Germany Law Firm - Mississippi Scoreboard

Along with the $6 million buyout that Ole Miss reportedly owes Matt Luke, the school should include one more item: A gold-plated hard hat.

         Few have worked harder for their alma mater than the  43-year-old Luke, who was fired Sunday after three seasons as head football coach.

         As a player in the mid-1990s, Luke walked on and became the starting center — one of the most important, yet unheralded, jobs on a football team. He will forever be known for playing on a leg he could barely stand on in the 1997 Egg Bowl, won by Ole Miss, 15-14.

         He later coached the offensive line for the Rebels under David Cutcliffe, Ed Orgeron and Hugh Freeze. Is there a more thankless — yet critical — job on a staff?

         And when the Rebels lost head coach Freeze to scandal and the NCAA shredded the program with probation penalties, Luke took over. 

         Depleted of scholarship players, his teams didn’t win a lot — 15 games overall, 6 in the Southeastern Conference. 

But his players seemed to always play hard and they loved their coach.

         Today’s college football is big business. Like it or not, when enough boosters with fat wallets, along with your basic season ticket holders, demand a coaching change or else … schools are forced to listen. 

         That is what happened to Matt Luke. 

         He will coach again, I’m pretty sure of that. It’s in his blood.

         While his won-loss record wasn’t what he wanted, Luke led Ole Miss through some dark, dark days. And he leaves the Rebels with a lot of talented freshmen such as John Rhys Plumlee, Jerrion Ealy, Snoop Conner, Deandre Prince, Nick Broeker, A.J. Finley and Dannis Jackson to name a few. (Certainly add Matt Corral to that group if he doesn’t transfer.)

         All those players were signed on Matt Luke’s watch


         Now to one of the most talked-about 15-yard penalties in college football this season — sophomore receiver Elijah Moore’s leg hike after catching a touchdown pass with 4 seconds left to pull Ole Miss within 21-20 in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night.  

         You know the rest: An unsportsmanlike penalty turned a 20-yard point-after attempt into a much more difficult 35-yard try. The kick sailed wide right. Mississippi State won and became bowl eligible.

Credit/John Bowen

         I don’t claim to know Elijah Moore. I’ve only been around him a couple of times during postgame interview sessions.

         But allow me two observations of the 19-year-old from Ft.Lauderdale, Fla. who was far and away the team’s best receiver:

         *In the season’s third game, Moore appeared to have caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the final 15 seconds to pull Ole Miss within two points of the Cal Bears. But the Pac-12 officials marked the ball an inch from the goal line and refused to stop play and review it.  The Rebels lost 28-20.

         Postgame, when asked if he thought he scored, Moore said: “It doesn’t even matter. I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but the game is over. We’ve got (Alabama) next. They’re a great team and we have to get ready for them.”

         No whining. No blaming officials. 

         I respected that.

         *Twice in the Egg Bowl’s final 40 seconds, Moore ignored State linebacker Willie Gay barking in his face as Moore walked back to the huddle. He didn’t react. He didn’t even acknowledge Gay.

         Then came the leg hike incident, and fans — plenty of them from Ole Miss — abused him on social media. 

         Yes, he might have cost his team a chance to play overtime. (No Ole Miss placekick was a sure thing this season.) And his stunt made his school a national punching bag for a couple of days.

         But let me ask you this: Who hurt their team more? Moore, who made a terrible decision at a crucial moment? Or Willie Gay, perhaps State’s most athletic defensive player, who was suspended for all but four games this season? 

         We can’t say for sure, but math tells us that Gay was most likely among the 10 Bulldog players who served 8-game suspensions because a former tutor “completed multiple assignments, exams and, in some instances, nearly the entire course for student-athletes,” according to the NCAA.

         Moore is made out to be a criminal, and Gay is off to a bowl game. 


         A few other thoughts and observations: 

         *Why do officials allow players to openly taunt opponents? It used to draw a flag. Now, the refs turn a blind eye to it. I saw it time and again this past weekend in college and pro games. It shouldn’t be tolerated.

         *I have no idea who the next Ole Miss coach will be, but know this: There are no “sure things” when it comes to hiring coaches. Scott Frost was one of the hottest coaching candidates in the country after leading Central Florida to an undefeated 2017 season. As head coach at his alma mater, Nebraska, Frost is 9-15 overall and 6-12 in the Big Ten the past two seasons.

Credit Mansel Guerry

         *State linebacker Erroll Thompson, a junior from Florence, Ala., is going to make a lot of money at the NFL level some day. He’s made 84 tackles each of the past two seasons.

         So, too, will Ole Miss senior defensive lineman Benito Jones of Waynesboro.

         *I will never understand why State coach Joe Moorhead didn’t start freshman quarterback Garrett Shrader every game down the stretch.

         Bob from Bogue Chitto doesn’t get it, either..