The New Face of Ole Miss Football
Updated: Sep 4, 2019
This season, Ole Miss football adds new coaches, staff and players to the Rebel family.
Written by Edward Brown | Photos provided by Ole Miss Athletics
After some trying seasons, the Ole Miss football program is poised for change.
At the end of the 2015-2016 college football season, Ole Miss football was at a high point. The Rebels, led by coach Hugh Freeze and quarterback Chad Kelly, had just come off a 10-3 season in which they beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Allstate Sugar Bowl 48-20. But in the following three years, the program went 16-20 and experienced multiple controversies, including being investigated and sanctioned by the NCAA.
This year, the Rebels will have a new face and a new identity. Two new coordinators, a third-year head coach and an assortment of new players will all be on the sidelines. In addition to the changes within the football program, the university has a new interim athletic director, Keith Carter.
“Being a student athlete here back in the mid- to late-1990s and to now come full circle and be able to lead the department, putting time and resources back into student athletes, is really fulfilling,” Carter said. “I think it’s been really fun to see the evolution of Ole Miss in my 22 or 23 years of being associated with the university, and to get the opportunity to lead that charge is pretty special.”
Carter, a standout basketball player at Ole Miss from 1996 to 1999, was named interim athletic director in late May of 2019 by interim Chancellor Larry Sparks. While obviously a basketball guy himself, Carter feels as though this is going to be an exciting year for the football team.
“I think that this year we’re going to run onto that field, and we’re going to look different, we’re going to feel different, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch our guys play,” Carter said. “So, I’m really excited about what Coach Luke and his staff are doing.”
One of the biggest changes to the Rebel football team was the hiring of new offensive and defensive coordinators. Rich Rodriguez, a former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona, was hired as the offensive coordinator on Matt Luke’s staff in late December of 2018. Rodriguez took over an offense that lost nine out of 11 veteran starters, including stars such as A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and Greg Little who were drafted into the NFL.
“We lost some great players, which will give guys that haven’t played much more opportunities,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to be relying on a lot of young guys. (Quarterback) Matt Corral, the redshirt freshman, will have to play beyond his years, and then up front we lost a lot of experience.”
Rodriguez will take over the offense from former offensive coordinator Phil Longo, who ran what was considered a variation of the air raid offensive style. Rodriguez will look to incorporate his own system in his first year as coordinator.
“We want to make sure to control the tempo and use mostly the spread formation,” Rodriguez said. “For us, we talk about playing with 11. Our quarterback will be involved in just about every play, run or pass.”
On the other side of the ball, over the past few seasons the Ole Miss defense has been lackluster, allowing at least 28 points in 22 straight SEC conference games. The next closest active streak in the SEC is Florida, with three. Mike MacIntyre, former head coach at Colorado, is taking over as defensive coordinator of the Rebels for the 2019-2020 season.
“I’ve been at Ole Miss before, and my family and I loved it here when I was under Coach Cutcliffe,” MacIntyre said. “I’m excited to work in the SEC with this opportunity here, and the familiarity with Matt Luke, Oxford and the University of Mississippi made it a good choice.”
For each coordinator, this will be the first time in years to serve as an assistant coach for a team. The last time Rodriguez was an assistant coach was in 2000 when he was an offensive coordinator on Tommy Bowden’s staff at Clemson. MacIntyre was the defensive coordinator at Duke University 10 years ago, in 2009.
“My past two jobs I was the head coach, and assistant coach is a little bit of a different role,” MacIntyre said. “There are differences in coaching in the coordinator spot, but in the end you’re still working with the players and the defensive staff.”
The major changes within the program and loss of star talent to the NFL may be a cause of worry for some Ole Miss fans. But, with the arrival of experienced coaches and a roster of young, talented players ready to fill those empty spots, it’s evident that this new face of Ole Miss football could be special.
“I’ve said this before, but if you walk into the Manning Center, you just feel a quiet confidence over there,” Carter said. “You walk in the building, and just the chemistry and teamwork and camaraderie makes everything feel really good over there. I think those guys are building something really special.”