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Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard, scheduled to join the Tigers’ delegation to Media Days, didn’t end up making the trip. When asked whether this was because of a compliance issue related to off-campus housing arrangements — as the rumor goes — Miles didn’t say much: “I don’t know the specifics of that. I only know that this was an issue where there were some things he had to handle in his personal life that needed an immediate resolution, so that’s why he’s not with us.”
OK, yeah, I know — borrrr-rinnnggg. What about the video of coach Les Miles totally posterizing his 7-year-old daughter in a pickup basketball game? Yeah, let’s talk about that. Let ’er rip, Hat!
“I did not make that video for anyone else but [ESPN’s Scott] Van Pelt,” Miles told a laughing crowd, “based on the fact that he’s been knocking my gameday shoes.” He swore to the authenticity of the video: "I made the shots that I shot, the slam was my slam, and I defended my 7-year-old, Macy Miles, very well.
“I didn’t think this was gonna be that big a deal, kind of like eating grass,” he continued. “At the end of the day, everybody laughed, which was just what we wanted. My wife said, ‘Les, there is no one who watched that video who will ever think you can play basketball.’”
Yes, Miles did discuss actual football, naming a number of specific players who he said stepped into leadership roles on defense (LB Ryan Baker, S Eric Reid, and DEs Kendrick Adams and Sam Montgomery). The name Zach Mettenberger came up, and though Miles had praise for the former UGA quarterback, he quickly shifted the subject to Jarrett Lee (“The Tennessee, Florida, Alabama games, he had very significant contributions in those games”).
But the QB who got the most attention, naturally, was starter Jordan Jefferson, who’s been the subject of quite a bit of criticism of late. Both Miles and offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert, who subbed in for the absent Russell Shepard, vocally defended their QB. “Jordan’s taken so much [criticism], and instead of folding under it, he’s risen above it,” Hebert said. “He truly does seem to be flourishing under coach Kragthorpe’s tutelage. . . . Jordan’s become more vocal, he’s taken his leadership to the next level.”
Miles echoed his lineman’s sentiments to the point where you almost wondered if they’d compared notes beforehand. “The addition of Steve Kragthorpe has really helped Jordan Jefferson,” he said. Jefferson “is in the best position he has been in in listening and taking coaching. He also has a want to make this his team and show leadership. . . . I don’t think that he lets who’s looking over his shoulder impact anything that he’s doing.”
Miles, too, recognized that his QB had been taking some hits from both the media and the fan base. “I’ve never been to a message board, and I tell our team to stay away from those,” he said. “Those people who sign their name ‘Slick Willie’ don’t necessarily have legitimate opinions.” A funny comment that got some laughs, sure, but knowing Les Miles there’s an actual guy who posts as Slick Willie on one of the LSU message boards. And that guy is sitting in front of his computer right now, somewhere in the wilds of Louisiana, having absolutely no idea how badly he’s fixing to get dunked on when Les gets home.
Between his affable personality in front of the media spotlight and his loquacious Twitter feed, Ole Miss defensive lineman Kentrell Lockett has gained a reputation as one of the better sound-bite providers on the Media Days circuit. True to form, whether the question was unusual or mundane, he delivered every answer with a grin on his face.
For starters: Where’s your bow tie, Kentrell? “I couldn’t wear the bow tie because my mom picked this out. I had nothing to do with this. Nothing, nothing, nothing to do with this.” (For the record, Mrs. Lockett, his gray suit, pinstripe vest and paisley tie looked perfectly fine.)
“I feel like I’m gonna have the freshest legs in the SEC this year.” Most athletic, or best-looking, someone asks? “I’ll take both. But freshest in not having done as much.”
On the knee injury that was the reason behind his legs not doing as much last season: “When you got something you love and you can’t do it, that was terrible. It was even worse just watching those games,” he said, calling the LSU game his “all-time low.” “I thought, ’I’m not going to go watch them practice, because I can’t practice; I’m not going to go watch them play, because I can’t play.’ The days I couldn’t do that, I went home and cried to my wife. . . . Why even go out there if I can’t express my feelings and celebrate with my team?”
What he’s learned from the experience: “This one play could be your last. So I’m having fun, giving 110 percent. I don’t know too many people who are excited about camp — it’s hot, you’re working hard — but I’m excited about it. I want to be there.”
On being in a leadership role for the Rebels’ new recruits: “It’s somewhat babysitting . . . but they’re coming from high school, they’re all chatty, smiling, and then they show up at camp and everyone’s scared, they don’t know what to expect. So I feel like I’m kind of helping them out with that, showing them what to expect, helping them get used to it.”
On the boastful Mississippi State billboards going up around the state: “That’s a real interesting billboard. If that’s what they need if that’s what gets them going, that’s fine. I’m not even worried about it.”
“I try to be bionic. I feel like Superman in my mind.”
And finally, on his Twitter account, which has become a cult favorite among college football fans: “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just make people feel happier.”
Two days ago, Dan Mullen fielded a couple questions about the “This Is Our State” marketing campaign more or less establishing Mississippi State’s superiority over Ole Miss following back-to-back Egg Bowl thrashings. Today, Houston Nutt was asked about it at least four times. ANSWER FOR YOUR FAILINGS, REVEREND!
Nutt even got into the beauty of the Ole Miss campus and how nobody else can compare to it . . . oh, dude, seriously? You’re comparing settings and natural beauty now? Dan Mullen, Starkville’s ambassador to the world, is going to have some choice words about that, pal. Hope you know what you’re getting into here.
Nutt addressed other subjects during his appearance, not the least of which was oversigning: “I’m kind of connected to that,” he admitted. “But if you do the homework, that really only happened one time.” He said he regretted that scholarships had been capped at a hard 25, down from 28, pointing out that some commitments don’t qualify while others just get a wild hair and decide they want to go elsewhere; keeping the numbers right, he said, is “a tremendous juggling act.”
