Ole Miss needs a new football coach. Here are 7 trendy names who might fit in Oxford
OXFORD — The Matt Luke era is over.
Ole Miss dismissed Luke on Sunday night after three years in charge of the football team and a 15-21 record. The Rebels now have one of the three head coaching vacancies in the SEC along with Arkansas and Missouri.
The university will try to move fast to hire a new coach, potentially before the early signing period for recruiting begins on Dec. 18.
In his statement explaining Luke's dismissal, Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter said he wants to find a candidate who "can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality."
With that in mind, here are seven potential names to replace Luke.
1. Mike Norvell
Memphis coach Mike Norvell is a logical candidate to replace Luke on multiple fronts.
He has sustained a winning program at Memphis over the last four years, winning eight or more games every season, including an 11-1 record this year. He has an offensive background and built a successful Power 5 offense at Arizona State. And he's familiar with Ole Miss' recruiting base since Memphis is barely an hour up the road from Oxford.
Norvell will probably be a hot commodity this coaching search season, with Memphis in the running to qualify for a New Year's Six bowl. Ole Miss might have to move fast if Norvell is the top candidate. But given his experience in the region and proximity to campus, it shouldn't be a tough sell if Norvell deems this the right time to make the jump to the Power 5.
2. Lane Kiffin
Is it time for Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin to make the jump back into the SEC?
He has a chance to win his second Conference USA championship in three years this weekend and brings a big-name recruiting pedigree most other candidates won't.
Of course, Kiffin isn't without his baggage. Kiffin left Tennessee after one season as the head coach, and shortly thereafter the Volunteers were stuck with NCAA probation. But Kiffin's track record speaks for itself and his time spent on championship staffs at Alabama and Southern California can't be undervalued.
If this is the year that Kiffin tries to make the jump back to Power 5 coaching, he will have plenty of suitors. Florida State, Arkansas and Missouri could all try courting Kiffin. But if Ole Miss can match his demands, the school's built-in offensive talent could be enticing for the veteran coach.
3. Billy Napier
Few coaches in college football have a better connected pedigree than Louisiana coach Billy Napier.
Napier led Louisiana to a 10-2 season in 2019, his second at the top of the program. Before that, Napier worked at Clemson with Dabo Swinney from 2006-10 and at Alabama with Nick Saban from 2013-16.
Napier is a young candidate; he's only 40 years old. But what he lacks in head coaching experience, he makes up for in high-quality mentors. And given that four of the currently-employed head coaches in the SEC are former Saban assistants, Ole Miss would be sticking with a regional trend in trying to capitalize on some of that Saban magic.
4. Willie Fritz
Much more of a veteran candidate than Napier or Norvell, Tulane coach Willie Fritz has 23 years of head coaching experience, 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision.
Fritz has led Tulane to bowl eligibility in each of the last two seasons after the Green Wave had only played in one bowl in the previous 13 years. Prior to that, Fritz won conference titles at Georgia Southern and Sam Houston State.
Fritz runs a modernized version of the triple option, a rarity in the SEC that might give Ole Miss an edge on uniqueness alone. And his offensive coordinator Will Hall was a leading candidate for the Ole Miss offensive coordinator job last offseason; the Amory native played college football at Northwest Mississippi Community College and has head coaching experience at the Division II level.
5. Bryan Harsin
Boise State coach Bryan Harsin's name circulated a bunch in rumors during Ole Miss' athletics director search as a name outside candidates might be interested in trying to get to Ole Miss.
Harsin has experience coaching in the South, namely as Texas' offensive coordinator and Arkansas State's head coach. But Boise State is Harsin's alma mater, and after his fifth conference championship berth in six seasons, it might be tough to pull him away from Idaho.
Of course, he's left Boise before. He took the Texas offensive coordinator job as a move up from being Boise State's offensive coordinator in 2011. If he views Ole Miss as a better move for his career, or a better place to try to compete for championships, he might be a viable candidate.
6 and 7. Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez
Here's the possibility that will rankle a certain section of the Ole Miss fan base. The Rebels' current offense and defensive coordinators are experienced head coaches, and it wouldn't be a shock to see one or both of them interview for the position.
MacIntyre turned around Ole Miss' defense from bottom dweller to competent in 2019 by installing the 3-4 system. And Rodriguez made Ole Miss' offense his own and built an impressive rhythm with quarterback John Rhys Plumlee that might be valuable to continue moving into the future.
Of course, an internal hire might not be a great look for Ole Miss after the university promoted Luke from within during its last coaching search, hired Carter from within as the athletic director and had the IHL appoint Glenn Boyce as chancellor after he was a consultant in the chancellor search process.
If the Rebels don't promote MacIntyre or Rodriguez, chances are another school will within the next season or two anyway. Ole Miss could do a lot worse than to promote either of those coaches. That said, MacIntyre and Rodriguez might not bring back indifferent fans who lost interest during the Luke era; they will both have some of Luke's residue on their names.
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Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.