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|SEC Media Days kicks off season|
Another SEC Media Days has come and gone.
Coaches repeating some of the same comments from years before.
One highlight was the introduction of Texas A&M and Missouri to the conference.
A&M's Kevin Sumlin kicked off Media Days on July 17 and was very impressive.
Steve Spurrier was his typical straight from the hip self, while Nick Saban was his typical I don't want to be here self.
Arkansas' John L. Smith was the wild card who made the event entertaining.
My son, Jake, mentioned that Les Miles was a bit disappointing, and the Tiger head coach did seem a bit distracted. Could be he was expecting a lot of questions about the BCS. Or maybe he is still mad at his Tiger son. He was caught up in another fabrication of sorts.
Saban started off his statements on the final day with typical Saban humor.
"It's great to see everyone," Saban said. "Great to be here. You know how excited I am looking forward to this event. The fact they moved it up a week really made me have a great summer, and I hope you've had a great summer (smiling)."
But the man is dynamic, whether talking to a top recruit's family, alumni groups or the media.
"Having success in a football program can have two effects," Saban offered. "You can demand more success or you can get a little complacent and be relaxed about what you have accomplished, really think more about what you did rather than what you're going to do.
"It's human nature to relax, but there's been a lot of examples of very successful people. And I think success should be defined: consistency in performance. Whether it's the Chicago Bulls in the '90s, the Yankees organization through the years, Roger Federer, Malcolm Johnson as individual athletes who have had great careers, been successful over a long period of time. The most important thing we've learned is you've got to stay on top of the little things. Things don't happen by accident. You don't win a play by accident. You don't win a game by accident. You don't win a division by accident. You have to make it happen, and you have to make it happen by what you do every day. This team seems to be less affected by the previous year, what has happened in the previous year. They're not really the 2010 team, they're not really the 2011 team. There's a lot of players on this team that this is the opportunity for them and their season.
"It's really, really difficult in college football to carry momentum from one season to the next. You lose 25 percent of your team," Saban said. "That's an understatement for us. We lost 13 starters from our team last year. And the new 25 percent that you bring to your team, really they don't have knowledge and experience, they haven't played. They're young players. Maybe very talented players, but they're very young players. So you have to create your own identity by what you do. You have to create your own momentum by what you do. Everybody has a new role. We have new people who have new opportunities. This is their opportunity to make this their team. But I think this 2012 team will be defined by what they do, not what we've done."
Saban did loosen up a bit about the fact Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who Saban helped get the Toledo coaching job, made a note that Saban is older than Pinkel.
"There are other coaches in this league, like Steve Spurrier, that are older than me, that I look up to, that are my mentors, that I really learn a lot from, that I really want to try to be like," Saban said. "In fact, I was even going to consider wearing a visor on the sidelines this year. I was afraid I'd throw it all the time."
I asked Saban to talk about the changes, if there were any, as far as play-calling and defensive sets from the first LSU game to the last game.
My son, Jake, sat by me hoping I wasn't going to get creamed after asking my question.
"Well, we sort of analyzed some of the things we did in the first game that we didn't do very well, some things that we weren't prepared for and did a little bit better job in the next game in terms of our execution," Saban said. "I do think our players responded to the first loss psychologically so that they were really sort of geared in, locked in, focused on preparing and executing much better than they did the first time around. I thought that the quarterback played an outstanding game, and the defense executed extremely well. That was probably the difference in the two games."
But Saban saved his best for last when asked about the four-team playoff system.
"Well, I think what the fans want to see in the four-team playoff is the best teams, the four best teams in the country, get in the playoff. You don't have to win your conference championship to get in the basketball Final Four. I mean, you got to play your way into it. Whether you win a conference championship or not, if you've played and you're ranked in the top four teams in the country, you ought to have the opportunity to play in the game.
"I think, to be quite honest with you, whoever's making the statements about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify, trying to enhance the opportunity for somebody from their league to get in."
Anyway, I mention Smith, and here are some of his gems.
How surreal has this last eight months been for you? Has it been surreal, this whole experience? "I go home in the evening, my wife and I talk a little bit from time to time, and say, Wow, has this been a rollercoaster, in particular as of late," Smith said.
Would you like to be the Arkansas coach for more than one year? "Well, certainly. Do I look stupid? Don't answer that question."
"Was contact between you and Arkansas initiated before Petrino was officially dismissed or after? How was it initiated? Also, have you had any conversation or conversations with him about the football team?
"Could we move on to the next question, at least one with intelligence ,?" Smith said while smiling. "No, you didn't get that, did you?"
