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July 17, 2018

Matt Luke

Atlanta, Georgia

MATT LUKE: Good morning. Excited, excited to be here at my first SEC Media Day. This is my 18th, going into my 18th season as either a player or a coach in this conference, and it's been really a privilege and honor to be part of such a great conference for so long, and just want to thank the commissioner for his leadership.

Very excited about this season. I felt like last year had a lot of positive momentum to finish the season, winning three of the last four games. I felt like that really spring boarded us into a top 25 recruiting class. I thought we had a super productive spring, able to work on a lot of things we needed to improve on.

And now having a great summer, not only with strength and conditioning, but also I really see the culture of our team continue to build. I really feel like all of the experiences these young men have gone through have really brought them together as a team. So I really, really like the culture in our locker room right now.

Defensively, returning seven starters on defense. I feel really good about our secondary. We're talented and experienced there. The interior of our defensive line is returning. You'll see Josiah along with Benito. I feel really good about that.

I think the question everybody is asking me is, hey, Coach, how are you going to stop the run? We have to find creative ways to load the box and make people throw it over the top to beat us. That will obviously be a point of emphasis for us.

Offensively, return eight starters off one of the top offenses in the conference. It all starts up front. Everybody knows about the "D" lines in the Southeastern Conference. Up front we have 103 combined starts with our offensive line. Very talented and experienced there.

Our receiving corps is one of the best in the country. Everybody -- the NWO, the nasty wideouts, is very well documented, and rightfully so. Those guys very competitive. They push each other every day to be better, but they're also unselfish. Really fortunate to have those guys.

It's been fun for me to watch the development of Jordan Ta'amu really picking up where he left off at the end of the season and really taking on that leadership role.

Really excited about the upcoming season. At this time I'll open it up to questions you have.

Q. Matt, I saw where you considered Phil Fulmer an influence. He was an interim that became a successful head coach. Did he give you any advice on doing that? And also what did you think of his qualifications as an athletic director?
MATT LUKE: You know what? I really enjoyed -- I was under Coach Fulmer in 2006 and 2007 and really learned a lot from Coach Fulmer, him being a former offensive line coach at his alma mater, so there was similarities there. So able to have him be a sounding board.

Coach Fulmer has been successful whatever he's done. He'll do a great job leading that program. A really good man. I consider him one of my mentors.

Q. How do you plan on developing your defense this year to excel past your troubles last year?
MATT LUKE: Right. And, again, it was well documented us trying to stop the run. But I think continuity is very important. Having seven returning starters, the second year in Coach McGriff's defense, just continue to get one year better. We're going try to build off the last two games where they shut Texas A&M in the second half and got five turnovers against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

I think that continuity is important in trying to build and get one year better.

Q. Two questions. First one is the sanctions came. Was there a sense of relief what you're dealing with, and the atmosphere changed afterwards? And secondly, how precise do you have to be in recruiting evaluation now because of scholarship limitations?
MATT LUKE: I think the thing that was really good is I think sometimes the fear of the unknown is the biggest issue. Once all the actions were delivered and everybody knows what you're dealing with, you can then move forward. I think you're seeing that on the recruiting trail.

I think always in recruiting you have to do everything you can to be great evaluators, great evaluators of talent, especially in your own state, and I think this year is a great year in Mississippi.

Q. Obviously, when you took over as interim coach, you had a lot of knowledge of the program itself, but what do you know now about being a head coach that you didn't a year ago?
MATT LUKE: I think the one thing that you take with you is the ability to try to be efficient with your time and manage your time. I think that was my biggest challenge last year, how much time to spend with offense, with defense, with media. I think any CEO of a major corporation and head football coach in the SEC, you want to be very efficient with your time. I'm excited to have a year under my belt to be able to do that.

Q. You talked about the NWO and the receiving corps. Can you talk a little bit about replacing the production of Jordan Wilkins with Pellerin and Swinney and how confident are you they will?
MATT LUKE: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that's when our offense really started taking off and we had that balance and we started to run the football. That was a huge part of our success is Jordan Wilkins being a thousand-yard rusher.

In the spring we were able to work a lot on trying to stop the run and but also breaking in new running backs. We were able to do that in the spring. I thought Scottie Phillips, he's one of the top junior college players in the country, had a tremendous spring. Another young man named Isaiah Willard came in and had a great spring. Those two guys having a good spring really pushed Eric Swinney.

