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Tipsheet: Ole Miss firing complicates Mizzou's coaching search

Tipsheet: Ole Miss firing complicates Mizzou's coaching search

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Well, now, this will be an interesting week for SEC football. Missouri, Arkansas and Ole Miss are hiring new football coaches at the same time.

Meanwhile Florida State has some of the same targets on its "Plan B" list while USC will chase the very top coaching candidates after whacking Clay Helton.

Some Razorback faithful were hoping Gus Malzahn would spring free from Auburn, but the Tigers nixed that idea with their epic upset of Alabama in the Iron Bowl.

After Mizzou AD Jim Sterk clipped coach Barry Odom, Ole Miss opted to offload Matt Luke (15-21 in three seasons) and get in on the hiring frenzy. That could drive up the price on key candidates.

Just a week before Ole Miss AD Keith Carter gave Luke a strong vote of confidence before the Rebels fell to Mississippi State 21-20 in their big rivalry game. "I think our football program is headed in a great direction," Carter told the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. "I’m so excited about Coach Luke. He's our coach."

Never mind! Life on the bottom half of America's elite college football conference is treacherous.

Ole Miss lost the Egg Bowl after receiver Elijah Moore earned an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after scoring a last-second touchdown. His dog-urinating-in-the-end-zone imitation drew the flag.

So the extra point to force overtime moved back to 35 yards, resulting in a game-ending miss.

To some degree, these three SEC schools are fighting over the same guys. Arkansas might be the best job of the three, given the potential financial muscle of that school's boosters.

On the other hand, the Razorbacks play in the SEC West and are subjected to a savage conference slate every season.

Ole Miss would be well behind Mizzou but for its proven ability to cheat on a grand scale. But if it can't get back on that track — and get away with it this time — then competing on that side of the league will be virtually impossible.

Mizzou needs some work, given the latest setback with absurd NCAA sanctions, but most coaches would see an opportunity to succeed here. The facility upgrade is a nice selling point.

And let's not forget that Odom did a nice job moving the program past the Great Hunger Strike of 2015 and building some recruiting inroads into the STL. Now Sterk needs to find a coach capable of building and maintaining a strong culture, a challenge that proved too great for Odom.

Lane Kiffin is the boom-or-bust candidate. He would be entertaining, although not as entertaining as comedian Daniel Tosh's brutal parody of Kiffin and his then-wife back in the day.

Kiffin could hit big after enjoying some success at Florida Atlantic. Or he could be an utter catastrophe, ala Quin Snyder.

Iowa State coach Matt Campbell is a great candidate. He could coach the Cyclones forever, though, so he needs to think twice before stepping into the savage SEC West no matter how much Arkansas offers.

Campbell would have a better shot at winning in Boone County, but it's hard to imagine boosters finding enough money to make that happen.

Tipsheet's advice to Campbell: Hang tight until the can't-miss opportunity emerges. The money will always be there for you.

Mike Norvell? Maybe Mizzou and Memphis could just trade coaches, with Norvell coming this way and Odom heading back to where his work as defensive coordinator is remembered fondly.

But it appears Florida State, Arkansas and Ole Miss are all sniffing the Norvell trail, so Sterk may zero in on one of the other top mid-major coaches on his short list.

Pat Forde, "Last year at this time, the famously impatient and demanding Southeastern Conference did an amazing thing — it fired none of its coaches. All 14 who led programs in 2018 led the same programs in 2019. This year the league is working hard to make up for that benevolent lapse. Three coaches have been fired, two of them by their alma maters. Three others have survived despite vocal fan criticism. And there almost certainly will be coordinator bloodletting in multiple locales. The most surprising SEC firing was the most recent: Mississippi canned Rebel alum Matt Luke Sunday. It wasn’t a surprise because Luke was some sort of accomplished coach; his record declined from 6–6 to 5–7 to 4–8 in three seasons, and he was just 6–18 in the SEC. The surprise generated from the cost of what it would take to buy out Luke and his staff, which included long-term contracts for coordinators Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre. That buyout number has been reported at anywhere from $12 million to $17 million—a massive amount for a school like Ole Miss. Yet the Rebels are ready to pay it, perhaps because of alarm about the number of players said to be ready to transfer out of the program — or perhaps because of competition within the league for a targeted next coach."

Adam Rittenberg, "Ole Miss hopes to restore the winning and recruiting success it enjoyed under Hugh Freeze without the looming shadow of potential NCAA violations. It will be interesting to see how coaches and their agents view this job. Freeze, Houston Nutt, David Cutcliffe, Tommy Tuberville and Billy Brewer all recorded at least two seasons of eight or more wins at Ole Miss, but none consistently contended for SEC titles. Although Luke had great institutional knowledge of Ole Miss, he lacked head-coaching experience and likely would not have been a candidate anywhere else. Ole Miss likely will target sitting head coaches who can recruit the area (both high schools and junior colleges) and compete against programs with greater resources in college football's toughest division. Although Luke brought in two coordinators with Power 5 head-coaching experience this season in Rich Rodriguez and Mike MacIntyre, we don't expect Ole Miss to look internally."

Pete Fiutak, College Football News: "Ole Miss was a disaster, Hugh Freeze was pushed out, the program was hit by NCAA sanctions, and he still managed to at least put out an interesting team. His 2017 team beat Mississippi State and got to six wins, even though it couldn’t go bowling. But the 2018 Rebels lost their last five games, and this year’s version lost five of its last six games. The Elijah Moore antics in what was this close to being a triumphant moment for the Rebels was likely the final nail in the coffin. The offense was fantastic, though — even if it was the simplistic-but-deadly Rich Rodriguez ground game that made it happen — and the team was competitive. Ole Miss gave LSU a problem, it lost to Auburn by six, dropped the Texas A&M game by a touchdown, and there was the late meltdown at Mississippi State. For a program that’s undergoing an overhaul and rebuilding job, losing five games by eight points or fewer isn’t all that awful. So who’s going to want this gig? Who’s going to want to deal with life in the SEC West year-in-and-year-out? Remember, the entire Freeze era didn’t bring any SEC titles."

Dennis Dodd, "Norvell seemingly now has his choice of jobs: Florida State, Arkansas and Missouri. FSU is the best job with a championship pedigree. Arkansas and Missouri are SEC bottom feeders at the moment. Is there a hotter coach right now? Memphis is 11-1 hosting Cincinnati in the AAC Championship Game . . . Considering the West Coast-leaning Sterk, (Bryan) Harsin could be a surprise candidate. He has steadfastly stuck at Boise State, leading it to similar heights as Chris Petersen. The Broncos will play for another Mountain West title this week and a possible Cotton Bowl berth. Harsin would be a huge get for Mizzou."


"There's no program without players. You're basing stuff off the fans. But we don't care about the fans that much. I'm going to be honest. We're here for the coach. We love football. If you don't want to support us, that's just your fault."

Ole Miss offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt, to the Clarion-Ledger, expressing dismay over Luke's dismissal.

Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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