Athletics director Keith Carter explained why the decision was made:
"After evaluating the overall trajectory of our football program, we did not see enough momentum on the field and determined a change is necessary in order for our student-athletes to compete at the highest level. While improvements were evident in certain aspects of the program, we are judged ultimately by our record, and, unfortunately, we did not meet the standard of success that we expect from our program. We will always be grateful to Coach Luke for his leadership, particularly from a recruiting, academic and overall culture standpoint. At the same time, winning is important, and we know that we can compete for championships at Ole Miss.
"A search is underway to find a new head coach who can build a complete program that attracts top talent, develops them as young men and sustains a winning mentality. We will be looking for the leadership, energy and commitment to excellence necessary to compete in the Southeastern Conference and galvanize our passionate fan base."
Luke and his staff were reportedly on the recruiting trail when the decision was made.
According to the Clarion Ledger's Nick Suss, the move wasn't well-received by some on the team:
The Rebels finished 2019 with a 4-8 overall record and a 2-6 mark in the SEC. They concluded the season with a 21-20 defeat to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Luke Logan missed the game-tying point-after attempt. Elijah Moore had made Logan's job more difficult after drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for pretending to urinate in the end zone after his two-yard touchdown catch.
The result of the Egg Bowl appears to have had serious ramifications.
The Rebels bolstered their coaching staff by hiring Mike MacIntyre as the defensive coordinator and Rich Rodriguez as the offensive coordinator. College Football Talk's Bryan Fischer estimated the school might be facing a $16 million bill in coaching buyouts alone.
Luke leaves Ole Miss with a 15-21 record.
Only giving him three years is a somewhat tough break given the situation he inherited. Hugh Freeze resigned in July 2017 after he was discovered to have used his university-issued phone to call a female escort service.
The specter of an NCAA investigation also loomed. The program ultimately avoided any significant sanctions with the exception of a 2018 bowl ban.
Luke started as the interim coach in 2017 after replacing Freeze, and the school removed the interim tag in November 2017.
Especially since MacIntyre and Rodriguez—both former head coaches—would need some time to settle into their roles in Oxford, Ole Miss' decision not to give Luke one more year is somewhat surprising. And for as bad as the Rebels' record looked, five of their losses came by eight points or fewer.
However, attendance was becoming an issue as the defeats piled up. Suss noted in November that Ole Miss had five games with fewer than 50,000 fans, something that hadn't happened once since the 2011 season.
A losing season, low attendance and a new AD often add up to a coaching change.