One last thing — on the rigors of playing in a tough division, where every opponent is a ball-buster, Nutt made the odd observation that “LSU always looks beautiful in their uniforms.” ¿Que pasa? “I don’t care who you play in the SEC West, you better buckle up both chinstraps and be ready.” OK, that’s more like it. Thanks, coach.
Are you a promising student-athlete who’s interested in getting in on the ground floor and building something real? Are you looking for an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before? Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin would like to speak with you today!
“Big challenge, but bigger opportunity” was how Franklin sold the idea of coming to what is perhaps the SEC’s most historically downtrodden football program. “You have a chance to build something with your own hands and be a part of that. [You] can come to Vanderbilt and be the first guy that did something, and that’s win at a consistent level.”
Leaving aside the implication that Vanderbilt has never won at a consistent level before — everyone in the room knew it was true, it was just odd hearing it from a coach — Franklin, despite being a first-year head coach (and tied with Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen as the youngest coaches in the conference), clearly needs no extra training in marketing an SEC football program (even a not-great one) to the general public. Franklin pitched Vandy football almost as if it were an Internet startup, talking at a breakneck clip about stuff like “relationships” and “opportunities” and maybe also throwing a “synergy” in there for good measure. (I can’t confirm whether he actually did that last one, but he might as well have. I’m assuming synergy is something that Vanderbilt, 4-20 over the last two seasons, could probably use right about now.)
And Franklin is almost certainly endearing himself to Vandy diehards with his unabashed salesmanship of Vanderbilt’s academic superiority. When asked whether Mike Slive’s proposal to raise academic eligibility standards would help out a more rigorous school like VU, Franklin replied, “We’re already living at a higher standard than most of the schools across the country anyway.” When he sells Vandy to prospective recruits, he said, he tells them “you have a degree that really matters. When you go into a job interview, you’ll demand respect from the people in that room right away.”
And yeah, you’ll be playing in a stadium where half the fans are rooting for the other team, but Franklin says he’s working on that too. “The most important thing we can do,” he said, “is put a product on the field that our fans can be excited about.”
“Product”? Seriously, if this guy doesn’t have an M.B.A. already, Vandy should just go ahead and give him an honorary one. Interested in becoming a ’Dore? Operators are standing by.
This update was written on the scene of SEC Media Days by Doug Gillett.
When the handouts revealing the results of the media's All-SEC balloting were distributed this morning, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, not surprisingly, was on the first team. Yet despite that, and despite being talked about as perhaps even more talented than his predecessor (Mark Ingram, Alabama's first-ever Heisman winner), Richardson spoke to the media as if he were just a regular college kid plopped in front of a bunch of reporters with cameras and digital recorders. He spoke softly and casually used the phrase "them boys" to refer to both teammates and rival players. "Them boys are gonna try to bang us up, and we're gonna try to bang them up, too."
Yet first-team All-SEC status doesn't appear to affect him much, nor does the prospect of shouldering a greater load while Bama's new QBs learn the ropes. Even the Heisman didn't seem to be a huge motivating factor for Richardson: "It's not a primary goal. If it happens, it happens. That's a dream when you're playing NCAA on the PlayStation or something like that."
If anything, the biggest single thing driving Richardson this season, to hear him tell it, is memories of the tornadoes that devastated Tuscaloosa back in spring. Richardson related the story of Alabama's long snapper, whose girlfriend was more or less pulled right out of his arms by the winds; "Parents holding on to their kids while the wind's going 200 miles an hour, those images are stuck in my head," said Richardson, who has two children of his own.
"If you were in Tuscaloosa, you'd never even know some of those buildings were there, or that some of those houses had been there," he said. "You've got folks out there who lost everything, and they look to Alabama football for everything. . . . We can't let them down."
For more SEC, head to Team Speed Kills. For more on SEC Media Days, stay tuned to SBNation.com's streaming coverage, plus SB Nation Atlanta's as well. Here's the complete 2011 SEC Media Days TV schedule.
This update was written live from Birmingham by Doug Gillett.
It was barely 7 in the morning at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., and the lobby was already filling up with Alabama fans waiting to catch a glimpse of their sainted head coach. When Nick Saban finally showed a little bit before eight, a cheer went up that was audible from the Media Days ballrooms upstairs all the way down through numerous thick levels of concrete to the parking garage. (I should know; I was one of the people stuck in the garage and unable to catch an elevator back up to the hotel because every elevator car was clogged with Bama fans.)
During Saban's question-and-answer session, a reporter asked him about one particular fan wearing an "I hate Auburn" T-shirt and what he would say to that fan. "It's not personal. And that's not the way we should respect the opponents that we have," he said. "I think we have two great institutions [in this state], and I think we have a lot of wonderful people who support those institutions in a very positive way. . . . There's a small number of people who probably create [trouble] on both sides, so this is not a criticism of one or the other, and I would like to see our fans show class in terms of how we represent our institution, our state and our athletic programs."
What's this? Nick Saban, a guy whose reputation rests somewhere between Darth Vader and Keyser Söze in terms of intimidation, calling for fan detente between the Tide and the Tigers? Look, you have to understand something about Nick Saban: For all the "Dark Lord" epithets his devoted fan base tosses out there to get in the heads of rival teams, Saban's a relatively soft-spoken guy off the field, and he doesn't seem to mind being trotted out in front of the media. In fact, he arguably had the most effusive praise and thanks for the media of any coach who's made an appearance so far. He even laughed -- audibly! with a teeth-baring smile and everything! -- when he was asked "Do you think Mike Slive kind of acts as a dictator?" by a guy who was apparently one of his longtime friends/sparring prtners in the media.
On actual football matters, Saban seemed almost subdued for a guy whose team is a popular pick to win not just the SEC title but a national championship in 2011. His response to a reporter who asked about his team's status as a preseason favorite: "You all are a lot smarter than we are as coaches, because we could never pick who's gonna win the SEC."
He spoke at length on just how tough the SEC (and the Western Division in particular) has gotten, pointing out that at one point last season, five of the division's six teams were ranked in the top 20. "I think it speaks to the quality of the league on a national basis, not just a regional basis, and i think that's one of the keys with the SEC -- I feel like w'ere the national league of college football. . . . It's a very challenging league to play in, and it's very difficult to have that kind of standard of excellence, but with the quality of players and coaches that we have, it would not surprise me if we at least continued to have someone in a position to be in the national championship game."
