Matt Luke Press ConferenceLuke Addresses Media for First Time as Head Coach
July 24, 2017
Ole Miss Football Head Coach Matt Luke met with the media Monday afternoon, speaking publicly for the first time since being named interim head coach. Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff as well as student-athletes Javon Patterson, Shea Patterson and Breeland Speaks answered questions to conclude the press conference. Below are transcripts for each session.
Opening statement... "I'd like to thank everybody for being here today. I really appreciate you guys coming out. I want to start by thanking Chancellor (Jeff) Vitter. Ross (Bjork), thank you so much for your leadership. I'm so excited to have the opportunity to be the head coach at the University of Mississippi. To my wife, Ashley, my two boys, Harrison and Cooper, thank you so much for your sacrifice. To my mom and dad, I appreciate y'all making this possible.
I've been an Ole Miss Rebel all my life. It's all I can remember. From seeing my dad's 35 helmet hanging in my den, pictures of his playing days hanging in my room; making the five-hour drive from Gulfport to Oxford to watch my brother, Tom, play; wearing the 17 jersey in The Grove; playing touch football. I can't believe that I've spent 14 years of my life as a player or coach here. I can truly tell y'all today that this is my dream job. It's a job I've been preparing my whole life for. I feel more strongly now than ever that I'm the right man to run this program.
I'm so excited about our players. They've been through so much adversity. They've never wavered, not one time. They sacrifice so much. They get up in the mornings, they do their running, they go to class, they go to the weight room, they do their position running, they go to study hall and they do it over and over again. It was evident to me at the team meeting on Thursday that these guys, they just want to play football. They just want to go out and play the game they love. They want to go out and represent Ole Miss and win football games. It's my job to make sure the focus stays on the players. My staff and I will do everything in our power to give these young men the opportunity to be successful on and off the field. Those young men deserve that.
As far as my staff goes, I'm planning on hiring an offensive line coach so I can focus on being the head coach. I'm so excited that Wesley McGriff is going to be our associate head coach. His passion and his energy is contagious. He's a proven leader of young men. And what he did with our defense this spring was phenomenal. Phil Longo running the offense -- he's one of the brightest minds in college football. I got a chance to work side-by-side with him in the spring. His talent was evident. To see him work with all the pieces we have on offense -- this is going to be a lot of fun.
To our fans: I know there are a lot of you out there watching today. Thank you so much for the texts and the phone calls from the former players and the former teammates; it has meant so much to me. It's more important now than ever that Rebel Nation stands together. It reminds me of 1989 when Chucky Mullins said, `It's time.' It is time. It's time for Ole Miss and Rebel Nation to move forward together. I am honored to be the head coach at Ole Miss. It's your university. It's my university. It's our university. I cannot wait to walk down that tunnel September 2 and `Lock the Vaught' together. Thank you and Hotty Toddy."
On making changes from the spring to now... "The staff is going to remain intact. Offense and defense will be the same. Ninety-five percent of everything is going to stay the same, but I plan on bringing my passion and energy along with it."
On his first head coaching opportunity... "It's a dream of mine. I feel like it's something I've been preparing my whole life for. I'm grateful to Ross (Bjork) for the opportunity, I'm grateful for the players, and I'm just excited to take it one game at a time."
On hearing the news of Hugh Freeze's resignation... "We had a great five-year run. My job is to get the team ready to play. We have a little over a week before we start practice, and my focus is on moving forward. Our focus is on the players, and that's where it needs to be. That's what college football is all about. It's about the student-athletes. My focus is on getting these kids ready to play and giving them an opportunity to be successful."
On his communication with Freeze... "We talked briefly and he just told me to be myself."
On how he was informed of Freeze's resignation... "I found out 4 p.m. on Thursday. Ross (Bjork) told me to come see him in his office and said he was going to make a change and asked if I would be willing to lead the program. And I said `yes.'"
On his phone call with his dad after taking the job... "It was emotional, as you can imagine. When playing is a dream for you and coaching is a dream for you, when you get the head coaching job, it's even more special. It was emotional."
On expectations for the team this year... "My expectation is that we put a product on the field that plays with passion, that plays with energy and we put a product on the field that all the Ole Miss fans are going to be proud of. We're just going to take it one practice and one game at a time. That's my vision, to go out and play the game the way it's supposed to be played. That's the way I learned how to play it when I was here. That's my vision is that we play the game the way it's supposed to be played--with passion, energy and toughness."
On the difficulty of late coaching changes... "I'm excited about the challenge. My history here, my 14 years here of experience, seeing it done right, seeing it done wrong, I think that's going to be immeasurable. These kids know my heart, they know my passion and I'm excited for the challenge."