Auburn coach Gene Chizik actually appeared more at ease and less irritated to be at the event. He started off talking about the tragic shooting of former Auburn players near the campus not long ago.
"I'd like to take this opportunity to start out to thank, first opportunity I've had to publicly thank, so many people for their outpouring of love and prayers and emails and phone calls to the Auburn family since that tragic night, June 9th, when three young men were shot and killed, two of them being former Auburn football players," Chizik said. "I do want to say thank you. I don't think it would be right of me to stand up here in my first opportunity publicly and not do that. So many of you guys gave our community and our university, families, our football team, a lot of strength and encouragement by that outpouring of a lot of love and prayers. So I do want to say thank you very much. I'm very proud of our football team. I think in the midst of some very difficult times they've really bonded together and done a great job of trying to move forward. They, without question, are still dealing with some of those issues. We got to still plow through some of those tough days, and we know that. We're providing all the resources for them possible to keep them moving in a positive direction."
Chizik did have some interesting opinions on the four-team playoff.
"If the fifth team beat the third team or the second team, they didn't become No.4, they're going to have the same argument the No.3 team did," he said. "2010, if we had the four-team playoff in place, I was at Auburn, just went through this league undefeated, won the SEC championship game, am I in favor of playing another one to prove that I deserve getting into the national championship game? No, I don't.
But if you go back up to 2004 when we were undefeated and we didn't get in the national championship game because we weren't 1 or 2, then I'm totally in favor of it. But, again, eight years from now, what will be the scenarios that popped up that will make people rethink this, because that's going to happen. But for the most part I think it was a really, really fine job and well thought out in terms of for everybody, the fans, the players."
Florida coach Will Muschamp gave an interesting opinion on social media.
"Well, we don't have a lot of rules," Muschamp said. "Number one rule is, don't embarrass the program, the university or your family. We monitor that through a service we have to make sure. We ask them to not talk about any football business on there. Unfortunately we got some knuckleheads here and there that will make poor decisions, put something on there. They don't understand the ramifications of putting something on there that's not appropriate and we handle it quickly. I think freedom of speech is one of the great things we have in this country. I don't have any problem with it, as long as they handle it the right way. If a guy doesn't handle it the right way, he won't be on it because he doesn't deserve the right."
Georgia coach Mark Richt commented on LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who started out at Georgia.
"Zach, first of all, is a guy I've known since he was a little peanut," Richt said. His mother, Tammy, has been working in our football office ever since I've been at Georgia. I don't know how old he is now. 21, 22. I knew him when he was nine, ten years old. Being around the football office, coming to summer camps, a guy we've known and loved the entire time I've been at Georgia. Anything good that happens for Zach, I'm excited about. I hope every game he plays, he wins unless we catch him in the SEC championship game He's a fine young man. He's a great player. LSU is going to be excited that they have him."
And, of course, Joker Phillips of Kentucky was asked about Wildcat basketball.
"Well, I'm a Kentuckian, okay? I'm a long time Kentuckian," Phillips said. "I'm a letterman, an alumnus. Everybody has things they want to sell in their program. I'm selling our basketball program, okay? I would be crazy to try to fight that. I'm trying to sell our basketball program. I think it was unbelievable advertising of our logo. Every time our basketball team went to the next round, playing in the Final Four. How many times did kids see the UK interlocking brand out there? I think that's huge. We want to hitch our wagon to our basketball program. Who doesn't want to see John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Brandon Knight, who doesn't want to see those guys play? All these football players think they're basketball players. They want to see good basketball. That's a chance for us to sell, Hey, come watch these guys play. Now we're able to sell us. We got them on our campus. We're able to sell that we've had 40 guys sign NFL contracts in five years. We're able to sell we have a streak of five bowl games. We're able to sell we have great academics. We sell the things that we feel will help us win at Kentucky."
Phillips said Wildcat basketball coach John Calipari is a great help for all programs.
"Our recruiting weekends, 30 minutes before his basketball team goes out on the basketball court to take the court, we're able to bring our recruits into his locker room and he addresses them," Phillips said "I thought there's no way this guy is going to allow us to come into his locker room. You might think it wasn't a big game. The first time we done it, it was the North Carolina game, 1 versus 2. He addresses our potential recruits. So he and I have a great working relationship. Again, we're selling. Everything there is to sell about Kentucky, we're selling to our football recruits. Our basketball program is one of those selling points."
And then there was Les Miles, as I said earlier, a little less Les.