Yet other than Auburn, the only team on Alabama's 2011 schedule that Saban mentioned by name was . . . Georgia Southern, the FCS powerhouse the Tide will play the week before the Iron Bowl. He seemed to think this bit of scheduling was a hardship. "If you're gonna play someone in another division, you don't have to play the BEST team," he griped to chuckles from the audience.
Wonder what the "I hate Auburn" guy would make of that. But I know one thing that would make him happy: Despite the fact that Auburn, not Alabama, is the most recent national title winner this time around, Bama had a much bigger and more vocal fan contingent in the Wynfrey lobby than Auburn did a day ago, and whereas Gene Chizik's appearance yesterday had all the energy and excitement of a wake, Saban's appearance on the dais prompted photographers to swarm the front of the room as if Kate Middleton had strolled up there in her wedding dress. Iron Bowl results be damned, there's still only one king of this state, and Birmingham knows who he is.
For more SEC, head to Team Speed Kills. For more on SEC Media Days, stay tuned to SBNation.com's streaming coverage, plus SB Nation Atlanta's as well. Here's the complete 2011 SEC Media Days TV schedule.
After two long days in Birmingham, it's time. Les Miles will field questions at SEC Media Days. However, only a fool would discount the exciting comments to be made by Houston Nutt, while there's really nothing like a stern address from Nick Saban to jolt even the most-hungover blogger to life first thing in the morning.
And that's overlooking the first appearance by James Franklin, who may or may not be one-eighth as entertaining as his predecessor Robbie Caldwell was last year. Though he definitely has more personality than Vanderbilt coaches are known for.
If you're just now tuning in to SEC Media Days, you've selected the right day. Putting Vandy right before lunch makes for a tempting early break, but this is the most talent-packed lineup of the week by far. Let us cruise to victory, friends.
Coverage will be live on TV at ESPNU and streaming online at ESPN3.com.
For more SEC, head to Team Speed Kills. For more on SEC Media Days, stay tuned to SBNation.com's streaming coverage, plus SB Nation Atlanta's as well. Here's the complete 2011 SEC Media Days TV schedule.
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way: Yes, Derek Dooley’s hair is every bit as impressive as you’ve heard, if not more so. Some people have hairstylists; Derek Dooley has designers. He has architects. The jet-black prow over his forehead could cut prosciutto; the part looks like it was crafted by either a Marine Corps drill sergeant or someone who had one standing over him. It is professional hair. It neither makes nor accepts excuses.
The same could be said for Dooley himself, who, when asked whether he perceived any benefit of the doubt from Tennessee’s demanding fan base given the turmoil that preceded him, said any excuses ended in January 2010. "When I met with the team, that was when I said that was behind us. . . . We can’t complain about our numbers anymore — we’re not at 85, but we’ve got enough bodies to put a football team out there.
“What we’ve got right now is just youth. We can’t sit there and use that as an excuse not to succeed.” But he did say he appreciated the support from Tennessee fans during a difficult time in the program’s history: “They’re the most unconditionally loyal group of fans out there. . . . Still seeing people at the Vol Walk, and a hundred thousand fans still packing the stadium even when we were 2-6, our fans were incredible last year. We’re doing our best to meet their expectations — they’re high, and they should be high.”
Last year, Tennessee had a reasonable amount of experience on defense but an offense that was rawer than sashimi. This year the defense is a bit of a patchwork — only one returning starter in the front seven — but the offense seems to be finding its footing behind a more experienced O-line and QB Tyler Bray, who impressed with a four-game winning streak immediately after taking over the starting job last season. “It’s a little bit like parenting,” Dooley said to laughter when describing Bray’s early struggles. “They don’t always do what you want them to do, but then they do it and you say, ‘Well, that’s not as bad as I thought it was.’ He never flinched, he never got affected . . . as long as he continues on that track of improvement, I think we’re all going to be impressed with what Tyler does.”
The Vols will also have one of the league’s most underrated running backs, Tauren Poole, leading the way — and part of that underrated-ness may stem from Dooley himself, who says he told Poole on the way down to Birmingham that “Coach Spurrier said he’s got the best back [Marcus Lattimore] in the league, and I said I agreed with him. [Tauren] said, ‘Yeah, all right, I hear you, coach.’”
But Dooley also said he “wished we had a hundred Tauren Pooles,” and Poole, for his part, is no more interested in making excuses than his coach. “I put that on myself, that I’ve got more to prove,” said Poole, who didn’t make any of last year’s All-SEC teams despite racking up more than 1,000 yards on the ground. “I can’t get mad at the rankings; those [other] guys proved themselves. I definitely love the competition in this league, because it makes us all better.”
Dooley also answered questions about why he cut a big part of the program’s budget allocated for recruiting services, saying it was mainly because he’d never used them much at Louisiana Tech because they couldn’t afford them. “My instinct was ‘cut the money,’ and then I realized we had a hundred million dollars [at Tennessee] and I was like, ‘Why did I do that?’”
The crowd got a good laugh, and Dooley was just about to end his time on a high note when the final question came from the audience: "Coach, you had a couple of games last year that ended . . . peculiarly . . . "
Dooley winced and smiled. “I almost got out of here,” he said.
This update was written by Doug Gillett, live from Birmingham.
Two of the players Auburn brought to Media Days, receiver Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, just turned 20 this past summer. Yet as one-third of the returning starters on Auburn's 2011 team, they're now the veteran leaders on the roster more or less by default.
"I've always considered myself a leader, I try to do the right thing," Lutzenkirchen said. "But it's just weird -- me and Emory just turned 20, and to think we're the 'old guys' on the team now, it's kind of strange."
That hasn't stopped Lutzenkirchen from being bullish on this year's team's chances, though -- "Like last year, people are underestimating us," he said. "But we've got the same mentality as last year, we don't really listen to the naysayers. We definitely have the talent, we just don't have the experience."