On his experience playing on a team with a postseason ban... "It creates a unique bond with teammates. You are playing for the guy next to you. And that is so special. I remember the 1997 team, all the seniors on that team. To be able to take those guys to a bowl game coming out of that, you'll never forget that."
On the players' reaction to him becoming head coach... "I was so thrilled on Thursday night. They have been awesome. It was clear these guys were excited. They just want to play football. They're tired of the noise. They're tired of the distractions. They just want to go play football and do what they love. I can't wait for August 2 to get here so we can go to work."
On what he'll take away from his time coaching under Freeze... "I'm planning on moving forward this season. It's not just Coach Freeze, it's Coach (Tommy) Tuberville, it's me being around Coach (Phillip) Fulmer, Coach (Joe) Pannuzzio, Coach (Ed) Orgeron, all the coaches I've been around--I can take something from each one of those people and put my own twist on it. With the length of time and me preparing for this job, I'm excited for it and excited to take all of my knowledge and experience and put it to use at my university."
On how he determines what is the right way to play... "If you want to be a successful coach, you have to go to your talent. There are different players on each team that has a different skill set. What a good coach does is make sure his offense fits their skill set. Shea Patterson is different than Chad Kelly. You use the players that you have. That's what makes a good offensive coach, using the weapons you have to be successful."
On the youth leadership of his team... "Even though there aren't many seniors, we had a lot of young players get a bunch of playing time. You think about on the offensive line, you think about sophomores Greg Little and Alex Givens. You think about junior Javon Patterson, all the young receivers who are playing and the young quarterbacks. We have a lot of solid talent with experience. Really excited to see those young guys step up, and now they're going to be more comfortable to step up into a leadership role."
On Coach McGriff... "The No. 1 thing was discipline. You noticed that right out of the chute. They're all wearing the same things, the way they set their helmets--the little things. I immediately saw discipline. They keep it simple and they do something fast and physical everyday. They just play good, hard-nosed football. But the discipline really stood out to me."
On Shea Patterson... "He was one of the first ones to come up to me. He said, `Coach, let's go win some football games.' I think he is excited about getting out there and playing, to put all the distractions behind him and just go and play football."
On playing with more aggression on offense... "We're going to do everything we can to win games. Each game is precious and each game is different. We're going to attack each game differently and find a way to win that week. That's the goal. I think you have to approach each game differently, but the goal is obviously to go out there and win."
On hiring an offensive line coach... "It's an ongoing process. I'm hoping to have somebody in place by the end of the week. As soon as we get it up, we'll let you guys know."
On player morale amid adversity... "To me, that's easy. The motivation is each other. When you are working this hard and doing all these things together and going through all this adversity together, it brings a team closer. I think our kids will be mentally tougher for having gone through this. Playing for the guy beside you, that's what's going to motivate them."
On the biggest challenge so far... "Keeping my emotions in check. I'm so grateful. You dream about this your whole life, and just to have the chance to stand up here in front of you guys and keeping my emotions in check, just do my job and get to work, doing your job day after day. That, ultimately, is what's going to make us successful."
On turning down the South Carolina coaching opportunity... "My whole family lives here. My wife is from Oxford. Her family lives here. My mom and dad and brother are here. This is something that's very special to me. You can't put a price tag on family. I'm so excited to have the opportunity. You never want to take those times for granted. So I'm excited to have the opportunity to be around my family and at my university."
On his reaction to Freeze stepping down... "I was surprised. I didn't have a long time to reflect because I was given a job to do. My focus went to moving forward, went to the players and trying to get this team ready to win football games."
On his reaction to Freeze stepping down... "As Coach Luke said, it was initial surprise, but my mindset quickly shifted to the players. We're here because of these student-athletes, so I immediately got over that and focused on the players and just understood that we have to keep them intact. August 2 is coming. Let's get ready for training camp and let's get ready for September 2."
On hearing the news... "I was called over to the AD's office, similar to Coach Luke. At that time, that's when we found out about it."
On the players adapting to his style defensively... "I've trained my entire life to be a defensive coordinator again. I've been around some great coaches. Throughout that journey, you don't become a great coach if you don't steal and borrow from other people's ideas. The mindset was, we want to be a fast and physical defense, be very disciplined, and then let's go out and have fun. Let's go out and win some football games."
On what changes now that he is associate head coach... "It's pretty much the same but a lot more support for Coach Luke. I've been coaching a long time and have been in a lot of different meetings with different head coaches. It's time to not just put together a great defense, but to give unconditional support to him on this journey, and let's get Ole Miss Football back where it belongs."
