Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley got in and out at SEC Media Days, holding probably the shortest session of the week.
- Dooley says he’s felt better than he ever has about the Tennessee program.
- Dooley says, “You’re not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore.” Will that come back to bite him next year?
- About his two talented receivers in Justin Hunter and Da’rick Rogers, Dooley says only one has made it through a full season, so they still have a lot to prove.
- Surprisingly, Dooley’s session ends a full thirteen minutes early. That was a really short session, and he didn’t get any questions about being on the hotseat.
Marc: Dooley’s session only lasted about 25 minutes, well short of the 40 minutes he’s afforded. He didn’t get a question about his job, which is probably a good thing for him. He tried to pitch his session around this being a possible breakout year for Tennessee, and it needs to be if he wants to get back up to the podium next year. Tennessee has the weapons on offense to hang with some of the top teams in the SEC, but it’ll be up to the defense to win those games.
Marq: Derek Dooley exudes confidence despite the struggles he’s had in Knoxville. He acknowledged that it has been a tough four years at Tennessee and put the rest of the SEC on notice saying, “you won’t have Tennessee to kick around anymore.” Dooley may have the hottest coaching seat in the country and if he doesn’t perform this season, he won’t be around for another SEC Media Days.
Nick Saban is unquestionably the best coach in college football right now. He has the entire college football world in the palm of his hand and his Crimson Tide are riding high after two national championships in three years.
- Saban was bombarded by cameras and fans while walking down radio row.
- Saban had an interesting take on how to handle the Penn State situation. “Tax athletic tickets and give the money to abused children organizations.” He also said, “We need to focus more on the outcome than the punishment.”
- Saban jokingly said he was excited to be at media days and was happy the event was moved up a day.
- Saban’s main message to his team is fighting complacency. He said, “It’s human nature to relax.”
- Saban is high on freshman receiver Amari Cooper. He mentioned him during spring practice as well as today as one of the players who could really make plays for the team.
- Saban also pointed out that 2012 team will be defined by what they do and not what Alabama has done in the past. He was quick to note that 2012 team is not like the 2010 team.
- Saban and Steve Spurrier have had a nice back and forth during media days. Saban said (with a hint of sarcasm) he looks up to Spurrier and he even considered wearing a visor on the sideline.
- Saban said playing a national game in the season opener helps his team prepare harder in the offseason because its a tougher test.
- A reporter asked Saban what he thought about the perception nationally that he has too much power at Alabama. Saban responded, “It’s not true, if that’s the perception.”
Marq: Nick Saban has grown from just a defensive minded coach to the voice and face of college football. He fielded a wide range of questions from the Penn State scandal to having too much power at Alabama. He was quick to let every one know that the 2012 won’t get complacent like the 2010 team did and said he likes the leadership on this year’s team. The road schedule is tough for the Tide, but if things go their way, expect Saban to be in Miami looking for a repeat.
Marc: The thing that stands out about Nick Saban were the number of non team specific questions he got. Reporters asked him about questions concerning the game of college football and less about his team. He’s really becoming a voice for the game as a whole. As for the Alabama side, Saban seems determined that the 2012 team won’t make the mistakes of the 2010 unit.
The always-entertaining Les Miles concluded the longest day in SEC Media Days history with a bang in typical Miles fashion:
- Miles opens his press conference talking about everything he did in the offseason, but now, he says, it’s football time.
- On his EA Sports commercial, Miles says they simplified the dialogue so he could recite the lines. He also says Mike The Tiger stole the show.
- Miles says the quarterback won’t run the ball as much as it has in the past in his offense, but will be a more traditional, passing attack.
- Miles gets a couple of questions about the national title game, and he says, “I’ve seen it a couple times. There weren’t that many plays for us on offense.”
- On Tyrann Mathieu’s recent twitter habits, Miles said, “No game is won on the twitter page. It’s a nice pastime, like media days.”
- A reporter asks Miles if teams will be able to handle playing 15 games in the new playoff format, and he says that more games are better for the fans and teams will get used to it.
- Miles says that in 2011, “we played everybody but the Green Bay Packers.”
- He’s getting a lot of questions about Zach Mettenberger, and after about the fourth or fifth one, he says, “it’s pretty much what I just said.”
Marc: It was pretty much status quo for Les Miles at SEC Media Days. But the status quo for Les Miles is entertaining, informing and funny, and he was all of that. He took the questions about the Alabama game in the national championship in stride and said all the right things about Mathieu. Miles won’t let the BCS title game performance get to his head and will have his team ready to go come September.
Marq: Les Miles was nearly 20 minutes late, but no one really seemed to care because the Mad Hatter was gold at the podium like he always is. The questions he was asked were more ridiculous than the responses he gave. He kept the entire room laughing and took a nice shot at a reporter for calling his defensive game plans bland. LSU will be in the national championship race as the long as Les is at the helm.