Among the noobs Lutzenkirchen singled out as having impressed him in spring practice: defensive tackle Angelo Blackson ("He's big, he's hard to move -- built like Nick Fairley, as crazy as that sounds for a freshman"), linebacker Chris Frost, and Quan Bray, who participated in summer drills even as his father was being arraigned for the fatal shooting of his mother. "Quan's had a lot to work through this summer, but he's done a great job, and we're looking forward to seeing him on the field," Lutzenkirchen said.
A Marietta native, Lutzenkirchen described Media Days as a "whirlwind." "Being from Georgia, you see some of the same reporters you saw back home," he said. "And you still feel like just some small-town kid."
It took four or five questions for the assembled media to get into the subject of Gene Chizik’s back-and-forth with the NCAA’s vice president of enforcement in Destin back in the spring, but when they finally did, the floodgates opened, and then . . . pretty much nothing happened, honestly.
Give Chizik credit for this: If he wasn’t already, winning a national championship has successfully turned him into a PR-approved party-line-regurgitator of the highest and most professional order. This isn’t a knock on Chizik (mostly): Given that the investigation into his Heisman-winning QB’s recruitment is still ongoing, he’s very much straightjacketed in terms of what he can actually say in public, and give him credit for recognizing that. (Paul Johnson, for example, might do well to take some notes.) But even the PR-smoothed likes of Bobby Petrino and Will Muschamp, whom we saw and were mostly bored by yesterday, would’ve had to stand up and applaud the alacrity with which Chizik calmly repeated the phrase “It was a question of process.”
Not every question revolved around NCAA investigations or contentious repartee with enforcement officials. Incredibly, Chizik bordered on actual frankness-like substance when asked about the challenges of replacing superstars Cam Newton and Nick Fairley (“I don’t know that you can replace them in terms of production right away”), not to mention the progress of running back Michael Dyer. A lot will be placed on Dyer’s shoulders this season, given that he’s one of only six starters from last year’s championship team returning to the Plains this season, but despite being considered one of few remaining bona fide superstars by fans and pundits, Chizik said straight out that Dyer’s prep work was far from finished: “He needs to be better in pass protection, needs to be a more physical runner.” But: “I think he’s really understanding the work ethic and the things it’s gonna take to be a better back.”
In the end, though, Chizik’s overall appearance can be summed up with an exchange concerning recent reports of a Cam Newton “bagman” coming forward. Despite the highly inflammatory nature of the accusations, Chizik’s answer was just as skim-milk as ever. “I’ll make this real clear: The NCAA has said multiple times that Auburn has done nothing wrong in the recruitment of Cam Newton,” he said. “I sleep real good every night when my head hits the pillow.”
In the span of one year, Georgia QB Aaron Murray has gone from an apple-cheeked freshman to being the most popular choice on most pundits’ preseason All-SEC rosters. If there was any temptation for him to get complacent about that, though, the 6-7 record last season probably got rid of it.
“Going 6-7 adds motivation,” he said. “Then, to add the team [Boise State] that’s won the most games the last four or five years . . . we want to show the nation we’re still a great team.”
With A.J. Green gone to the NFL, who’s Murray’s go-to target now? That would be Tavarres King, whom Murray said has not only been working with him “non-stop” but has also “done a tremendous job of taking over as a leader. He’s more like a mentor now.” Marlon Brown, a highly touted WR recruit who’s only been used sparingly his first couple seasons, “is looking awesome. He looks like a tight end now.”
When asked about the contentious (and painful-looking) finish to last year’s Auburn game, and whether the NCAA does enough to protect QBs, Murray was matter-of-fact: “I think they do enough. It’s part of the game. You’re gonna get the wind knocked out of you and you’re gonna take some hard hits.” Someone pointed out Will Muschamp’s the previous day about D-lines being the most critical elements to a team’s success in the SEC, and Murray agreed: “They’re HUGE. And they’re fast.” Last year, he said, he noticed a big difference between D-lines from out-of-conference teams and the lines from the SEC teams he played.
Naturally, Murray also got asked about whether he feels any additional pressure knowing that Mark Richt has been talked about as being on one of the hottest seats in the country. “I don’t want to say it puts pressure on us,” he said. But “We want him to be our coach. I want him to be here for the next three years.”
Mark Richt’s question-and-answer period with the media was drawing to a close when the moderator pointed to a burly guy in a suit in the back of the room.
“Coach, Ben Jones from Georgia. Do you trust the offensive line this year?”
Yes, that was Ben Jones as in Georgia center Ben Jones, taking his opportunity to have a little fun with the media and his coach. You may remember Jones as the guy who came off the field following 2009’s victory over Georgia Tech with a big chunk of the Bobby Dodd Stadium turf in his mouth; he didn’t sound resentful of LSU coach Les Miles for getting all the grass-eating attention in the conference these days, but he did add, “I might have to talk to him about that. He might’ve stolen that from me.”
Jones said the offseason had been a major “gut check” following last year’s 6-7 finish, and added that he was looking forward, as a senior, to being part of the change movement afoot at the program. “This is why the senior class is here for everybody — we want to lead the freshman recruits in the right direction,” he said.
Jones praised his QB, Aaron Murray (“He’s there from 11 in the morning to 8 o’clock at night, and when you get there on Saturday, you know he’ll be ready”), but reserved his most effusive praise for his coach. Listening to Jones talk about Mark Richt would almost be enough to make the most rabid Florida or Georgia Tech fan shed a tear and say a prayer for Richt’s future with the Bulldogs: “He’s the face of Georgia. He’s a great man and a great coach . . . godly man, family man. I look up to him more than anybody.”
Richt, for his part, took Jones’ unexpected question in the spirit in which it was intended — and said yes, he does trust his offensive line. “And I think Ben Jones, he’s the best center in America. I think he’s going to win the Rimington.”
Georgia Bulldogs coach Mark Richt, the longest-tenured SEC coach, took the podium at Media Days by pointing out the event is his 11th -- as subtle questions about whether he'd get to see his 12th lingered in the waters. He turned to praising Boise State and South Carolina, his team's make-or-break opening opponents, before commenting on the guys who fell "off the bus" during his attrition-y summer.
