Athletic director Ross Bjork: ‘All kinds of people calling’ about Ole Miss football coaching job

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ross Bjork doesn’t plan to talk to anybody about Ole Miss’ head football coaching vacancy for a while, but that hasn’t stopped his phone and emails from blowing up.

Ole Miss’ athletic director said he’s got “all kinds of people calling me,” including agents and search firms, about the position that abruptly came open last week when Hugh Freeze resigned after a phone call placed from Freeze’s university-issued cell phone to a number linked to an escort service led to a more thorough search of phone records that revealed what Bjork called a “concerning pattern” of misconduct.

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Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Matt Luke has been given the interim tag this season. Bjork said he’s got a framework in mind of how he wants to go about his search but added his sole focus for now is on this year’s team.

“Everybody in the college football world,” Bjork added about the amount of calls and emails he’s gotten since Thursday. “But my message to them has been I’m not talking to anybody. My focus is on Matt Luke, and as the season progresses, we’ll do what’s best for the program in terms of that search.”

It will be the first hire in the “big 3” sports of baseball, men’s basketball and football for Bjork since he’s been at Ole Miss. Baseball coach Mike Bianco and basketball coach Andy Kennedy are the longest-tenured coaches in the SEC in their respective sports while Freeze was hired in December 2011, three months before Bjork arrived at Ole Miss.

Bjork said he’s doesn’t feel any added pressure going through the process. He’ll rely on his experience to make what he believes is the right hire.

“To me, I’ve seen searches,” he said. “I’ve been a part of searches pretty much ever since I was 26 years old when I was at the University of Missouri, so I know how to run a search. I know how to be efficient. I know how to be confidential. I know how to hire the right person, and that’s going to be our job.”

And Bjork didn’t rule out the possibility of Luke coaching his way into the permanent job.

Luke, who’s getting his first shot at running his own program after stints as an FBS assistant at Tennessee, Duke and Ole Miss twice, is tasked with leading a team that finished 5-7 a season ago that’s already been hit with a bowl ban as part of the penalties the school has self-imposed stemming from the NCAA’s investigation into rules violations.

There’s a chance more sanctions could be coming when Ole Miss, which is facing 21 allegations with 15 of them Level I infractions, has its hearing with the Committee on Infractions sometime during the season. Bjork said the school has received the NCAA’s case summary and hopes to release it publicly within the next week.

“Matt Luke is going to be a great candidate for our job,” Bjork said. “We’re going to watch him up close and personal. He and I will interact on a daily basis. We’re going to have a chance to watch him run this team, interact with this team and run recruiting. He’ll have a great dance floor for this opportunity on a full-time basis.”

Regardless which direction Bjork ultimately decides to go in his search, there’s a certain trait leading the criteria for Ole Miss’ next football coach.

“The first thing is character,” Bjork said. “And then are they a leader of men? Can they inspire? Can they coach at the highest level? Obviously we’re in the SEC West, so that means you better bring it every day. That’s what we’re going to be looking for.”