"The summer's over," Miles said to the surprise of everyone and no one. "We had a number of fast pitch softball games, youth baseball games, went to the Olympic trials and watched tremendous swimming excellence, got to catch the back end of South Carolina and Arizona and now Media Days. Media Days for me is that time where everybody turns their attentions to football and you get the question that says, Hmm, good point, that kind of says it's time to get ready."
The first question for Miles was about his EA sports video game commercial.
"I certainly enjoyed the experience," he said. "Very talented producer and crew around. The lines were narrowed so that I could perform them effectively. I really thought that Mike the Tiger stole the show. We didn't get along on the set. He was kind of working the camera. It was really a difficult time (said in jest). It's interesting. We had a lot of fun with it. I can't tell you the number of people that walk by me, and he goes, 'Like a son to me, a Tiger son.' My 13-year-old Ben says to me, Dad, I just saw the commercial. What did you think, Ben? You've talked to me like that, you really have. Good news, bad news."
Miles appeared all over the place at times and not comfortable at all. Maybe he knew what was coming with Tyrann Mathieu at that time.
I have to admit the first time I heard about Mathieu (fortunate for Miles that was after Media Day), I thought he may have been caught playing RGIII).
Miles was asked about Mettenberger and second thoughts about not giving him a shot last season?
"Coming off of the national championship game, I would like to have given a lot of thought to things in that game," Miles said. "But we were really getting him ready to play. I think the other two quarterbacks at that point in time were a little bit more advanced. I think late in the year, you know, he had an opportunity to take a couple of strides and got a hand injury that really kind of slowed his development. Maybe he could have taken some snaps in that national championship game should he have not gotten hurt, you know, earlier in that bowl practice, so…"
Mettenberger was asked about that injury later.
"Well, let's roll with it, I guess," he said with a smile. Mettenberger later said he did hurt his thumb during a practice leading up to the game, but he said he could have played.
Spurrier and new Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze continued to swap barbs.
Spurrier mentioned he would like to play Ole Miss every year if he had the option as far as his non-East opponent would be.
"I heard he said something to that regard," Freeze said. "I guess my thought would be 2013, they're on our schedule. We will circle that date and maybe change his perspective about what he thinks about Ole Miss football."
Not long after the Media Days, Spurrier was asked about Ole Miss looking at Penn State players.
"They need some players," Spurrier said.
Certainly an odd confrontation. Maybe Spurrier wants to make sure his team has some motivation for the Rebels. Still kind of strange, though.
Freeze did have some interesting comments on Ole Miss' current state of affairs.
"It's not all of a sudden gone from being where Ole Miss has been," he said. 'The last four years, Ole Miss has gone 2-2 with LSU and Arkansas. People tend to forget that real quick. How did it get from there to where we are today? I really believe the secret lies in personal accountability and chemistry. I was not there, don't know the reasons why, but there was a lack of personal accountability and chemistry. In year one, laying the foundational core beliefs, making sure we understand personal accountability, every action we take, it does affect our teammates, it affects our program and what we do. I know our young men are not going to be perfect, none of us are. But I do expect that they have a concern for this decision I make. I will be held accountable to it. It affects my teammates. Then the chemistry part of somehow building a unit and trust with one another that we actually enjoy the process of getting where we want to go."
One of the most humorous things for me at SEC Media Days was after Dan Mullen of Mississippi State spoke, my wife, Kathy, and I walked to the adjoining mall and ate in the food court.
Here came Mullen with a public relations assistant, walks in the middle of the food court, proceeds to Sbarro Pizzeria, makes his order and walks to his table where he eats without any interruption.
I asked Mullen earlier when he was up at the podium about his barnstorming tour in his first year, remembering him pleading with people to show up for games at the first of two stops in Natchez, and also what intrigued him about Starkville.
"I think there was always some hesitation of what we could accomplish, maybe not just Mississippi State, but the state of Mississippi at times of how people viewed themselves," Mullen said. "What we wanted to do is go up and insert a little bit of a swagger, confidence, belief in everybody. Part of us winning football games is you selling out the stadium. They said, If you win, we sell the stadium. It doesn't work that way. If you sell the stadium, we win. They started buying into that. You see them now with consecutive sell‑outs. To me, I take a lot of pride. You can go into airports around the country, people wearing Mississippi State clothing, flags flying outside of the house. There's a sense of pride in our university and a sense of pride in our state. Starkville could be the best college town in the country. You're looking at a small town, great people, great atmosphere to live in. If you want the college atmosphere, there's a lot of people that say, I want to go to college in the big city. Well, you live in a big city, it's not really college in a big city, you have the city atmosphere. You want to go to college in Starkville, the whole town is about the university, what it's about, that atmosphere. The people that live there, I don't know if there's a better college town in the country than Starkville, Mississippi."
