ATHENS — Matt Luke is more than a replacement for Sam Pittman at Georgia, as Kirby Smart likely picked up on quickly.
Smart has respected Luke from the onset, able to look him in the eye as an equal as they were both former SEC players who went on to earn business degrees and coach at their alma maters.
Luke and Smart lettered at their respective schools from 1995-1998, and they were actually on the same field together.
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In 1995, Ole Miss beat Georgia 18-10 in Oxford, and again in 1996 in Athens, 31-27. Georgia got payback in 1997 and 1998, winning in Oxford (21-14 in 1997) and again in (Athens 24-17).
More recently at a UGA baseball game last spring, Smart and Luke were spotted spending time together.
No doubt, they’ve built a friendship and level of trust that will ease the transition to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
There aren’t any signs Smart and Monken wouldn’t or don’t get along. After all, Smart hand-picked Monken for the job.
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But it’s no secret defensive-minded coaches like Smart don’t always mix well with so-called offensive gurus like Monken, or for that matter, the departed Jim Chaney.
Luke provides the perfect buffer in his role as associate head coach in addition to his offensive line coaching duties.
Smart may not feel as inclined to make as many trips down the hallway to the offensive meeting room this season as he did with first-year coordinator James Coley last year.
Luke’s experience as a head coach provides him with an understanding of knowing what Smart wants and needs as a head coach.
Luke was the head coach at Ole Miss for three seasons before being fired on Dec. 1 in the wake of a 4-8 record and 15-21 mark over the past three campaigns.
Less than 48 hours after Sam Pittman was announced as Arkansas’ new head coach on Dec. 8, Smart worked through agent Jimmy Sexton to hire Luke.
Neal McCready, publisher for RebelGrove.com, the Ole Miss Rivals website, said UGA is getting a coach that fits well on Smart’s staff.
“At the end of the day Matt Luke is a blue-collar, former walk-on offensive lineman who played for Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe in an offense built around Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn,” McCready said.
“Even when he had Eli Manning, Cutcliffe was about establish the run. (Luke) is blue-collar coach who is going to try to out-work everyone.”
That was quickly apparent at the Sugar Bowl, where Luke’s enthusiasm was on display from the jump, as he hurried around and pumped up the Bulldogs as they prepped for a record-setting Baylor pass rush.
Georgia, notably, was without three starting offensive linemen with Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson electing to skip the bowl game, and Ben Cleveland academically ineligible per a 247Sports report.
The Bulldogs held the Baylor defense in check, though two sacks were given up by since-departed offensive lineman Cade Mays, who was attempting to play left tackle.