Open letters are stupid, so this isn’t an open letter. But if I were to have a moment to talk to anyone in the Ole Miss athletic administration, this is what I’d say.
This also isn’t, in any way, about Matt Luke. If Ole Miss called me tomorrow and offered me $3 million to coach there, I’d do it too. And Luke may turn out to be a great coach. But his predecessor and his bosses have set him up to fail. A good man’s career is going to take a serious hit because a sleazy dude who tried to (and did) convince us he was a good man tanked the program before he was fired in disgrace, and that bothers me.
But, here’s the thing. Ole Miss football used to be fun for me. I’m not a championship or bust kind of guy – that’s unrealistic for a school like Ole Miss right now. But the whole experience of getting up, heading to Oxford with my dad, taking in the Grove and catching up with old friends, and going to the game has always been a special thing to me.
But what’s the point now? In the last 2 seasons, Ole Miss has lost 128-10 to Alabama. And yeah, Alabama’s good. But they’re not untouchable (I’M DISRESPECTING THE TIDE, PAWL). But it’s not so much losing to them as to what led to losing them.
Our administration fought tooth and nail to keep a guy that was clearly destroying our program. I tried to block it out too, but eventually, it became obvious. Miss after miss after miss in recruiting mounted. That guy kept getting more and more paranoid. And eventually his phone records and habits came out. But here’s the thing – had his phone records not come out, 66-3 still happens. 62-7 still happens. And honestly, coach Luke did a better job in 2016 than his predecessor would have, because – even though I don’t know this for sure – it looked like his predecessor had completely lost the team.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, his predecessor is currently engaged in a massive campaign to rehabilitate his image without taking responsibility for pretty much anything. He doesn’t have a job right now because, in his mind, the culture on our college campuses is too politically correct because of all the sexual assault stuff. Seriously. He said that. Nevermind the fact he’s still arguing with Mississippi State fans on Twitter. And the sports media is fawning over the whole “Alabama is 33-3 in their last 36 SEC games, and 2 of those are to Ole Miss” narrative while campaigning for him to get a job. He gets all the credit for those Alabama wins – which admittedly were an absolute blast – but Memphis never gets mentioned. Nor Florida. Nor Arkansas (multiple times). Nor Vanderbilt. Nor a couple of borderline Mississippi State teams. Nor TCU.
And, to be honest, he didn’t even cheat well. The most the NCAA got on him was a $10k payment to a kid who didn’t even go to Ole Miss. The NCAA didn’t even take it all that seriously – he got a 2 game suspension that he’ll end up not serving. So, for all the cheating he supposedly did, he lost out on TONS of talent on signing day.
But this isn’t just about him. The talent on the field is still mostly his responsibility right now. Most of the coaching staff is also his.
And so, for some reason, the higher ups at Ole Miss took a look at everything happening in the program and thought, “you know, we really need to keep that going.” And so they did. And then we did keep it going. So good job there, guys.
It wouldn’t be in any way prudent or fair for me to criticize coaching decisions. I spent all of one season in seventh grade playing football, and half of that season I was on the bench. I’ll just say that it’s bad when I have that little experience in playing and can look at a defense lined up pre-snap, pick the player who’s going to screw it up based on where he’s lined up, and then watch him do it. That may not be on coaching. Look, if I were tasked with guarding Lebron James, I could be in perfect position every play and still give up 38, 11, and 10. But just by virtue of being in position, something weird would happen and I’d be able to walk away from the game saying “yeah, we lost, but I got a steal on Lebron!” If I weren’t in position, though, I’d give up 70. Or, we’ll just stick with 66 and 62. Whether it’s coaching or talent I don’t know, but I do know that this is only the third time in the history of the SEC that a team scored 49 in a half. So, go Rebels.
This is deeper than coaching, though. I think this is a fair question to ask – what hope do we have? Point me to something tangible that says “Yes, we see this massive gap between us and the rest of the SEC and here’s what we’re doing to fix it.” But I don’t think those guys have that plan. Remember, this is the same administration that decided to brand THE ENTIRE ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT after a defense that has given up 21+ points in the last 22 games, and 28 in the last 15 SEC games. The same administration that thought that putting the chancellor, the athletics director, and the previous head coach in front of a camera to defend said head coach in what can only be compared to a hostage video was a good idea.
Maybe these folks aren’t particularly good at their jobs.
But here’s what the whole thing boils down to – I love Oxford, and I love Ole Miss. I want my son to love Ole Miss. But loving Ole Miss is not cheap – loving any school, at this point, isn’t cheap. And I’m just a regular dude who isn’t really in a position to donate money to the school in any meaningful way. But eventually, and I think we’ll see this Saturday against Kent State, fans are going to really start showing their distrust for our leadership. Jeffrey Vitter is in over his head, and has been since the start. I like Ross Bjork personally, so I’m inclined to think he’s never been allowed to really do his job due to typical Ole Miss politics.
Even as more of a basketball fan than a football fan (and to his credit, Ross knocked it out of the park with Kermit Davis), I understand that the football program at an SEC school is the face you put forth for the world to see. That face has a very, very big black eye right now. It needs to be fixed, and we need someone or something we can look at as some sort of a symbol of hope.
A lot of programs have this mentality that they should be good because they used to be good. We see it every year – are the Irish FINALLY back? Are the Horns back? TALK ABOUT THE ‘NOLES, BABAAAAY! Tennessee. LSU. But those programs are all ignoring something bigger – there’s a culture that needs to be changed. Alabama realized it in the Shula era. Texas A&M, even as little as I believe in Jimbo, went out and got their guy. And as much as it pains me to admit this, Mississippi State may be the model we need to follow. They went out and got someone that could build a steady foundation and build on it.
Ole Miss apparently has this mentality that we should be good because…we were good in the ’60s?
And one other thing – people obsessed, during our last coaching search, over the right “fit” for Ole Miss. That’s code for “we don’t actually care about winning.” Saban wasn’t a fit at Alabama 10 years ago. Tommy Tuberville wasn’t a fit in Oxford, yet his greatest contribution to the program was getting that dadgum flag out of the stadium. Houston Nutt and Matt Luke’s predecessor, on the other hand, fit the Ole Miss culture. So maybe, if a coach doesn’t fit a culture, it’s not the coach’s problem.
Something’s gotta change. Apathy is setting in, and apathy is a hard thing to bring people back from.