So we kind of got a three-way battle going there. But that was maybe the biggest surprise of the spring for me and had a huge comfort level leaving the spring with those running backs.

Q. What do you think of the new NCAA redshirt rule, and how do you plan to utilize it going forward?
MATT LUKE: I really like the flexibility that rule provides. You'll have some freshman that will come in and be ready to play and you'll be able to plug them in early, and you'll have some guys that come in and maybe take them a little bit longer to develop or learn the playbook, and you'll be able to plug those guys in plate.

Really like the flexibility and like the rule and the ability to try to get some of those guys on the field.

Q. How different is it going into a season where you know you're going to be the head coach, when it's not a battlefield promotion? How much were you scrambling from now, a year ago?
MATT LUKE: You know what? I think -- I feel like I've been preparing for this job for a long, long time and been around a lot of really good head coaches in my 18 years involved in this conference. I know what it takes to have a good team in this league.

So what I did was I just kind of -- I leaned on, took some of the good stuff from all of the good head coaches I've been around, from Coach Fulmer, David Cutcliffe. I was under Ed Orgeron and some the recruiting stuff he did.

So I, you know, was prepared, and then obviously my knowledge of Ole Miss and being around Ole Miss really, really helped me. I felt like -- it was my first year, but, again, I guess being around for so long really helped me prepare.

Q. I wanted to ask you about a couple of key members of your staff. One you retained going into your second full year. Freddie Roach along the defensive line. I just spoke to Josiah Coatney. He spoke very highly of him and the impact he made. Talk about, as you want to imprint your philosophy on this staff, what were you looking for when you hired a guy like Jon Sumrall to be your linebackers coach.
MATT LUKE: Starting with Freddie Roach, we're really fortunate to have him. He is a rising star in this profession. The thing he does best is he has an unbelievable relationship with his players. I think that also carries over into recruiting.

But the relationship he has with his players, his players love him. They trust him. I think to be a successful coach, they got to know you care with about them. I think they know that about Freddie.

And Jon Sumrall was a very easy hire for me. I've known him for a while. He is a tremendous, tremendous person and football coach, and very, very impressed with him and what he was able to get out of our linebackers this spring. So really excited about Jon.

Q. Matt, can you talk about the second half of the Auburn game last year? Do you think that kind of was the spring board to you guys playing some better football the rest of the way?
MATT LUKE: You know, I did. I thought that was one of the big turning points of our season, was standing in that locker room the second half of the Auburn game. I really felt there was -- I think maybe from a national standpoint, everybody kept, okay, when is this team going to quit? When is this team going to throw in the towel?

And was very, very pleased with the way our guys continued to fight, continued to compete and battle for each other. So really proud of that team to continue to fight. And we just got better and better, and by the end of the year I felt like we were a really, really good football team. And I think just continuing to build on that culture is huge for us.

Q. After everything A.J. Brown did last year, what is left for him to accomplish at Ole Miss, and how has he developed over the offseason to make those things happen?
MATT LUKE: A.J. is very, very driven. He's a tremendous player. He's a tremendous competitor. And it's been fun to really watch him push the other receivers and other receivers push and continue to develop.

I'm looking for him to get one year better in this offense. I think continuity is huge. I think that's a big advantage we have coming back, is having the same coordinators on offense and defense, being able to keep that continuity and getting one year better.

Obviously a phenomenal player. There will be people trying to take him away. The good news is you have D.K. and Lodge there as well. I'm really excited about A.J. and the leadership qualities he brings to the table.

Q. Even with your interim time, you're ahead of five other guy in this league in terms of being a head coach of your SEC school. What do you think of the turnover, and I guess what are the challenges at first a guy -- that faces the SEC the first year at that school?
MATT LUKE: You know what? I think -- I'm a little bit different in the fact I've been around Ole Miss for so long and have a tremendous amount of knowledge about what it takes to win at Ole Miss.

I think when you come to the Southeastern Conference, with the way things are, you're expected to win and expected to win immediately. I think the pressure is going to be there. But I think every coach in this league puts more pressure on themselves to win, but I think with the media coverage and fan bases -- but that's what makes the SEC special is these college towns where the fans are so passionate about their teams. I think that's what makes the SEC special.

