Nick Suss, Mississippi Clarion Ledger
Published 10:10 p.m. CT Dec. 1, 2019 | Updated 11:37 p.m. CT Dec. 1, 2019
OXFORD — The Ole Miss players aren’t happy.
The University of Mississippi made the decision to move on from football coach Matt Luke on Sunday night after three years at the helm. Athletics director Keith Carter addressed the football team at 8 p.m. in the Manning Center on campus, explaining the direction he wants the program to go.
Carter’s address didn’t resonate with every player. A handful of players stormed out of Carter’s meeting early.
Some were seniors who didn’t have eligibility remaining like Myles Hartsfield and Willie Hibbler. But others were major contributors with eligibility remaining like running back Jerrion Ealy and defensive end Tariqious Tisdale.
The athletic department has not given any indication about whether Ole Miss’ assistant coaches will be retained.
After the meeting concluded, junior offensive lineman Chandler Tuitt said “half the team” is talking about leaving. Tuitt said if the entire coaching staff is dismissed along with Luke, he doesn’t think many players are going to stay with the team.
Carter told the players the decision was for the program.
“But you realize, there’s no program without players,” Tuitt said. “You’re basing stuff off the fans. But we don’t care about the fans that much. I’m going to be honest. We’re here for the coach. We love football. If you don’t want to support us, that’s just your fault.”
Tuitt wasn’t the only player critical of what the players seem to perceive as a fan push to remove Luke from the program.
Defensive tackle Patrick Lucas Jr., a freshman, said he doesn’t think fans should have the power to determine who leads the players. If anything, Lucas said, the players should have some say in who they have to follow atop the program.
That’s why Lucas said he was one of the players who left Carter’s meeting early.
“I couldn’t take it no more,” Lucas added. “Hearing that was just awful. [Luke] just got the ship started. We were just turning around. Yeah, we went 4-8. But we as a team felt inside that next year was going to be our year. Yeah, we wanted it to be this year. But we as a team felt like this year we’re going to come around.”
Coming back for the future
Freshman quarterback John Rhys Plumlee wasn’t able to attend the meeting because he was driving in from his hometown of Hattiesburg. Plumlee showed up late to meet with Carter individually.
In their meeting, Plumlee said Carter outlined to him the difficulty of the decision.
“He said with the business side of it, he felt there needed to be a change,” Plumlee explained. “As much as we love coach Luke and we don’t want to see him go, as players, you never want to see your coach go. Especially coach Luke. But he just said he thought he needed to make a change. I know that he has our interest at heart, even though it’s tough to see.”
Plumlee said Carter told him he expects to have a new coach hired as soon as a week and a half from now, though that timeline could be delayed.
For young players like Plumlee, reacting to the news means having to prepare for a new coach in town. For veterans like Hartsfield and Hibbler, the move means supporting an alma mater that you feel has betrayed the coach you trusted.
“”I think they made the move off wins and losses,” Hibbler said. “They didn’t make the move off how the players feel. We’re the ones praising him every day.”
‘All in on this program’
Center Eli Johnson will be returning for his senior season next year. As an offensive lineman, Johnson worked as closely with Luke as anyone, both when Luke was the head coach and when Luke was his position coach.
To Johnson, Luke’s firing is difficult to stomach. Johnson said he believes Luke should’ve gotten more time as head coach. But he’s taking it upon himself to lead the players who do remain with the team into the next era of Ole Miss football.
“We just have to move forward from here,” Johnson said. “That’s what concerns me, though. I’ve been an Ole Miss football fan my entire life. A guy like me, I’m going to be all in on this program moving forward just because it’s Ole Miss football. I’m going to be all-in on it regardless of who the coach is. I hate that it’s not going to be coach Luke.
“But that’s not the case with a lot of guys. A lot of guys came to school here because of coach Luke. They don’t have any ties to Ole Miss football. That’s what scares me is how are those guys going to respond to this?”
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Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.