On the state of the defense... "What's really important is that we get out in training camp and stay healthy and pick up where we left off in the spring. The key thing is that we have to shorten the middle of the defense--the linebacker and safety spots. But there were a lot of bright spots. I thought the guys played with a lot of energy. I think the football IQ of this team is really good on defense. As a defensive staff, we're going to keep it simple so these guys can go out and execute and have fun. I really think the cornerstone of this defense is the assistant coaches. You look at the defensive line coach, Freddie Roach, he's a football coach. This guy is coaching young men and getting them motivated. You look at Bradley Dale Peveto, the linebackers coach, he's seen a lot of huddles being broken. He's been a good coach in this league for a long time. He did a tremendous job of coaching the linebackers. You take Jason Jones, he's a proven secondary coach. He's very detailed. He's been coaching for a long time. When you put those guys together, we have just as good of a defensive staff as you're going to find. It was good to watch those guys coach in the spring, watching us come together to play with passion and energy. I'm excited and can't wait for August 2 to come. We don't plan to get on base, we're going to hit this thing out the park."
On implementing the defensive scheme during camp... "We're at the point now where we have the base defense in and some of our pressures in. One of our focuses in camp: we must win situational football. Let's win third down. Let's win in the red zone, short-yardage and goal-line. Those are the critical pieces there. Then we'll quickly shift to personnel. We have to be careful about who we're asking to do what. You'll see us focus more on situational football and making sure we get the right players in the right spots to go out and be successful."
On classifying his defensive style... "The best way to classify it is we're going to be a 4-3 attacking defense. A lot of times, when you're playing against spread offenses or you're trying to stop the run, you want to be perfect. Well, we're not going to be perfect. We're not going to sit there and try to counter and adjust to what the offense is doing. They've got to get prepared for what we're going to be doing. We're going to be in attack mode. We're going to be aggressive but simple. We're going to give each player a lot of ownership in the defense. We want to see these guys have fun. There's nothing wrong with being disciplined, playing sound defense and attacking and having fun at the same time. That's our goal as a defensive staff. We want to be an attacking defense and have fun at the same time. One of our things we talk about all the time is we want to feed the offense the football. We've got to make sure we're getting takeaways and getting our offense the football so we can get points."
On the defensive depth... "That's very critical. You can never be satisfied with having enough depth. As a staff, we have to coach for depth. We have to play some guys who we wouldn't otherwise play. But because there are so many snaps we'll play on defense, we have to coach every single guy that walks out on that field. We have to be strong in the red zone and on third down, but more importantly, we have to be strong at the end of the game. To win those situations, you have to have depth. You have to coach for depth and have quality depth. We're going to make sure we don't have young men out there playing 80 snaps a game. First thing they'll tell you is, `I can play 80 snaps.' But then you look and you see the effort is not quite the same. When that happens, it's not the young man's fault. It's the coaches' fault. So we're going to keep an eye on that and makes sure that at the critical moments in the game, we have our best players on the field."
On answering to the Crime Dawg... "I like to have fun. I like to work hard, and I love people. I love being around people. Having an opportunity to be around these young men, and to be around you all, have an opportunity to be a football coach--particularly at Ole Miss--that makes my heart smile. I'm looking forward to August 2 when these guys get to training camp and our first game. I don't know how Crime Dawg is going to respond. I know one thing for certain: Crime Dawg is not going to let you down."
On whether he'll be on the sideline or in the box... "You cannot put enthusiasm in prison. I'll be on the sideline. For me, calling the game is better when I can look in the young men's eyes and get a sense of the ebb and flow of the game. A lot of the coordinators like to be up top, away from the game where it's quiet. I need the noise. I need to look in their eyes and see the sweat popping off their forehead. I need to be in the fight with them. I'll be down on the sideline. Everyone has their own philosophy. One indication of a good leader is that he's there in the good times, and he's there when things get hard. So when things are not going well, because a football season has its ebbs and flows, I want to be right there on the sideline with them."
On comparing the program now to his first stint at Ole Miss... "One thing I'm certainly not doing, I'm not going to look backward. We have a great opportunity. We're getting ready to go to training camp August 2. We have young men who are hungry to win football games. We have a guy taking over the program who has lived this life being an Ole Miss Rebel. We have so many positives going. We have an administration that is standing strong behind us. We're not worried about the past, we're moving forward. You heard our head coach say we're moving forward. So August 2, hurry up and get here, wherever you are. Let's move forward. The things that didn't go well for us last year, we have an opportunity as a coaching staff to right those wrongs. So get ready to write a new story. Don't worry about last year."
