Other than barely losing a game to its in-state rival, what changed to make Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter so quickly lose his supposed confidence in Matt Luke?
If Rebel receiver Elijah Moore had not drawn an unsportsmanlike penalty with a crude doggy-urinating touchdown celebration in the waning moments of the Egg Bowl last Thursday, would Luke still be the Ole Miss football coach?
One has to wonder how Carter’s tone could change so fast.
On Nov. 22, after it was announced that the interim tag had been take off of him as the Rebels’ athletics director, Carter did not flinch when asked about Luke’s future.
“I think our football program is headed in a great direction. I’m so excited about Coach Luke,” Luke’s boss said.
Then by Sunday, three days after the 21-20 defeat to homestanding Mississippi State, the thrill was gone.
“While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program,” Carter said in explaining his decision to let Luke go.
Maybe by now we should be used to such about-faces in the sports world, and maybe Carter needs to become more practiced at being evasive, but it’s obvious what probably happened.
Even before the Egg Bowl, Carter was being pressured by alums and other big donors to make a change. Luke, nice guy and Ole Miss through and through, wasn’t winning enough games, and attendance was falling. A victory over Mississippi State, which might have cost Bulldog coach Joe Moorhead his job, was the only thing that would buy Luke some time and take the pressure off Carter to fire him. When that victory didn’t happen, Carter’s days-old expressions of confidence were quickly forgotten.
Sports, at the big-time college level, is all business. Coaches, no matter their school ties, must either win consistently or someone else is brought in to try. A losing program does not get prime-time TV slots or motivate donors to put out the big bucks for those pricey luxury suites.
As distasteful as this experience probably has been for Carter, he should file it away. He is also on a short leash. The same folks who turned on Luke will turn on him if the football team doesn’t get better and stay better.
The attitude toward sports teams is not much different these days on college campuses than it is in NFL stadiums. As perfectly verbalized decades ago by the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, the overriding rule is, “Just win, baby.”