It's the most wonderful time of the year. December brings holiday cheer, but also coaching rumors galore.
Welcome to this week's coaching search edition of the Clarion Ledger's Ole Miss mailbag. Just a few days removed from Ole Miss' decision to fire Matt Luke, the rumor mill is swirling with questions about which direction the Rebels will go to replace Luke as the head honcho in the football office.
If you ever have any questions you'd like to submit to the Clarion Ledger's Ole Miss mailbag, feel free to tweet them to our beat writer @nicksuss or email them to email@example.com.
Question: What are the best and worst case scenarios that can come out of this coaching situation? -- Bankston Rush
Well, Bankston, it's dangerous to ask me to use my imagination like this. Because there are a few best-case scenarios (Bob Stoops randomly decides to un-retire?) and worst-case scenarios (A new NCAA investigation?) that are just pipe dreams and walking nightmares.
But let's be realistic here, starting with the best-case scenario. Ole Miss' schedule is going to be brutal next year. Five of the Rebels' first seven games will be against Baylor, Auburn, LSU, Alabama and Florida. All of which come before the bye week on Halloween.
With that sort of competition, the best-case scenario in Year 1 for whoever Ole Miss hires is to win one game the Rebels shouldn't. Matt Luke's undoing in his final two years in Oxford was his inability to win close games or pull off any upset. In the last two years, Ole Miss was 1-7 in one-score games and 0-11 in games where the Rebels were underdogs.
Coming in and pulling off an upset in Year 1 would signal the rise of a new era. Pulling off two upsets and earning a bowl bid Year 1 would signal a return to form and multiple steps toward competing for New Year's Six bids again.
As for the worst case scenario, a lot of that has to do with recruiting. The worst thing Ole Miss can do in this coaching search is wait too long and have its entire recruiting class for 2020 fall apart. The Rebels already lost six commitments on Monday, and the longer Ole Miss waits to make a hire and put a staff together, the more opportunities rival programs have to poach the Rebels' recruits.
It appears that Ole Miss' recruiting classes of 2017 and 2018 from the probation years will be duds. At last count, 11 of the players Ole Miss signed in those two classes have already hit the transfer portal and the only major contributors from those classes so far have been Elijah Moore, Jacquez Jones, Keidron Smith, MoMo Sanogo and Ben Brown.
The Class of 2019 was really strong and set Ole Miss up well. But if three of its four most recent recruiting classes end up as duds, that's going to be a talent dearth hard to overcome for the next two or three seasons.
'Very bad idea': Ole Miss football recruits decommit after Matt Luke is fired
Question: "Does FSU saying they will not name a head coach before the weekend mean Norvell is off the table?" -- Ryan Hummer
Memphis coach Mike Norvell is the hottest commodity this coaching season. Florida State is the highest prestige job open. The two schools have been connected through rumors throughout the carousel.
So yes. Florida State holding off on making an announcement until after conference championship week should make Ole Miss fans a little nervous. But Norvell isn't the only top-tier coaching candidate working a conference championship game this weekend. There's also Louisiana coach Billy Napier, Appalachian State coach Eli Drinkwitz, Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin, Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and Boise State coach Bryan Harsin.
As far as coordinators, Clemson's Jeff Scott, Wisconsin's Jim Leonhard, Georgia's Dan Lanning and LSU's Joe Brady are also coaching this weekend.
Norvell seems to be Florida State's top candidate. If the Seminoles want him and he wants to coach the Seminoles, Norvell would probably accept the challenge. But Ole Miss is much closer to where his family lives now and he's more familiar with the territory, so there's a logical reason to believe Norvell might be willing to choose Ole Miss over Florida State.
So short answer: No, Florida State holding out doesn't necessarily mean Norvell is off the table. But it isn't a good thing for Ole Miss either.
Ole Miss coaching search: 7 trendy names who might fit in Oxford
Question: I'm worried about the fuzzy selection criteria that Carter mentioned, i.e. "create a spark in the room," "galvanizing fan support," "looking eye-to-eye," etc. What are his criteria? How will he assess integrity? -- Alyce Craddock
I've never been in a coaching interview before, Alyce, so I can't speak perfectly to what Keith is looking for. But if we're reading between the lines of his rhetoric, it feels like the main thing Carter wants is someone who will make Ole Miss fans feel excited again.
When Carter is talking about sparks and galvanizing support and seeing eye-to-eye, what it feels like he's saying is he wants someone who'll re-energize the program. Due in part to the NCAA sanctions and in part to the product on the field, the last three years of Ole Miss football have felt clouded with malaise and indifference. Carter wants a coach who can bring back the fans who left, keep the fans who stayed and energize the die-hards who want to see immediate success.
As for how he'll assess integrity, that's hard to say. The funny thing about integrity is you have it until you don't. That's true for all of us. Obviously if there's a character red flag on a coach's resume, that will be taken into account.
But repeatedly Carter has said he is going to get the best candidate he can. Track record and "excitement factor" will be traits just as important as integrity, it seems.
More: Here's what Ole Miss, Keith Carter want in the next football coach
Question: Any chance Ole Miss hires former assistant Tom Allen as coach?"-- Travis Sigh
Tom Allen is the head coach at Indiana, where he led the Hoosiers to their first eight-win season since 1993 this year. Allen previously worked as the linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Ole Miss from 2012-14.
It's never wise to rule out any candidate this early in the search process. But prying Allen away from Indiana would be a lot like trying to hire Matt Luke away from Ole Miss. Allen is an Indiana native who grew up about two hours away from Bloomington. He worked as a high school coach in Indiana for a decade prior to making the jump to college. His dad was a high school football coach in Indiana.
His ties to the state are undeniable. The way he's turned around the Hoosiers' program is attractive, and Allen does have experience coaching at Ole Miss. But that connection might not be enough to convince Allen to leave home.
More: Ole Miss to pay millions to Matt Luke, coaching staff in buyouts
Question: "Other than Wichita State, are there any more non-conference hoops opponents to prepare for?"-- DeMatt Harkins
Not really. Now that Ole Miss has made it through the four-game ringer of playing Memphis, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Butler, Wichita State is really the only major non-conference test left.
The Rebels will travel to Wichita on Jan. 4 for the final non-conference game of the season. Between then, Ole Miss plays four games against teams ranked on average No. 282 in the KenPom efficiency rankings.
Upsets are always possible. But between matchups with Butler and Wichita State, Ole Miss basketball should be able to cruise through the holiday season.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.