Q. Hey, Coach, I want to ask you about that first game coming up about six weeks, it looks sort of like a bowl game. You're playing in Houston, and kind of a fun game. But Texas Tech's maybe doing some things different, changing quarterbacks. When you prepare for a first game and know a team's going to be doing some things different, do you prepare for that a little bit different than a later game this season?
MATT LUKE: Got a lot of respect for Texas Tech. You know, I think we will prepare the same. But knowing you have that great opponent coming up in Houston to start the year, I think our players will be excited and ready to get going.

You're always going to be nervous going into that first game, making sure that -- because each team is different. But very excited and looking forward to the challenge.

Q. Coach, you've been an offensive guy your whole career, and it's clear especially the older guys on the offense love you and you have a really close relationship with you. How do you extend that relationship with the guys on defense you haven't worked much with in your career?
MATT LUKE: That's a great question. One of the parts of this job that I really enjoyed was getting to build those relationships with the guys on defense and at the other positions in the offense. I really enjoyed trying to find ways to motivate them and spending time on defense.

I can bring a lot to the table on the defense end, hey, this is what would hurt us and really spending time with those guys. Building those relationships with the defensive players, I have really enjoyed that.

Q. What are your expectations for Greg Little coming into the season, and what are some of the things he's done to live up to those expectations?
MATT LUKE: Yeah, I'm really, really excited about Greg. He's a projected first round draft pick. He's come in and really worked on changing his body this offseason. I think he started maybe his freshman year maybe a little too heavy, and I think he's found that optimal weight for him. He's working really hard in the weight room.

I see him growing as a leader. He has real confidence. He's been out there, he's done it, he's played against several first round draft picks. He's going into this year with real confidence. He's a leader. We have 103 starts in that offensive line group, which I think will bode well for our offense.

Q. What did you learn about Phil's offense in year one? What worked and what didn't, and how will it evolve in year two?
MATT LUKE: I think starting the season we were spreading out throwing a little bit, but what I liked was the ability for him to adapt and be able to run the football. I think that's where you really saw us get really good on offense, when we had the ability to be 50-50 and run the football.

I was really impressed with him and his ability to develop Jordan. I mean, coming -- losing Shea and going into Jordan, was so impressed with the way he took over. A lot of credit goes to Phil with that.

To answer your question, the ability to go from being spread to being balanced and really run the football, I think that's when you really saw our offense start to click and look like I wanted it to look.

Q. Matt, what lasting effects happen with the victory over Mississippi State, how do you think that affected the offseason, the conditioning, recruiting in any way? Obviously, that was your bowl game, but in retrospect, how did that affect everything going forward?
MATT LUKE: You know what, I was really excited about that game for a lot of different reasons, but to me it validated. I saw the improvement our team was making, not only on the field but also our culture.

And I think the national media got to see the improvement that we made and the team that we were. Because I think everybody kept looking for us to quit. It kind of culminated in that one game. It was a huge game. I really feel like that game spring boarded us into the early signing period and being able to sign a top 25 recruiting class, okay, maybe these guys aren't going away, these guys are here to stay.

It was a big game for a lot of reasons. But the positive momentum it gave us going into the offseason was huge.

Q. Matt, what kind of coach is Dan Werner and what kind of impact do you expect him to have for the Gamecocks?
MATT LUKE: Me and Coach Werner go way back to 2000 at Murray State and my first job. He's a very, very good friend of mine and outstanding football coach. He'll bring a lot to the table, not only with their quarterbacks but also with the offense in general. Just a tremendous person, a tremendous football coach. He's going to do a great job.

Q. How tough has the bowl ban been to deal with? How have you handled that with the players?
MATT LUKE: You know what, everybody has asked me, hey, what's your motivation with the bowl ban. The thing I've been most impressed with this team is how they've got up every morning at 6:00 a.m., they've gone to work. They're competing and playing for each other.

I think that's when everybody was looking for them to shut it down, they didn't, because they had a very, very unselfish attitude and were playing for each other.

I think that's where the motivation comes, is really working and playing for each other and trying to prove everybody wrong, going out there each week and trying to find a way to win that game. I think that's the mind set of our team.