And, as I said earlier, Spurrier was Spurrier.
"Good to be with you media guys again and girls," he started out saying. "Told my wife as I was leaving, I said, "You know what, I've been to this thing 20 years now." But you guys have been here 30, 40 years, some of you. They don't fire media people, we found that out. I've been fortunate to be here. I do say 'fortunate' to be able to coach in the SEC. This is the 20th year. I feel blessed and fortunate to be here."
Spurrier was asked if last year was his best coaching job.
"Well, I heard some of you guys say that," he said. "I don't really rank 'em. But I tell you what, we had a good team last year. Every game we won, we were favored to win. Did you know that? Think about it. I ask people that. Wait a minute, South Carolina is not going to be favored 11 out of 13 games. Actually we were favored 12 out of 13 games. People say that we under‑achieved. We were favored over Auburn when they came in and beat us. So we may have underachieved last year. We didn't play Alabama and LSU, that's why we were favored."
Derek Dooley even took some jabs about Media Days.
"Appreciate you guys coming," he said. "As if these three days weren't painful enough, we added a couple more of us to put a little hot air into it."
This was also a more optimistic Dooley.
"It's been a tough four years in Tennessee," he said. "I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore. So I'm excited about the season and I feel like we got a team that can go toe-to-toe for four quarters with all the teams in our league. It certainly doesn't mean we've arrived, it certainly doesn't mean we're where we want to be at every position I made the statement to our local media, it's kind of that song, A little less conversation and a little more action, so we have to go out and prove it, and that's what we intend to do this year."
Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin kicked off Media Days. I was very impressed with the way he carried himself and how he handled his first SEC event.
"Obviously our inaugural season in the SEC, our fans, our former students, current students, everybody around the program is excited to get this thing going," he said. "Our coaches and players likewise. For us, it's a special year. As excited as everybody else is in the country to get football season started, I think I can speak for Texas A&M and our coaching staff, in our place we're as excited as anybody to be a part of the SEC, but also for football season to start. For us coming into this year, it's going to be a real, real special time for our fans. I was just out in the ESPN bus. They said, Do you realize you play the playoff six defending national champions? That's about the fourth time somebody asked me that. We knew that when we took the job. We understand the challenges that are ahead of us. We understand that it's going to be a difficult but exciting year."
Sumlin was head coach at Houston last year. He asked about A&M's SEC opener at home against Florida. But he wasn't about to skip over the Aggies' opening game against Louisiana Tech in Shreveport. Cougar quarterback Case Keenum led Houston to 28 unanswered points in a furious second-half rally that kept the Cougars undefeated with a 35-34 win over Louisiana Tech.
"Number one, our most important game is our first game, and that's Louisiana Tech," Sumlin said. "We're playing in Shreveport at night. Anybody who has seen them play a year ago knows that's a good football team. Sonny (Dykes) does a great job. Last year at Houston, we won on the last play of the game. Mississippi State, Southern Miss, barely got out of there. We have our plate full the first time. There is no doubt our fans are extremely excited about the home opener against Florida. All you got to do is look at our season ticket sales to gauge where we are as a university and as an athletic program as far as ticket sales and excitement level. That's going to be a big game for us. For us as a team or as a head coach to have your home opener at Texas A&M be an SEC game is a big deal, there's no doubt about that. Like I said, for us, the first game is the biggest game."
I asked Sumlin about Miles' recent statement that Texas and Missouri better strap it up.
"Based on the video I watched, he wasn't too far from being right," Sumlin said. "He's got a pretty good football team. You got two new teams coming in the league. I don't think that was any kind of derogatory statement at all based on the fact that he was the head coach at Oklahoma State and was in the Big 12 for a number of years. So I think he understands the physical nature of this league. I don't see that as derogatory at all. I think that's a fair statement. I think he says that to about everybody he plays, as a matter of fact."
Last year I mentioned I was most impressed with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.
He was even more impressive this year.
"Last year we thought we could do some good things. I thought I had a good plan. I thought it was detailed and organized," Franklin said. "This year we believe. Our kids believe. I believe. The coaching staff believes. The things we're doing, how we're doing, the commitment our players have made, the commitment the administration has made, how we've invested in our futures, what we're trying to do, that's the difference. Last year, we thought we could do some nice things; this year, the team believes we're going to do some really good things. Last year I walked in with Coach Saban. People were throwing babies to him to autograph and everything else."
So now the talk, barbs and jokes are over. It's time to strap it up. Maybe Miles was right after all.
Time will tell.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|