Matt Luke didn’t have much time to prepare. Hugh Freeze resigned as Ole Miss coach shortly before the 2017 season, and Luke became the interim coach, earning the opportunity to lead a program for the first time in his coaching career.
Luke wanted to get advice from other coaches who had been in similar positions.
In a Q&A with The Athletic published on Tuesday, Luke revealed that he received advice from Dabo Swinney, who was the interim coach at Clemson in 2008 before landing the full-time job there that he still holds today.
“Dabo had some good advice for me. It was a long time ago, so I don’t remember verbatim, but it was basically to make sure the players have ownership of the team, and make sure you change it from the inside out,” Luke told The Athletic. “You can’t worry about outside influences. We talked about unity councils, which is something we already did, but we agreed on having representation on the team.”
Even though Luke didn’t have an previous head-coaching experience, he felt he had an opportunity to land the job with the Rebels after Freeze’s resignation.
“The way I looked at it, I had a better shot than anybody else, because I had a six-month interview,” Luke told The Athletic. “Everybody else was going to have a couple days. You get to spend a lot of time with the athletic director. He gets to see you operate in good times and bad times. You could tell a lot about your team and people when they go through tough times.”
Despite an NCAA investigation and a bowl ban, Luke led Ole Miss to a 6-6 mark in 2017, which included a victory over Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving.
Luke may not have had much head-coaching experience, but he certainly had ties to the program. He was a center at Ole Miss from 1995-98, began his coaching career as a graduate assistant there in 1999 and served as an assistant for the Rebels from 2002-05 and 2012-16.
And that’s what Luke stressed when he interviewed for the full-time position after the season.
“The biggest thing I wanted to get across to our athletic director and the Ole Miss people was that I am an Ole Miss guy,” Luke told The Athletic. “I played here, my dad played here, my brother played here, my mom and sister went here, but that’s not the reason you should hire me. Hire me because I’m the right guy. Hire me because of my experience in the SEC and ACC and the great coaches I’ve worked under, and the fact I’ve been preparing for this job my whole life. The fact that I’d been at Ole Miss and know what works here. That was the biggest thing I wanted to get across.”