Kirby Smart’s hire of Matt Luke as Georgia football associate head coach and offensive line coach provided a prompt and strong answer to Sam Pittman’s departure to become the Arkansas head coach.
It was a statement hire if ever there was one for the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs, serving notice Georgia remains a top choice for elite coaches as well as the best players in the country.
Luke, with his three years of SEC head coaching experience and the countless NFL contacts that brings, is sure to continue Georgia’s trend of recruiting and developing the top offensive linemen in the country.
Beyond that, it gives Smart one more dynamic football mind in the meeting rooms.
Luke has several years of co-offensive coordinator experience under noted offensive gurus David Cutclifffe (Duke) and Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss) that led up to his appointment as the Rebels head coach.
Ole Miss beat writer Neal McCready, who has covered the program 13 years and writes for RebelGrove.com, the school’s Rivals.com-affiliated, took some time out for DawgNation.
McCready, who also covered Houston Nutt and Freeze in Oxford, provided valuable insight into Luke, who has hit the ground running recruiting at Smart’s side this week.
Here are five questions with Neal McCready:
Q: What kind of offensive line coach is Georgia getting in Matt Luke, in terms of what sort of players he has produced and what his Ole Miss offensive lines looked like?
McCready: Luke is an excellent offensive line coach. He’s worked for David Cutcliffe and Hugh Freeze in that capacity — two coaches with very different offensive styles. At Georgia, I think he’ll thrive in the Bulldogs’ pro-style offense and he’ll obviously enjoy working with the elite talent in Athens.
Luke did a phenomenal job with Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss, but in fairness, Tunsil is the best offensive lineman I’ve ever seen in person. More impressively than his work with Tunsil, take a look at the job he did with guys like Sean Rawlings, Fahn Cooper, Justin Bell, Aaron Morris, Robert Conyers, Rod Taylor and Javon Patterson. Those aren’t household names and they weren’t/aren’t elite talents, but Luke developed them into very effective SEC offensive linemen.
2. How effective is Matt Luke as a recruiter? You know his personality as well as anyone, what is he like?
McCready: Luke is as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet. He’s remarkably humble, down to earth and congenial. He’s a man’s man — fair, gentlemanly and a great husband and father to his family. Kids like him. Players love playing for him. He’s honest with recruits. He’s good at building relationships. I suspect he’ll do very well on the recruiting trail working for Georgia.
3. Matt has been a co-offensive coordinator and obviously had control of the Ole Miss offense, ultimately. What are some staples of his philosophy?
McCready: I think his ideal offense is a run-oriented, smash-mouth, physical brand of football. He’s a former offensive lineman who blocked for Deuce McAllister in college, and he’s worked for Phillip Fulmer and David Cutcliffe. He’s coached under Freeze, who utilizes more zone-blocking and spread schemes. So while he’s seen it all, he’s a guy who loves the physical aspect of offense.
4. How do you see Matt blending in with Kirby Smart and the insanely high expectations at Georgia, where there figures to be immediate pressure on him to produce one of the top lines in the nation?
McCready: Don’t forget he was part of two very good Ole Miss teams as an offensive line coach. Those 2014 and 2015 teams were contenders. He’s worked for Fulmer. Pressure won’t faze him. That won’t be an issue. He’ll fit right in with Smart, by the way. There are a lot of similarities between the two men. Both were underdogs as players. Both are players’ coaches. Again, I think he’s a great fit replacing Sam Pittman at Georgia.
5. What is the best way to characterize Matt’s relationship with the Ole Miss fans, and how they will remember him and his tenure? Just how difficult of a situation did he take over and did he leave it in a better place?
McCready: Ole Miss fans will also be grateful to Luke. He is a former player who has poured his heart and soul into the school. He and his wife, Ashley, are beloved in Oxford. He took over a train wreck in July 2016 and stabilized it. He got the permanent job after a 6-6 season in a way that was, frankly, unfair to him. The school said it was conducting a national search and then hired the former coach’s offensive line coach. Fans never completely bought in because of that.
Luke was loyal to Freeze’s coordinators, Wesley McGriff and Phil Longo, and when 2018 went sideways, fans blamed him. Last season, with Mike MacIntyre and Rich Rodriguez as coordinators, Ole Miss showed marked improvement, but this is a scoreboard business. Close losses to Memphis, California, Missouri, Texas A&M, Auburn and Mississippi State just led to apathy.
He left the program far better than he inherited it. I suspect there was, deep down, a sense of relief to move on. I know he felt he was close, and he likely was, but 2020 was going to be challenging, and it was going to be difficult to survive. He’ll be well-paid in Athens, and I think a change of scenery and a chance to reboot his career will be revitalizing for Luke.