Q. Coach, how important is it for Jordan Ta'amu to have had that success last year, coming in, replacing Shea Patterson, and how far do you think he can carry your offense this season?
MATT LUKE: I knew he was a talented quarterback. I knew he could throw it. I knew he could run it. When he came in, his first seven possessions were scoring drives.

I think he got the players' attention pretty quickly. That's what I was most impressed with, him being in tough situations, taking a two-minute drive on the road at Kentucky and winning that game. I think he earned the respect of his teammates quickly.

Jordan, you'll see him today. He's very quiet, very unassuming, but what I was impressed with was his ability to lead and the fire and the passion he had in the games. I'm looking forward to seeing him now having a full offseason, a full spring, full summer to build that rapport and to build that leadership, because this is his team. I think he'll only continue to grow in Phil's offense, and I think he'll have a heck of a season.

Q. What about -- you lost Gary Wunderlich and Will Gleeson, two good performers for you, experienced guys. Who is replacing them, and how did they look in the spring?
MATT LUKE: Any time you have to replace both kickers it's a challenge. We have a very, very talented punter, a guy named Mac Brown. He's more of a straight-on punter, not so much of the rugby like Gleeson was. Very, very talented.

And Luke Logan, when Gary was hurt, he kicked in the game last year. I think he made a couple field goals against Vanderbilt in the SEC games. That gives you a little confidence going into the season to have a guy that's done it before.

Q. You talked about how much experience your offensive line has. You spent a lot of time as offensive line coach. Do you feel that's one of the strongest units you have on the team this year?
MATT LUKE: I do. Any time you have 103 starts amongst that group, but not only are they very talented, you have a potential first round draft pick, they are just a good unit and good young men. Jordan Sims and Sean Rawlings already have their degree. Just a tremendous group of young men that are very experienced and very talented. They are one of the leaders and most experienced groups on the team and really excited and proud of that unit.

Q. Similar to the bowl ban question, how significant is this period, just to get through it for Ole Miss, you've been around the program for a long time, to survive this and obviously get back to playing for championships?
MATT LUKE: I thinks it's huge. I think we've moved out from underneath that cloud and we've continued to battle. That's why the end of last season was so important, to really build that momentum, to still be able to sign a top 25 recruiting class and go into the spring with a good taste in your mouth.

Really like the culture and the way our guys are preparing and, again, preparing and fighting for each other. I've been really impressed with our guys.

I think the biggest thing, and I've said it before, I think all of the experiences these young men have been through has really brought them together. It can do one of two things, it can push you apart or bring you together. In our case, I really felt like we came together as a team, and just really want to do everything we can to build on that culture.

Q. You had a bizarre series against Arkansas. Can you put a finger on what tilted that in your favor?
MATT LUKE: Every year is different, but it seems like there's been a lot of really good football games. A lot of respect for them. Any time you play anybody in the Southeastern Conference, you have to be ready to go. Those games have been kind of crazy here with the fourth and 25 and obviously last year us struggling to close it out.

But really looking forward -- I think Coach Morris will do a great job and looking forward to playing them this year.

Q. Matt, how do you -- does the Egg Bowl rivalry change at all with you and Joe Moorhead now being the head coaches and emphasis and people kind of feed off what you guys do and how you approach the rivalry? And do you have any relationship with Joe at all?
MATT LUKE: We've met a couple times in Destin and SEC Media Days. But I -- not SEC Media Day, but Destin and I think we had the head coaches meeting in Birmingham, we kind of crossed paths. And I have a lot of respect for him, what he did at Penn State. And he's a tremendous coach.

Everybody knows that's a huge rivalry. The people of Mississippi, that's a huge game for them, and it will continue to be important for us. That's a huge game for me. I've been involved with several of them, and it's always a big game on our schedule.

Q. Kind of going off the Egg Bowl question, last year did you feel any extra importance on that game? Obviously you don't need anything more to get up for that game, but in kind of going into this year's Egg Bowl, too, do you kind of feel there's going to be a lot of emphasis on it considering the bowl ban?
MATT LUKE: Yeah, there will always be emphasis on that game. It's a very, very important game, to not only me but everybody in the state of Mississippi. Growing up and having my dad and my brother and myself all playing that rivalry, understand very clearly what it means.

But it's always a huge game, but one that you don't need any extra motivation for.

THE MODERATOR: All right. Coach Luke, thank you for your time.

MATT LUKE: Thank you. Thanks, guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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