The first two days of SEC Media Days have run the gamut from the straight forward coach-speak to the highly questionable answers about real-life issues. So, for Day 3, we threw it all into one big mixing bowl with a little temper tossed in for good measure.
SEC Media Days, Day 3; Some Tempers, Some Laughs
Nick Saban, Alabama
One of my colleagues correctly points out that Nick Saban takes an emeritus-type approach to this event. He has the national titles,he has the résumé and he has the aura of someone who feels certain he is above most of what gets dished out there. That truly came to pass on Wednesday.
- He opened by saying he usually has to go to the event and respond to some barb from Coach Steve Spurrier, so that makes this year different. See…I wasn’t the only one who misses Spurrier’s wit.
- He also talked about his partnership with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher to raise funds for high schools in flood ravaged West Virginia so that they can get the equipment to have a football season.
- So far, so good. Then Saban fired the shot across the bow. He said between Spring camp and Summer workouts and everything else that goes with Alabama football, the media already knows all there is to know. “So, I’m going to sit up here and very seriously talk about our team, and everything I’m going to say about our team, you’ve already written about.” “But you’re going to be serious, and I’m going to be serious about talking about it again.” Now, to some degree he was right in pointing out the superfluous nature of these events, but what Saban was really doing was daring the media to ask him about the arrest of All-American offensive tackle Cam Robinson. And the media, too timid to call his bluff in front of their peers, failed epically.
- Robinson and teammate Hootie Jones were arrested following a routine traffic stop in Louisiana in May. Both were charged with misdemeanors for pot possession, and Robinson was charged with felony possession of a stolen handgun. The district attorney decided not to go forward with charges at the time because of questions about the way the evidence was garnered. To this point, the only punishment they have faced from Saban is 20 hours of community service work and having to go on police ride alongs.
- Saban was not asked about it until after his podium visit when Paul Finebaum joined him on the SEC Network. Finebaum asked why there was no significant penalty for Robinson, and Saban responded that carrying a gun was not against the law in Louisiana, choosing to overlook the fact that it was a stolen gun, so yes, that is against the law, even in Louisiana. Saban accused Finebaum of trying to convict the players in the media and the two got relatively hostile with each other, including during the commercial break. That’s no way to treat an emeritus status person.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Thank goodness Bret Bielema was next. The room needed some levity and no one throws daggers quite like Bielema.
- “You don’t have to ask me if I’m going to suspend anyone for first game. It doesn’t come up in our program.” And we are off and running.
- Bielema, who is starting his fourth season at the helm at Arkansas touted how the football program has had 100 Academic All-SEC players during his tenure. “There are schools that we compete against in the SEC West during that same time period that have half of that number.” Yes, he is calling out the SEC West on academics. He also noted that he came from Wisconsin which had a perfect APR rating for athletic academics and says he has brought that culture change to Arkansas. Dig taken.
- On the scheduled home and home series with Michigan being cancelled, so that the Wolverines could renew their rivalry with Notre Dame, Bielema said he had been looking forward to the games, “but then the powers-that-be got involved.” I assume he is talking about the Touchdown Jesus mural next to Notre Dame Stadium. He holds no ill will against Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh “I love a guy who speaks his mind.” So do we Coach Bielema.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Poor, Coach Stoops. You are one of the more stoic guys on the SEC. Your team is improved but not enough for your job to be secure. The media that is there has so few questions, it doesn’t even take the entirety of your 30-minute allocation. One of my other colleagues called Mark “the Stephen Baldwin of the Stoops brothers”. Sounds pretty dead on to me. And then you have to follow the comedy musings of Bret Bielema.
- Knowing how tough that can be, Stoops said of his long-time friend Bielema, “He’s a beauty.” Stoops said he had some funny stories about Bielema but couldn’t say most of them in public. “You don’t get in a pissing contest with a skunk; but he’s gone now so he can’t say nothing about me, right?”
- Stoops is happy the team has gotten better and felt the 5-7 record in 2015 was a step in the right direction, but says they have to learn to seal the deal. “We’ve been close. We’re tired of being close.”
- He also said that because of the rigors of the Kentucky schedule, getting right won’t be any easier this year. “The schedule is what it is.” I can only assume he was talking about the tough SEC schedule and not the game against Austin Peay in mid-November.
Barry Odom, Missouri
Talk about an unusual way to end the day. Not long before he took the podium, first year Tigers head coach Barry Odom was told that the man that hired him, Athletic Director Mack Rhoades, had just confirmed that he was leaving to take over the beleaguered athletic department at Baylor. Odom said they had talked last night about the possibility but it only became real this afternoon. That was a lot to take on in your first SEC confab.
- Of course there was plenty of talk about having to replace the winningest coach in school history in Gary Pinkel who retired at the end of last season after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Odom says he talks to Pinkel regularly. “I am not afraid to pick up the phone and call him for advice on anything.”
- Missouri was also a hotbed last year of student protests over race relations and university leadership. At one point, the football team threatened to boycott games unless changes were made. Odom addressed what his expectations were for his players when it comes to handling social issues. “I want to make sure that I have a relationship with each of my players so that if something comes up, they know they can come to me and we can sit and talk about it. We can have ongoing discussions about what is going on in society and share philosophies and ideas.”
A sensible plan for an otherwise chaotic world known as SEC football.