Throughout, Richt expressed optimism and confidence for the future, bringing up the fact that his 2014 recruiting class is already starting to stock itself. Despite a down year and calls for his job, Richt gave off nothing but confident vibes while, as always, being much more pleasant to listen to than, say, Bobby Petrino.
When asked about recruiting, he said his biggest problem is waiting patiently to offer a player from the state of Georgia, which presumably leads to recruits feeling snubbed. Detailing the process, he said "some out-of-state schools" will "go blazing through the state" "offering a lot of guys," which leads to resentment towards UGA from some recruits. His voice rose during that description -- some Alabama and Auburn fans are going to take that as a shot, but that goes for pretty much everything.
He responded to a question of whether Aaron Murray-Tyler Bray could become the next Peyton Manning-Danny Wuerrfel rivalry by calling Murray a "coach's dream" and highlighting Mike Bobo's training of the young QB.
He described his process of deciding whether to play Boise State in the Chick-fil-A game, saying he was concerned about the perception of there being a decline in Georgia football. Playing the Broncos in a national game still means "there's risk in playing a team that might whip your tail, because they might whip your tail." He said "we need to play this game."
Richt predicted a Rimington Trophy win for Ben Jones while talking up Cordy Glenn, Justin Anderson and other offensive linemen while talking about the lack of depth up front -- "as long as nobody gets hurt, we're fine," he said to laughter. Later, Jones took over the mic to ask if Richt trusts the line -- Richt laughed and said, "you weren't here when I was bragging on the offensive line," before talking about Jones "whooping everybody" in his first pass drill as Richt sent defensive linemen one-by-one against Jones before somebody could "finally beat him."
"Good question, by the way, Ben," he added.
In response to a question about BYU Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall's comment that SEC coaching salary's are responsible for all the world's ills, brother Richt took the family to church. "Money is the root of all evil ... but it can be used for good. I've never heard of any Southeastern Conference coaches taking their money and doing anything bad or abusive with it."
On whether Todd Grantham's 3-4 system is a good match for Kellen Moore, Richt talked about growing pains while working his way to bigging up John Jenkins, as he's known to do. (If a Georgia coach talks for more than 10 minutes, can they go without mentioning Jenkins? They really love this guy.) More third-and-long concerns.
Mike Bianchi trolled, asking about that "devastating" loss to UCF, which had Richt clarifying the meaning of the word "devastating" before pinning the loss largely on George O'Leary's coaching job.
He said Richard Samuel has gained about 20 pounds since his first year as a RB without sacrificing any speed. He predicted, "I'm gonna feel better about the way the running backs played this year than they did last year." Later, he didn't downplay the possibility of Jenkins getting a goal line carry at some point. Further on the issue of depth, he addressed training camp contact by saying, "we'll get after it," but hopes he doesn't have to "lose [his] nerve" due to injuries.
For anyone confused on how the SEC works, Richt diagnosed the SEC East's weakness as being due to its failure to win games against the West. He also pointed out one winner from each division will play for the conference. The gospel isn't complicated, folks.
Speaking of the SECCG, Richt noted Georgia's goal for the year is to "play in the Dome twice."
Likewise, he assessed special jersey changes like black unis or Pro Combat duds as only being good ideas if they result in a win. He told the story of presenting the new jerseys Wednesday night by having Murray and Brandon Boykin pretend to show up late to a meeting while sporting the Nike gear. What's Georgia gain from wearing them? "Anytime you can have some fun, it's good to do that."
Richt poked at former Dawgs player Will Muschamp's assertion that since taking over as the new Gators coach he's "a Florida man," saying, "there's a little bit of red and black in his veins." He referenced his own experience as transitioning from a Miami player to a FSU coach before coaching against Bobby Bowden at Georgia.
As you may have heard, the theme of Kentucky’s 2011 season, as displayed on the cover of their media guide, is "Rise." What precisely that entails, head coach Joker Phillips didn’t elaborate on in great detail — maybe it means a bigger airplane? Steve Spurrier’s gonna have something to say about that, friendo — but apparently it involves broadening the Wildcats’ recruiting reach into Georgia.
"We want to build more recruiting inroads in south Georgia," Phillips said, talking about new running backs coach Steve Pardue, who came to UK following 17 very successful years as the head coach at LaGrange High School. "We feel like we’ve done a good job in Atlanta and central Georgia, and Steve Pardue can help us with that."
"Rise" evidently involves continuing the work of turning the Wildcats into an SEC contender, which is no easy task — since Rich Brooks took over the program in 2003, the ‘Cats have raised their football profile greatly, but they’ve still finished in the top half of the East Division only once. Phillips said becoming an elite SEC team is primarily a matter of discipline. "I think we’re very, very close," he said. "We’ve been competing in this league for the last six or seven years, and we’ve lost a lot of close games, but the thing that’ll get us over the hump is being the most disciplined team in the league . . . and being consistent."
Phillips also talked about the relationship between him and Rick Minter, who was his mentor at Cincinnati in the 1990s and who is now serving under him at Kentucky as a co-defensive coordinator. "Our relationship’s been great. I definitely spoke with him when I left Cincinnati to go to Minnesota . . . and when I left Notre Dame — which wasn’t by choice — Rick’s advice was to go to South Carolina with [Lou] Holtz, whom he’d worked for. I’ve always talked with Rick about the major moves that I’ve made."
Phillips, the only current SEC coach who’s coaching at his alma mater, also explained the difference between his "coach-in-waiting" situation (he’d been tagged as Rich Brooks’ CIW in 2009) and some of the other heirs apparent that have been named over the past few years in college football. "I was a part of building what we had at Kentucky, and then some other guys came in and took over," he explained. "So I understood how much Kentucky football meant to me. Had I come in from the outside, maybe I wouldn’t have understood that quite as well."
