OXFORD – For interim coach Matt Luke, “Remember November” turned out to be more than a battle cry for his Ole Miss football players.
It played a big role in getting him the permanent job.
“He built a lot of momentum in November. He was 3-1 and could have been 4-0,” vice chancellor for athletics Ross Bjork said Monday afternoon after Luke.
Luke, a 41-year-old Gulfport native from a family with deep Ole Miss roots, was named head coach late Sunday night. He was introduced at the school’s celebration press conference Monday.
Luke guided the Rebels to a 6-6 record with half his wins coming in the final four weeks and capped by a 31-28 road upset of then-No. 16 Mississippi State.
As interim coach, Luke was paid the $660,000 salary he was scheduled to make as offensive line coach for Hugh Freeze plus a $500,000 bonus.
After signing a four-year contract – the maximum allowed by Mississippi law – he’ll make $3,000,000 for 2018 with a $100,000 raise each year after for a total deal of $12.6 million.
Among others, incentives include $150,000 per SEC win – starting with the third win -- $150,000 for reaching the SEC championship game, $400,000 for winning it and $1,000,000 for winning the national championship.
Monday Luke felt like a man who could reach all his incentives.
He was teary-eyed at the beginning and end of roughly 4 minutes worth of comments to a capacity crowd of Ole Miss staff and supporters in the team meeting room of the football building. At times his voice cracked.
“Everybody knows that Ole Miss is my dream job. Everybody knows how much I love Ole Miss and how my family is entrenched at Ole Miss,” Luke said. “That’s not the reason I wanted to be hired here. I wanted to be hired here, because I’m the right man for the job.”
He said he did not offer the job to anyone else but had extensive conversations with eight other candidates.
The school still has not heard from the NCAA with a ruling on additional penalties and sanctions from its five-year investigation. That fact did not diminish interest in the job, Bjork said.
“People wanted this job. Of course they had questions. I was able to lay out our self-imposed penalties, compare that to the penalty matrix and say we imposed what we think are meaningful and impactful sanctions, but we don’t know what the outcome is. We don’t have the crystal ball, and we don’t know the timeline exactly. People still wanted this job regardless.”
Bjork also was prepared to have two contracts ready for different NCAA scenarios had he gone with a different candidate.
“That part did not impact us in the final analysis.”
What had the most impact was Luke’s November – from winning three out of four to interviewing well when he met with Bjork at noon on Friday after the Egg Bowl.
Bjork was further impressed when he presented Luke hypothetical situations, and Luke gave him a detailed answer in a second interview over the weekend.
Bjork said Luke presented the best plan for success moving forward.
“The easy decision would have been to hire someone new, bring in a splash hire, a big name,” Bjork said. “The hard decision was to drill down, assess our program and its needs, be strategic and hire the right coach.”
While numerous coaches from other Ole Miss sports attended the ceremonies assistant football coaches did not. They were on the road recruiting, where Luke said he would be soon.
National signing day is early this year, Dec. 20.
Luke concluded his address with praise for his home state.
“I’m born and raised in Mississippi. I’m proud to be a Mississippian. I’m proud to be born and raised in this state. I’m proud to be Mississippi made,” Luke said.