Gene Chizik addressed the media following lunch, dressed in a pin-stripe suit with a pocket square. Chizik brought some excitement back to the media sessions, following the less than stellar Joker Phillips.
- Chizik opens by thanking everyone for sending thoughts and prayers to the Auburn community following the shootings that left three dead.
- Kiehl Frazier and Clint Moseley will battle for the starting quarterback position in the fall.
- Chizik would not place a time-table on selecting a starting quarterback, but said he would like it done sooner than later.
- Chizik said this is the first time since he’s been at Auburn that the Tigers have had depth at multiple positions.
- Auburn has 16 returning starters, with five returning senior starters.
- The current Auburn senior class has averaged 10 wins a year, are undefeated in postseason play and have a national championship ring.
- Auburn hired a new offensive (Scot Loeffler) and defensive (Brian VanGorder) coordinator this offseason.
- Loeffler and VanGorder have both coached on the NFL level.
- Chizik said if a game is decided by seven points or less, he thinks Auburn is going to win.
- Chizik called Missouri coach Gary Pinkel one of the best coaches in the country.
- Chizik called Missouri and Texas A&M two “dang good” football teams.
- Chizik said geographical reasons are not a reason to move Auburn and Alabama to the SEC East.
- Chizik would have supported the new playoff system in 2004 when Auburn finished undefeated, but would have been opposed in 2010 when the Tigers won the national championship.
Marq: Chizik was his usually calm, collected self during his session. He brought some energy back into the room. Demeanor was very similar to 2010 when he was coming off the national championship. He didn’t get a lot of questions, but he knocked down the few he was answered. He opened by thanking everyone for showing support after the shooting and it seemed like it came straight from the heart.
Marc: I don’t see Chizik all the time, but he seemed absolutely fired up at today’s media session. But he raised his voice to talk about Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC, and the potential scenarios in the new playoff format – hot topics, but nothing to get that riled up about. Still, Chizik was very well-spoken and confident in his Auburn team, which he says finally has some depth. Auburn will be tested early with Clemson in Atlanta and a trip to Starkville awaiting the Tigers in weeks one and two.
Joker Phillips finished up the morning session of SEC Media days, taking questions about his team’s upcoming season and, of course, basketball.
- Phillips starts off talking about his experienced staff and how excited he is (shocking, I know) to start the new season.
- Wisconsin is the program that Phillips says he can most model his own program after in terms of not getting the best recruiting classes, but still developing talent.
- On conference realignment, Phillips says, ” the best league just got better.”
- And Phillips gets his first basketball question: how does the championship help recruiting? He says it was “unbelievable advertising of our logo.”
- John Calipari called a recruit when Phillips had him on campus.
- Phillips on possibly being on the hot seat: “Well, I’m not sitting down right now. There’s nothing hot. I don’t have time to listen to that.”
Marc: There are entertaining coaches who coach bad teams (Houston Nutt) and boring coaches who coach good teams (Nick Saban). John L. Smith was the rare exciting-coach-who-coaches-a-good-team. Joker Phillips falls into the worst category: the boring coach who coaches a bad team. Phillips said all of the cliches – “we’re excited to get started,” “we’ve got some good guys coming in” – and got the predictable basketball questions, but it was tough to really feel any optimism coming out of his media day session. Kentucky will be a pretty bad team that will do well to win six games and get back to a bowl game.
Marq: Joker Phillips’ session in the main room was everything but exciting. Phillips handled himself well and answered every question, but media members were more focused on lunch than covering Kentucky football. Phillips has the toughest job in the SEC, even tougher than James Franklin has it at Vanderbilt. Phillips coaches at a basketball school and not a lot of football recruits are knocking down the Wildcats’ door. Hopefully, Phillips can lead the Cats to a bowl game after missing the postseason in 2011.
John L. Smith has the most interesting situation in all of college football. He signed a contract to be the head coach for the Razorbacks that doesn’t last a full year. The Hogs will be talented on offense and if Smith can keep the team focused, they have a serious shot at representing the SEC West in Atlanta and playing for a national championship in Miami.
- Smith was a little confused with the protocol of SEC Media Days. He tried to skip the question/answer session and introduce his players.
- Smith said the outside pressure doesn’t affect the team. “You have to be like a duck and let that water roll off your back.”
- Smith believes this team can compete for a chance to play in Miami despite its offseason distractions.
- A reporter asked Smith if he would like to be the coach at Arkansas for longer than a year and Smith responds, “Of course! Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that.”
- Smith credited his “nothing to lose” attitude to his grandfather’s journey to America. Smith said he views life as an adventure and doesn’t close any doors.