Well, technically Derek Dooley speaking into a microphone pretty much trumps anybody else speaking into a microphone, but Mark Richt and Gene Chizik are the biggest names with the most to discuss on Day 2 of SEC Media Days.
Expect the Georgia coach to be peppered with queries about the temperature of his seat, the attrition hammering his offensive line and backfield and whether his recent local recruiting success can buy him another year, but more nicely than that. Auburn's Chizik will have to answer questions about the latest in the Cam Newton investigation story, whether there's anything actually to it or not, along with something on how to win another national title. Both will also be asked about Mike Slive's scholarship recommendations, as will everybody in Birmingham.
Joker Phillips will be questioned about ... Kentucky football, while anything Dooley says is sure to be worth every bit of your attention, now and always.
Coverage will be live on TV at ESPNU and streaming online at ESPN3.com.
Dan Mullen’s appearance on the Media Days dais (Media Day-is?) was interesting for any number of reasons — his response to Steve Spurrier’s observation about Mississippi State’s free-spending taste in airplanes (“But I’ve never played at Augusta National, so”), his vow to not just pursue but “relentlessly pursue” an SEC championship.
But after only a few minutes, it became clear Dan Mullen loves him some Starkville. Man oh man, does he love the absolute poo out of it. The conversation in the Wynfrey ballroom frequently found itself circling back to the city’s status as a “hidden gem” off the beaten path; its natural beauty; its great people; the support the community has given the football program; and the fact that “When [people] leave Starkville on a Saturday, they’re looking forward to coming back.” Basically, Leslie Knope : Pawnee, Indiana :: Dan Mullen : Starkville, Mississippi. If this coaching thing doesn’t end up panning out for Mullen, he has a job waiting for him at the Greater Starkville Tourism Bureau.
In the midst of this inspiring travelogue, actual football was discussed. Mullen gushed about running back Vick Ballard and praised the progress of QB Chris Relf, about whom he admitted he “initially had doubts about whether he could play quarterback in the SEC.” But Relf “gained confidence” after Mullen’s first year, “he understood he had to take a bigger role, he understood the offense better . . . and he’s been making better and better decisions every day.”
Contrary to some assumptions, Mullen didn’t come to Starkville with the express goal of installing a simulacrum of his prolific Tebow-led Florida offense. “The offense that I ran at Utah with Alex Smith was very different from the offense I ran at Florida with Chris Leak, and the offense I ran with Tim Tebow at Florida was different from the one I ran with Chris Leak,” he explained. “We’re building around the strengths of our players. I don’t need Chris Relf to be an Alex Smith or a Tim Tebow; I need Chris Relf to be Chris Relf and make the plays that help our team win, and as a coach I need to put him in a position to do those things.”
As befitting a guy who is now 2-0 against his program’s hated in-state rival, Mullen got a big smile on his face when someone asked him about the “This Is Our State” marketing campaign that’s been tweaking the crap out of Ole Miss fans across the Magnolia State. “That was something our PR department worked on,” he said. “We’re the people’s university, and it’s really important for us and for me to get out there and say that. . . . I’d love to win a championship for the people of Mississippi. They deserve to be champions.”
OK, it’s one thing to proclaim your love for your state, that’s fine. But then: “When you come to Starkville on a Saturday, it is an event. It’s the place to be in Mississippi.” Starkville? And not Oxford, the home of all that is pastoral and bucolic and genteelly, collegiately drunk? An entire nation of Faulkner fans is coming for you, Dan Mullen, and hell (and red Solo cups) is coming with ’em.
OK, Steve Spurrier wasn’t actually handcuffed in front of the assembled Media Days crowd, but he did tell the story of how he ended up in shackles after a practice earlier this summer: He worked it out beforehand with the Columbia PD to tweak the members of the media who jumped the gun on stories of recruit Jadeveon Clowney’s recent non-arrest at a Columbia bar.
That anecdote earned the first genuine belly laughs of the event’s first afternoon — all due respect to Bobby Petrino and Will Muschamp, but lord, after a couple hours of their painstakingly PR-enblandened sound bites it was a blessed relief to hear the Ol’ Ballcoach let loose. Among Spurrier’s other memorable statements:
As for Lattimore, who was also in attendance, he seems fazed neither by the spotlight of being the Gamecocks’ new superstar, nor by the additional expectations that have been loaded on his back since the Gamecocks clinched their division title. In fact, he said it’d be a disappointment if the ‘Cocks didn’t win n SEC title in 2011. “It’d definitely be a disappointment — we made it [to the title game] last year, we want to win it this year.”
Lattimore added that getting 30 to 40 carries per game (numbers which put him on pace to break Herschel Walker’s record for career carries) motivated him to work even harder in the weight room this summer, and he says the subject of him perhaps getting a lighter workload this season hasn’t come up. “I want more touches,” he said with a grin. “I want to win the Heisman.”
This update was written by Doug Gillett, on the scene in Birmingham.
Entering his senior season with the Florida Gators, QB John Brantley is now under his third different offensive coordinator and learning his third new offensive scheme. Probably not what he expected when he signed on to be Tim Tebow's heir apparent, but he still talks as though the third time -- now under ex-New England Patriots OC and Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis -- might be the charm.
"The coaches have made the transition real easy," he said, having gone from Dan Mullen's spread to Steve Addazio's quasi-spread and now to Weis' pro-style setup. "I've gotta get used to taking snaps from under center again -- under center you can't see the field as well." But the new scheme "definitely suits us a little better. It helps me out a lot because I'm not a runner. I try not to take too many hits."
The hardest part of picking up Weis' playbook, he said, was the verbiage: "You look at it the first day and you're like, 'I'm never gonna get this.' But it definitely gets easier."
Brantley praised wide receiver Deonte Thompson ("That's my boy") and an offensive line he said has done a great job of bouncing back from injuries suffered during the spring. Though he confessed to a "bitter taste in my mouth" from last year's disappointing 8-5 campaign, he said he was grateful for the unflappable demeanor of Will Muschamp and the rest of the coaching staff, who've played many big games in many big stadiums before. "When you see your head coach go into places like this and not get rattled, that really motivates the rest of us," he said.