On hearing the news about Freeze... "It was surprising. But we reverted back to training, got our brotherhood together and came in and had a great workout. We're on a mission."
On Coach Luke as the head coach... "He'll be a great head coach. He's very passionate. He loses his voice almost every practice for us. I know he'll give it all for the team. I'm excited about him being the Ole Miss Rebel head coach. Things are going to go great and in the right direction. Coach Luke has been around here for a while. You feel his passion and you feel his presence."
On going through repeated adversity... "It's not bad at all. We keep getting hit with stones, but we're going to keep getting up. Like one of my teammates said, somebody is going to have to feel this frustration. We're going to go out there and play 12 games and get after it."
On working with a new offensive line coach... "Our offensive line guys, we're gelled together. Anything that's thrown at us, we're going to get after it, and we're going to handle it."
On what he's hoping for in a new OL coach... "Just somebody who will give us their all. As an offensive line coach, you've got to be with it. We're the big uglies, and we're ready to get after it."
On players coming together after the coaching change... "We all locked in the next morning. We had a 6:30 a.m. workout. We had to get back to work. Things happen in this world. We still have to keep things rolling. We still have football games to play. Those young guys came to us and said, `We're still here.' Everyone was still there in the morning, and we crushed a workout. The great vibes and great energy, from that you can tell what a team's about. The culture around here has become great."
On the team handling adversity... "There's nothing we really can't handle. Like I said, we keep getting stones thrown at us, but we're going to keep getting up and fighting."
On Freeze's resignation... "Right now I'm just praying for Coach Freeze. Me and the players and coaches have no influence on what happened. Being six days away from camp with our first game right around the corner, all we're worrying about is playing. It's all so much right now. I love this university and love my teammates. With camp August 2, all I want to do is go out there and play with the brothers who I love. I can't wait to start this new offense with Coach Longo. We're all so excited about it."
On providing leadership during the coaching change... "That's something I harped on this offseason. It helps when you have guys like Javon, Marquis Haynes, Breeland Speaks -- all of those guys to help you out a bit. That's a leadership role you have to take as a quarterback in the SEC."
On the state of the offense post-spring... "Coach Longo got here in January, and we got a base offense and got comfortable before spring camp started. I felt really comfortable coming out of it. I know the receivers are really excited with all the freedom they have. We're just excited to play."
On Coach Luke... "Coach Luke, he's awesome. You can see how invested he is in this university and his job as the o-line coach and now as head coach. I remember him giving halftime speeches before we went out there and it always lit a fire under my belly, even when I wasn't playing. One of our goals as a team this year and as a coaching staff is to go out there and give it our all and win as many games as we can so that he's not a Band-Aid coach. There's nobody better to lead this team and this program than Coach Luke."
On taking anything away from his experience last season... "I'm just going to go out there and be myself. That's something I've always done. With Coach Longo having the success that he's had, wherever he has been and at Sam Houston State, I'm willing to take in anything I can learn from him. It's definitely going to benefit my game. The offense he has, we're just excited to put the ball down and show everybody what we've got."
On circumstances changing in his time at Ole Miss... "Two head coaches, two coordinators and the redshirt is obviously not ideal. But I think as a team and as a coaching staff, we're ready to run for it. With camp being right there and September 2 coming, with all this outside stuff going on, we're just ready to play."
On Coach McGriff becoming associate head coach... "I love Coach McGriff. He's a great coach. Him being elevated, I feel like it's going to take our team to another level. We're used to having him on that defensive side, but now he'll get to interact more with the whole team. His mindset and the way he is will help us out a lot."
On improving defensively under Coach McGriff this season... "He's given us the ability to just sit back and play. He's simplified the defense for us. Guys can really just play ball, focus on making their reads and just playing football."
On looking forward to just playing and getting past outside noise... "That's our main focus. Guys are really just ready to get on the gridiron and let everybody have what we've been taking."
On answering to the `Crime Dawg' (McGriff)... "That's a hard, tough guy. Some of the toughest practices I've been through. He has an Army mindset. It's his way or the highway, and you don't want to be on the other side of the Crime Dawg."
On Coach Luke... "He is passionate. That's the best way I can explain Coach Luke. He wants his o-line to be the best o-line in the nation. He wants his offense to be the best offense in the nation. He wants the best. He's passionate. He's a Rebel. I love Coach (Luke) because he gets after it. He doesn't mind the grind. That's how Coach Luke has always been."
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