- Smith said the teams biggest recruiting goal is keeping the talented kids from Arkansas in state.
- Smith was surprised he got the job and shocked when he heard about the Bobby Petrino situation.
- Smith acknowledged that the Hogs have to be mentally tougher and believe they can beat Alabama and LSU.
- Smith took multiple jabs at the Arkansas media that he recognized, getting laughs from the reporters in the room.
- Smith came to the podium in style and left with a bang.
- After the spat with a reporter, Smith hugged the Memphis reporter he pretended to argue with.
Marq: John L. Smith is full of energy and should have been a comedian or some type of entertainer. He moves to the beat of his own drum and has a “nothing to lose” attitude. Smith’s personality fits his current situation perfectly. He takes it one day at a time and doesn’t let the outside pressure get to him. If that care free attitude can translate into victories, Smith could become the Hogs coach for the next few years.
Marc: John L. Smith is in a tough situation, having to replace Bobby Petrino on such short notice and operating in such an uncertain state. He seems to have taken a nothing-to-lose approach, and it’s easy to see why – because he really doesn’t have anything to lose. He probably won’t be back next year, but said very bluntly – “do I look stupid?” – that he would love to. The sky’s the limit for Arkansas, but the floor looks mighty deep, too.
Dan Mullen is entering his fourth year as head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. He has led a surprising Bulldog resurgence that has seen his team beat in-state rival Ole Miss three years in a row. But Mississippi State has yet to beat an SEC West team other than the Rebels. Is this the year Mississippi State takes the next step? Mullen spoke today on that and more:
- Mullen opens by talking about stadium expansion, which will start immediately after the 2012 football season.
- Mullen says the future is bright and that they’re building a championship program.
- A reporter points out Mullen’s record vs. the West, and he talks about how important the first conference game is, which for Mississippi State is Auburn.
- Mullen gets a follow up question on the SEC West and says that “the margin for error is so small between winning and losing.”
- Someone from SB Nation asks Dan Mullen about the various billboards Mississippi State has put up around the state Mississippi. Mullen says he enjoys them, but he doesn’t see them until they go up.
- Mullen fields his third question about the strength of the SEC West and says that his team is not far off from competing in the SEC West and subsequently, for a national championship.
- Mullen says he expects his former boss Urban Meyer to do a tremendous job at Ohio State.
Marc: Dan Mullen reminds me of James Franklin in how he carries himself when talking about his program. He knows the perception people have had about Mississippi State and is working as hard as he can to change it. He’s had a relative amount of success, but his record in the West is keeping Mississippi State from truly being considered a great SEC team. He got multiple questions about that and said that he believes they are close to competing for a division championship, which recently has meant a national championship.
Marq: Dan Mullen is a very confident man, despite Mississippi State’s lack of success against SEC West teams. During his tenure, State has failed to defeat Alabama, Arkansas, LSU or Auburn. That will have to change is the Bulldogs are serious about competing for a SEC title or being a relevant program nationally.
Year two at Florida will be a swing year for head coach Will Muschamp. Gator nation is used to winning national championships and the fans patience could grow thin if Muschamp doesn’t put a winning product on the field in 2012. The Gators offense sputtered last season, but new offensive coordinator Brent Pease should fix those problems. The quarterback battle between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will be the biggest dilema surrounding the Gators.
- Muschamp said he is not putting a time-table on selecting a starting quarterback. Says the competition has made the offense and the team better.
- Florida returns 15 of its 16 top tacklers to a defense that only lost one starter. The Gators played a lot of young guys on defense last season.
- Muschamp said the Gators No. 1 goal is to improve the turnover margin. Gators finished 113th in the nation in turnover margin last season.
- Muschamp said Florida was immature last season and it says it showed when his team made costly errors in situations where they needed a big play.
- Muschamp said it was a “minor miracle” the Gators won seven games last season.
- Muschamp said the job Gary Pinkel has does at Missouri is outstanding. He said he likes the exotic offense they run.
- Muschamp said Kevin Sumlin’s offense puts up video game statistics. He said he doesn’t see that changing at Texas A&M.
- Muschamp said he doesn’t feel anymore pressure going into year two. He said he puts a ton of pressure on himself already.
- Muschamp said the Gators lacked quality depth on both lines of scrimmage last season.
- Muschamp said the playoff is fine because it kept the bowl season. He said it’s a great reward for coaches and student athletes.
- Muschamp said last season was very frustrating, but says he was proud his players continued to fight through their struggles.
- Florida has not had a losing season since 1979. Muschamp credits Steve Spurrier’s success in the 1990s and the recruiting area as keys to the Gators longevity.