New Florida Gators coach Will Muschamp entered his first SEC Media Days as one of the event's most-anticipated speakers. This is not only because he speaks so quickly that you have to be prepared for it, else you will find yourself dizzied and in the next room.
The former Georgia Bulldogs defender followed Bobby Petrino, making for the most whiplashy contrast of personalities I've ever endured. Attempting to transcribe Muschamp is pointless, as his thoughts on vintage Dom Capers mingled freely with a fellow coach's favorite pet, but you do your best. KABLAOW!
Muschamp opened by thanking Jeremy Foley and company and reveling in the undefeated status of each SEC team at this point. As far as Florida goes, he said he's excited and pleased about the competition his staff has stirred up in Gainesville and the progress Charlie Weis has made in developing the new Gators offense.
"Falling back on some of his experience has been a joy for me," Muschamp said, sounding exactly like Coach Eric Taylor, as he does. He also noted Weis' daughter's love of horses, which are great for recruiting.
The coach provided an update on the status of Neiron Bell, who's going to miss the 2011 season while recovering from a brain illness. Setting aside rumors that Jeff Demps has been given an ultimatum regarding his decision to run track, Muschamp praised his player's performance in Italy meets and expects him to join the team in August. He was later asked to clarify whether Demps is definitely coming back or not, which sent him on a brief rant against message board rumors, producing the quote of the day so far: "I ain't never been to Italy."
Perhaps the most entertaining exchange:
Q: An 8-5 record is not something that Gator Nation really accepts.
A: They've told me.
Q: How's it feel to be a Georgia guy coaching the University of Florida?
A: I'm a Florida guy.
He was then asked about how playing for Georgia prepared him for the SEC, to which he said he felt prepared for getting into taking a team to play in Tiger Stadium and Jordan-Hare Stadium. He cited the SEC's defensive line strength as the primary reason offenses aren't as wide open as they were in the Big 12 during his time at Texas.
Speaking of Texas, he says he was proud and appreciative to be named Mack Brown's coach-in-waiting, but that "when Jeremy Foley and the University of Florida call, you listen."
An extremely SEC moment occurred when a reporter dropped his mic while addressing the coach, who replied, "Just holler at me. I can hear you."
Who's your SEC East pick? Muschamp says Florida has a "very good chance to make it to Atlanta."
On the subject of rebuilding a program, the coach said he implemented some new strength training elements but has largely proceeded on an item-by-item basis. He was asked more than once about attrition, saying Florida will cross-train defensive linemen to help supplement depth.
Muschamp was asked to compare Florida and Texas recruiting, emphasizing the increased competition in his new locale due to the (sort of) comparable resources enjoyed by unnamed in-state rivals.
He was asked multiple times about Nick Saban's influence on his coaching style, first opting to talk about coaches besides just Saban and second detailing Saban's "total program management" as the key pickup. He also mentioned former Auburn DCs Wayne Hall and Bill Oliver as strong influences. When asked whether his close relationships with Saban and Jimbo Fisher makes rivalries awkward, he joked, "Well, I wouldn't say we get along all that well," saying he treats it as a brotherly competition.
Asked about how hands-on he'll be with X's and O's, he explained he still plans to handle defense and special teams, from meetings to the sidelines, as it brings him joy. Lots of things bring Will Muschamp joy, and may he continue bringing SEC Media Days joy for quite some time.
This update was written by Doug Gillett, who's live on the scene of SEC Media Days.
For a guy who just led the Arkansas Razorbacks to their first Sugar Bowl in eons, only to lose arguably the greatest pure passer the program's ever seen, Bobby Petrino sounded remarkably confident about the 2011 season. Petrino started off by talking about the three things he thinks will be the biggest boost to his team this year: speed, particularly on the edges; a well-prepared mindset; and a lot of experience and depth.
Tellingly, Petrino basically admitted the guys who will be seniors this season "didn't play real well" as true freshmen three years ago, but he said they've grown up a lot. Between the players having grown up considerably and the defensive coaches sticking with the game plan even through the rough times, Petrino said he was optimistic that last year's improvement on defense would continue; this season, he said, "will be the first time we're physically where we need to be on the defensive front," with size in the middle and speed on the edges that "matches what we see every week in the conference."
On offense, the biggest question for the Razorbacks is naturally whether they can fill the shoes of Ryan Mallett at quarterback. Initially, Petrino talked as though he hadn't decided whether the guy tasked with that job would be Tyler Wilson (the backup, who made some amazing plays spelling an injured Mallett against Auburn and Ole Miss) or Brandon Mitchell, but as the afternoon progressed, Wilson's name was mentioned more and more by both Petrino and running back Knile Davis, also representing the Razorbacks in Birmingham.
"I don't think he's going to be another Ryan Mallett," said Davis, who added that he calls Wilson his "best friend."
"I think he's gonna be a Tyler Wilson, and he's gonna do great things for us."
Davis and Petrino both addressed the other big question for the Razorbacks' offense -- the loss of two three-year starters at offensive tackle. Petrino picked out true freshman Brey Cook as a player who's "big, physical, very well-coached in high school" and who has picked up the Arkansas scheme very quickly. Regarding the effect of the O-line shuffling on the Arkansas offense, Davis said, "I don't think it'll be that big a dropoff."
Naturally, another topic both Petrino and Davis were asked about was Ohio State vacating its Sugar Bowl win over the Hogs due to ineligible players. Davis' assessment ("We lost against their best. I don't think we should be credited with the win") was succinct, as was Petrino's: "We had every chance in the world to win that game." Petrino did, however, refer to last year's squad as "a 10-2 team," so it doesn't exactly sound like he's counting it as a loss, either.
* Today is Bobby Petrino's wedding anniversary. Congrats on 26 (I'm assuming) wonderful years, coach.
* Knile Davis was asked about players getting in NCAA hot water by selling their belongings, but said that he couldn't see that ever being an issue with him personally. "I wouldn't want to sell my ring. I wouldn't want to sell my jersey. I want those things. They're important to me."
