COLUMN: There was a smile almost a mile wide on Matt Luke’s face when he entered the team meeting room at Ole Miss Indoor Practice Facility Monday morning to meet with the media for the first time since he was hired to head coach Hugh Freeze’s staff. Sure, Christmas was less than a week away, but the former Ole Miss Rebel center was genuinely more excited about coming back home to tutor the team’s offensive linemen and help turn the program he played at back into a winner than anything else.
Luke, who was an assistant under former Ole Miss coaches David Cutcliffe and Ed Orgeron, said coming back to Oxford was a “no brainer” even though it was tough to leave his players at Duke.
“It’s great to be home. It’s awesome to be back. I don’t think very many people, first of all, would live the dream of playing at their alma mater and then come back to coach at their alma mater. It’s a dream come true. It was the right timing to come back home. I feel great about what Coach Freeze is doing. Talking with him, the family atmosphere and doing things the right way. I’m just really excited to be back home,” said Luke, who added his mother started crying when she learned he was coming back to coach at Ole Miss. “In my heart I always knew I wanted to be here. There are relationships that are built over time and I had a relationship with my players so that part wasn’t easy. My dad is obviously excited and my wife’s parents live here in Oxford and both of her brothers. That part was easy but the relationships that were built, that made it tough.”
Luke, whose brother Tom was a quarterback under former coach Billy Brewer, said he was still trying to figure out who was who on the offensive line and who could end up being one of the five best guys that start the season opener in 2012. Two linemen — Bobby Massie and A.J. Hawkins — are thinking about moving on to the NFL, which means an additional hit for the line’s experience. Luke said he was hoping those two stayed, if they wanted to be here, and start getting them in shape to start improving the line moving forward.
“I got to get the five best players on the field so I’m looking for guys that want to be here first and foremost. I’m looking for guys that want to play the game the way it needs to be played. I think (Massie and Hawkins) have the experience and those have played some. If those guys give us the best chance to win and they want to be here, I want them back,” Luke said. “It’s just a situation where I have to watch tape on the guys that were here and just see where we’re at. Right now we’re recruiting and that’s where our focus is now. In the dead period, I’ll have a chance to watch some of the games of where we are from a depth standpoint. We may have to move some guys around based on what I see and things like that.”
Wasting no time
Recruiting has been a big point of emphasis for the new staff. Not only does the roster need to be upgraded, but coaches like Luke are behind the curve as far as building relationships with players who could sign with Ole Miss this year. Luke has already started working on signing players and so far, he likes the response he has gotten from coaches and players in the state.
“Driving through Mississippi and recruiting a little bit on Thursday and Friday, it was really good because every school you go in you know somebody. I think we have a great, great reception. Everybody I’ve gone in and seen has been great,” Luke said. “They seem really fired up and I think they are starving for this state and Ole Miss to make a push. I think to have the head guy from Mississippi, an assistant coach at Mississippi being his dream job not wanting this to be a stepping stone but as the destination job, I think it’s good timing for that.”
The offense moving forward with Freeze is expected to be up tempo and one that should resemble basketball on grass. Luke hasn’t coached in a system like Freeze’s — his experience has been mostly in a pro style — but he added that he didn’t think it would be too hard to adjust to.
“One thing I have learned is that if kids think anything gives them an advantage, they’re going to buy into it. Playing fast will give them an advantage and if the kid knows that gives them an advantage to beat Mississippi State, LSU or Alabama, they’re going buy into it. We’re going to be in shape and we’re going to play fast,” Luke said. “I think we’ll be able to recruit to this system. I think our kids will be fired up in the brief conversations I’ve had with them that were still here and not gone home for Christmas and I’m excited about it.
“I think with us snapping the ball and playing fast, by the fourth quarter and we’re in shape like we need to be, that will be an advantage for us,” Luke added. “At the end of the drive, their pass rush won’t be as good as it was at the beginning of the drive and I think our kids will buy into that. That’s what we’re going to sell and I think recruits and our players will buy into it.” (December 21, 2011, Page 6)