Marq: Will Muschamp opened with a great speech detailing everything you needed to know about Florida. He admitted that the Gators were inexperienced, lacked depth and weren’t very talented in his first season. It’s easy to tell that Muschamp comes from the Nick Saban coaching tree. He doesn’t speak on any topics outside of Florida football and shoots straight from the hip. The Gators will be improved this season and if they figure out the quarterback situation early, the Gators will have a good chance at winning the SEC East.
Marc: Will Muschamp is a no-nonsense coach in every sense of the word. He started off with an opening statement that went about 13 minutes and would have been longer if he wasn’t speaking at about 500 words per minute. The thing that stuck out to me was how disappointed he was with his team’s 2011. He said straight up that Florida’s 7-6 record was unacceptable and is doing everything he can to turn that around.
- Franklin says there’s a buzz about Vanderbilt that there hasn’t been in a long time. He says last year he walked through the mall and nobody said anything to him.
- Franklin puts a lot of emphasis on what he can sell to a recruit that comes to Vanderbilt. He talks about the academics, the facilities and the conference that the Commodores play in.
- Jordan Rodgers’ development will go a long way in determining how successful Vanderbilt is in 2012. Franklin says he’s “night and day” from last year to how he was in spring practice.
- Franklin says his concern on defense is leadership with losing Robert Marve. He says you can’t just replace a player like that.
- Winning over Tennessee seems to be a theme of questions from reporters, but Franklin reiterates that his focus is on the season as a whole, rather than just one game vs. Tennessee and that the focus right now is on South Carolina.
- Franklin likes playing South Carolina to start the season. He says it keeps his players focused throughout the offseason as opposed to having three or four out of conference games that they are favored to win.
- Franklin wishes Sumlin and Pinkel the best of luck in their first year playing in the SEC and thinks they’ll have a lot of success.
- Franklin said last year he walked in to radio row with Nick Saban and it was like he was with a rock star. People were “throwing babies at him” and everything.
- He said he hasn’t turned down a speaking engagement, even if that means blowing up balloons at a little kid’s birthday party.
Marc: James Franklin is adamant that there isn’t a better place to be than Vanderbilt. He constantly touted everything Vandy can offer a recruit, from a world-class education to a chance to play against the best competition in the country. It’s easy to see why Franklin has had so much success on the recruiting trail with how he carried himself in his media session. He believes in Vanderbilt football and it shows in everything he does.
Marq: After listening to James Franklin, you get a sense that he’s the type of guy any program would love to have as its coach. He went from being just another guy walking around at last year’s SEC Media Days to getting praised by Steve Spurrier and garnering national recognition for the Vanderbilt program. He’s committed and willing to do whatever it takes for Vanderbilt to succeed. Franklin has changed the culture at Vandy from being a bottom dweller of the SEC to being in the conversation to win a league title. His team has taken on his personality and if their hard work and dedication can translate into a few more wins on the field, Vanderbilt will make even more noise in the SEC.
Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel understands the challenge his team faces as they make the transition into the SEC and spoke about that and more during his session at SEC Media Days.
- Pinkel says the Georgia game will be big and understands that it will be a historic game for Missouri.
- A reporter asks Pinkel about what it was like to play with Nick Saban in college and their relationship. He says that Saban is a great football coach and will go down as one of the greatest coaches in college football.
- Pinkel says the Mizzou fans have become “fanatical” about joining the SEC and that “The Zoo” will be an extremely tough place to play this year.
- Pinkel says his spread offense won’t change much going into a new conference and that ”we’re going to do what we do and adjust accordingly.”
- The SEC coaches meeting was a little bit different experience for him than it was for Sumlin. He said he already knew most of the coaches and said, “Hey, how’s it going, let’s get to work.”
- A radio guy asks Pinkel where the best place is to eat in Columbia for people visiting for the first time. He doesn’t seem too amused and says he’d get in trouble if he answers that, but says, “Why don’t you email the city restaurant organization?”
Marc: Gary Pinkel offered a little bit of a change of pace from the outgoing personalities of Sumlin and Spurrier. He spoke in more of a monotone voice and gave a lot more “coach speak” answers per se than the two coaches that preceded him. He’s a much more no nonsense guy and gave a lot of short and blunt answers. The restaurant question was a perfect example: he had a chance for a light-hearted back-and-forth with reporters, but instead just asked, “Why don’t you email the city restaurant organization?”
Marq: Gary Pinkel was all business, rarely cracking a smile. He gave direct answers to every question he was asked and kept a straight face while doing so. He talked a little about his college days with Nick Saban (Saban and Pinkel were college teammates) and made a small joke saying “I want everyone to know he’s older than me.” Pinkel reminds me of Saban from a personality standpoint as a “by-the-book” type of coach. Both men love to go about their business and just do their jobs. If he coaches anything like Saban, his Tigers are in good hands.