* Davis says the hardest hitter on the Arkansas defense is defensive back Jerry Mitchell, while the toughest defense he went up against last season was Mississippi State's.
* Apparently when Ryan Mallett went on Jon Gruden's ESPN show earlier this year, he showed off some Arkansas hand signals, which Petrino wasn't real thrilled about. (He did say Mallett called him the next day to apologize.)
SEC commissioner Mike Slive introduced the conference's 2011 Media Days bazaar at 1:30 pm ET with what had been called a critically important announcement by ... pretty much everybody. Before he took the podium, Tony Barnhart was reporting the message would focus on major changes to be made to college football -- beyond just the SEC -- including multiple-year scholarships.
Some also guessed he'd discuss providing athletes with full cost of attendance scholarships.
Slive opened his comments by shooting down rumors of his own resignation, then bragged about the conference's run of dominance in football and non-football sports, whatever those may be. Citing the summer's bounty of ridiculous headlines, Slive lamented the "shadow" cast over college athletics and academics by assorted scandals.
He then got to the big stuff, introducing the SEC's four-piece "agenda for change."
Redefine the benefits available to student-athletes.
As expected, Slive recommended finding a way to provide cost of attendance scholarships to student-athletes, making the SEC the first conference to officially declare desire for increasing money made legally available to players. This would cover expenses for student medical, travel and other needs.
Perhaps in an effort to halt oversigning concerns, Slive recommended multi-year scholarships, which would include providing for athletes who stop playing for their school's teams.
He revealed the NFL, NCAA and various other entities have worked together to come up with solutions on curbing impermissible benefits, but that efforts have been slowed by the NFL lockout.
Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for freshmen and transfers.
Slive said the NCAA should consider whether freshmen should be allowed to play without passing academic standards, and that academic evaluations should include more than just senior years of high school.
He also talked about raising the minimum GPA to 2.5 and establishing a set of core courses every athlete must pass before playing at the NCAA level. Players who failed to meet academic standards should be allowed to practice and receive academic aid, but not compete.
Modernize recruiting rules.
"It's time to push the reset button." Slive said the NCAA should move away from attempting to create level playing fields, citing the many advantages held by certain schools that make such a goal unattainable.
The SEC has already recommended loosening text messaging rules. To Slive, the NCAA's focus on the small stuff has made it difficult to monitor actual problems. He recommended treating all electronic communication the same, establishing calendars that focus on permitted contact instead of prohibited contact, ensuring recruitment occurred on campuses and not through third parties -- which means no recruiting events like non-scholastic 7-on-7 tournaments could be held by college programs.
Support the NCAA.
Slive called for clear, enforceable reform legislation that seeks to manage only issues "of core importance." (Georgia Tech fans, you should approve of this.)
TV coverage of the 2011 edition of SEC Media Days begins at 1 pm ET on ESPNU, and can also be streamed live online at ESPN3.com. Thursday and Friday begin at 6 am ET, and if you get up that early to watch preparations being made for Joker Phillips, you are far more devoted to this than anybody else.
The SEC's site (excuse me, DIGITAL NETWORK BOOOOOOOOOOONG) will have video of all players and coaches as those turn up. If you're on Twitter, you'll want to follow most of Alligator Army's list here, but be sure to follow SBNation.com's @edsbs and @nastinchka and SB Nation Atlanta's @CaptainAnnoying.
Here's your complete schedule, along with players and coaches appearing for each team:
Wednesday, 2 to 4:50 p.m. ET
4:20 to 7 p.m. ET
Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET
11:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET
Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET
11:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET
The image a team chooses to put on its media guide cover says something about what the program thinks of itself. Based on the 2011 covers available at SEC Media Days, several teams think, "We have many players." Here are photos of each, all via Craig Pinkerton:
Alabama apparently has more than multiple covers, since nobody's sure which players Nick Saban has dropped yet.
Note: Arkansas' includes more than one receiver, none of whom is catching a ball.
Auburn would've had a pretty hard time screwing this one up.
Florida's media guide doesn't call to mind a coaching staff composed of Bill Belichick's and Nick Saban's coaching trees, you say?
Is having three special teamers on the cover of your media guide a good sign?
Rise ... and fire. Kentucky basketball joke: check.
This LSU guide is pretty cool, especially the helpful icon that reminds you what the sun looks like. Les Miles doesn't need help with that one, but it doesn't hurt to be sure.
Mississippi State earns Most Audacious while also giving me yet another chance to link to Ole Miss' Egg Bowl banner.
To that affront, Houston Nutt consoles himself as an Ole Miss player tongues a floating head's ear. You sure you really want this state, Dan Mullen?
To nobody's surprise, the Gamecocks continue to say, "Stephen who?"
Has the Tennessee guide sustained water damage? No, friend. It's called shower discipline.
The Vanderbilt cover sticks with the WE HAVE PLAYERS! angle, though sadly elected not to use its space for a Robbie Caldwell 2010 Media Days memorial:
Schedules and lineups for the 2011 SEC Media Days festival are now upon us. From July 20 through July 22, expect nothing but the strangest and most wonderful.
Mark Richt, Aaron Murray, Ben Jones and Brandon Boykin are set to represent the Georgia Bulldogs late Thursday morning. That quartet should be able to make it through its session without saying anything too outrageous. Actually, Thursday was apparently reserved for the four parties least likely to cause a scene, with Kentucky, Auburn and Tennessee joining UGA. Well, Derek Dooley is usually funny.
Wednesday kicks off with Bobby Petrino, who's being offered up to receive the brunt of the oversigning questions, I guess. He's too slick to say anything all that entertaining, though the back-to-back run of Will Muschamp and Steve Spurrier is not to be missed. Dan Mullen, an underrated quote himself, concludes the opening day.
Friday, however, should be non-stop action, with Nick Saban getting the start. Nobody really knows what to make of James Franklin yet, but he's got quite an act to top after Vandy's last showing. And then the main event: Houston Nutt, followed by Les Miles himself.
If you're not excited yet, I can't really do anything for you.
For more SEC, head to Team Speed Kills.