Interim coach and Gulfport native Matt Luke hasn’t been removed from consideration for the full-time gig, but it’s likely Ole Miss will look elsewhere to find Hugh Freeze’s replacement. Longtime Associated Press reporter David Brandt recently discussed with the Sun Herald where the Rebels might go this offseason. What follows are excepts from that conversation:
Q: How do you view Ole Miss? Can they go out and get the next “hot” up-and-coming head coach?
A: A big part of it still depends on the NCAA situation. If there’s a second bowl ban, and depending on how bad the scholarship losses are, that will play into it a little bit.
I think, generally speaking, as I have told people before: It’s a really good job, it’s also a very tough job. Ole Miss can pay. They don’t have to pay Hugh Freeze a buyout so they can pay money to whoever they want to get. They have really good facilities and they’re getting better. They’re pretty close to a metro area in Memphis and I think there’s a recruiting base.
Hugh Freeze, for all of his issues, did show Ole Miss can be relevant on the national state and compete. I think there’s a lot of really interesting things about that job that will attract a lot of good coaches. The hard thing is it’s in the SEC West; everybody’s trying over there. As long as (Nick) Saban’s at Alabama, it’s going to be really hard to win that division. I think it’s a very, very good job, but it’s a tough job.
Q: If Ole Miss avoids the “death penalty” from the NCAA, who should they attract and who can they attract?
A: Dream list guys you would be after if you really thought you could pull them would be (Virginia Tech’s) Justin Fuente, although I can’t see that happening. I’ve heard (Washington State’s) Mike Leach thrown out there some — sitting head coaches who have had a lot of success. You have heard names like (UTSA coach) Frank Wilson.
All of this doesn’t happen in a vacuum, which is the problem for Ole Miss. There are going to be a lot of jobs open. And even though Ole Miss is a very good job, I think most objective observers would say Florida is a better job; Tennessee is probably a better job. There are a lot of potential jobs that are better.
Maybe at that point you go down to the next level, and what I mean by that is a less proven group of coaches. Whether that’s a Mike Norvell at Memphis, I’m sure there are some people after him, or Wilson at UTSA, or if they want to do something slightly outside of the box like (former Southern Miss coach and current offensive Tampa Bay Buccaneers coordinator) Todd Monken.
Todd Monken knows about turning around dumpster fires. The thing is he’s in the NFL now so I don’t know if that would work. Neal Brown at Troy is another one. I would think (Arkansas State coach) Blake Anderson would be on the list. It’s not Blake Anderson’s fault, but going to get the Arkansas State coach again, I don’t think that would be overly popular. It’s going to be fascinating to see how much autonomy (Ole Miss athletic director) Ross Bjork has.
Q: If you’re building the perfect candidate — John Doe football coach — what are you going after? What’s realistic for them?
A: I think they would like a sitting head coach. You want the best guy longterm to build your program, period. But I think the way the roster is built right now it might be helpful to hire an offensive guy, because you still should have (quarterback) Shea (Patterson) and the receivers and the line for at least one more year and possibly two so you can have some success in the interim while you’re building the roster and the defense again. Somebody like a Mike Norvell makes a lot of sense — offensive-minded with not a lot of baggage. People throw out names like Lane Kiffin and even Mike Leach with the Texas Tech stuff.
I think Ole Miss would really like to — with the off-the-field stuff — fly under the radar for a few years. They have had enough. If you’re Ross, you’re casting a wide net. You’re seeing who’s interested because you never know unless you ask. For instance, I don’t think (TCU coach) Gary Patterson would be interested, but you don’t know unless you ask. Someone like Justin Fuente is probably the same way, too. The worst thing is their agent is like ‘I don’t think so’ and you move on. If you’re Ross Bjork you’re not doing your due diligence unless you cast a wide net.
Q: What does the coaching search landscape even look like in the SEC?
A: It may not happen but you could be looking at Florida, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Texas A&M, (Mississippi) State could be open and I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Missouri is open. Other than Alabama and Georgia, the only programs in the entire conference that are really happy about where they’re at are Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Brandt covered Ole Miss for three years before taking over Mississippi’s responsibilities for the AP seven years ago. He can be followed on Twitter at @DavidBrandtAP.