tennessee. The Bulldogs were blown out by Auburn, LSU, Texas A&M and Alabama in games that could have been considerably more lopsided than what they were.

Mississippi State needed wins against Arkansas (which finished the season at 2-10), Abilene Christian (from the FCS) and then Ole Miss to make it to a bowl game.

If it weren’t for a silly, dumb “dog pee” celebration, Mississippi State may not have even won the Egg Bowl. But Moorhead appears to be getting a third year.

Keeping Moorhead around another year will set the Bulldogs back a whole year, one behind Ole Miss, to finding a decent long-term solution at coach. Cohen made the mistake of hiring Moorhead, who clearly looks lost in the SEC.

He inherited a good program, underachieved in 2018, and then bottomed out this season. This situation will never be resolved until Cohen admits he made a big mistake and then has what it takes to make a tough decision for the betterment of a program that Mullen spent 10 years building. I say Moorhead will erase all of that with one more year as coach.

I hope I am wrong, but I’ve been in this corner, the anti-Moorhead corner, for more than a year and a half. I think I am right and Cohen wrong, but we will see how it plays out.

College football is a results-oriented business, and while I feel like Luke deserved another year after taking over a complete mess, Ole Miss likely made the right call.

After a 2017 season in which he led the Rebels, as interim head coach, to a 6-6 (3-5 SEC) finish, his teams have gotten progressively worse. Ole Miss, inexplicably, was 5-7 (1-7) last year, despite a roster that featured a wealth of NFL talent on offense, namely A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Dawson Knox.

In three seasons, Luke is 15-21 overall and 6-17 in SEC games. He’s 2-9 the last two years against the SEC West. Both of his wins came against hapless Arkansas, and one was the direct result of the Razorbacks losing their starting quarterback to injury. Assuming Ole Miss played in four 50/50 games (which might be generous) in 2019, Luke was 0-4.

For the sake of argument, Ed Orgeron, now leading championship contender LSU, was 10-25 in his three-year Ole Miss tenure.

New athletic director Keith Carter, whether he really wanted to or not, was forced to make a move. It’s been an unpopular one, too, with the players.

A number of reports surfaced Monday, a day after the news about Luke, that players weren’t happy that Luke was fired Sunday night. According to several reports, a number of Rebels “stormed out” of the meeting in which Carter delivered the news to the team.

Some were seniors, but others were reportedly players with eligibility remaining, including running back Jerrion Ealy and defensive end Tariqious Tisdale.

After the meeting, junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt said that “half the team” is talking about leaving, adding that if the entire coaching staff is dismissed he doesn’t think many players will stay with the program.

Lot a love in that locker room for Matt. I wonder what the reaction might have been from MSU players if Cohen had made the right move.

Carter, in his first major personnel move since having his own interim tag removed 11 days ago, on Monday promised a quick and efficient search for the school’s next football coach. In the end it wasn’t “Pee Gate” or his record on the field that was the undoing for the former player and longtime assistant coach.

It wasn’t that people were for or against him. It was worse.

Carter said some Ole Miss fans were becoming indifferent.

That understanding led Carter to make a complete 180-degree turn from the incredibly strong vote of confidence he’d given to Luke when Carter was named permanent AD on Nov. 22.

The players will soon get over their disappointment and move forward with a new coach.

Cohen obviously believes in his hire enough to stick with Moorhead, even though I feel like fan apathy is certainly a problem in Starkville also.

I think he will get the picture from fans next year when season ticket sales crank up.

Contact Bill Burrus at 581-7237 or on Twitter:@Bill_Burrus.

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