Pac-12 Media Days don’t have the same intensity as the SEC…or the ACC…or probably even the AAC. It’s all So Cal…very “chill” as they say. The SEC holds theirs over four days. The Pac-12 gets you in and out in two. At the SEC meetings, you politely sit in your seat and raise your hand if you have a question. In the Pac 12, after the coach has made his opening comments, the media is free to sashay their collective way to the podium for the press gaggle to ask questions, all while players from the schools are in the back hanging with the media. It’s in the middle of an upscale shopping complex that houses the Dolby Theater, where they host the Academy Awards each year, adjacent to a high end hotel. Nonetheless, the coaches take the time to meet the media, and so we shall do our best to give you a responsible and professional representation from Day 1.
Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
After Commissioner Larry Scott opened the proceedings with a state of the conference speech, the fun started in earnest with the always glib Wildcats head coach. Is he relaxed about being at the event?
- “Am I happy to be here? Nope. I’d rather still be on vacation.
- Arizona has a quarterback battle going into camp. Redshirt Junior Anu Solomon has the experience as last year’s starter Brandon Dawkins filled in when Solomon missed time with injuries last year. “I think we’re in a good situation,” said Rodriguez. “Solomon and Dawkins will go into camp splitting first team reps and we’ll see who wins the job. I hope both of them can prove we can win with them.”
- There will be a lot of youth getting playing time at Arizona, as Rodriguez says the recruiting is going better than he has ever experienced.
- Rodriguez also talked about calling the plays from the sidelines even though both quarterbacks have game day experience. “The coaches watch more game film than the players so we are better prepared. For all I know they, (the players), are watching SpongeBob Sqaurepants on Saturday mornings.” Hey, Squidward Tentacles can play some crazy defense.
Sonny Dykes, Cal
Dykes has an unusual season ahead of him. Last year’s starting quarterback was the #1 pick in the NFL draft, starting safety Griffin Piatt decided to medically retire from football, they lost their top six wide receivers, and the team opens the season on the road…in Australia, against Hawaii.
- “The toughest part of the road game may be getting passports for 85 players,” according to Dykes.
- Like many Pac-12 schools this year, there is a battle for the starting QB job with Ross Bowers and Chase Forrest. Replacing Jared Goff will not be easy. “They both did some good things in the Spring and it is a new system for them, so there was some growing pains.”
- Dykes focused much of him time on the academics at Cal, saying the program has gone from a 923 APR when he took over to a 997 now. “I am excited to see what that means for our program.” It probably means lots of studying during that 14-hour flight to Australia.
Clay Helton, USC
Helton has gone from being the interim head coach when Steve Sarkisian got fired midway through the 2015 season to being named the head coach despite SC fans clamoring for a bigger name hire.
- Helton was asked if that meant more pressure on him. “ As a head coach, your players look to you, how you handle adversity. Don’t change just because you’re the head coach.“
- “I’ve always felt as a coach, especially with 18 and 21 year olds, it’s not Xs and Os, it’s not scheme, it is the trust that your players have in you and you have in the players.”
- SC opens the season having to replace Cody Kessler. Max Browne was thought to be the choice, but Helton says it could be Sam Darnold. Either way, he is going to wait until after 18 practices to make a decision, ultimately making it too late for the guy who doesn’t win the job to do anything but ride the bench for the year.
- In one of the eagerly anticipated Week 1 matchups, USC opens against Alabama. He said he was excited to see the matchup of Bama’s offensive coordinator against his defensive coordinator. “Two of the most brilliant men I’ve ever been associated with are Lane Kiffin on offense and Clancy Pendergast.” Hey, he said it, not me.
Mark Helfrich, Oregon
This goes with the conference themes. Helfrich’s top priority is replacing last year’s starting quarterback. Helfrich has another challenge though. One of his top wide receivers will be missing all of camp…because he will be on the U.S. Track and Field team in Rio.
- “That’s a pretty good excuse to miss camp; as good as any I have heard,” Helfrich said of Devon Allen who posted the second fastest time in the 100 meter hurdles at the Olympic trials.
- As for his quarterback situation, he said Travis Jonsen and Dakota Prukop are neck and neck through Spring. This may the first time in a while Oregon takes a step back at the QB position.
- And in case you are wondering, yes, Team Nike will be breaking out numerous uniform combinations yet again. “We will have new uniforms and they will be cool,” Helfrich promised. Matter of taste I suppose.
Mike Leach, Washington State
Here is the pick-me-up every press conference needs. Leach has an opinion on everything and is eager to get to them. You can tell by his opening comments.
- “Alright, does anyone have any questions?” Seriously, those were his opening comments.
- WSU is one of the few teams in the conference returning a proven quarterback in Luke Falk. Leach thought he should have gotten Heisman consideration last year with his mind-blowing stats. “The emphasis has kind of shifted, and a lot of guys with Heisman trophies wouldn’t have him in this day and age because now they try to finesse it to whoever is the MVP on the National Championship team gets it.” Apparently he forgot that the trophy is given away before the National Championship Game.
- He asked if he thought the voting was too provincial. “I don’t know. I don’t think about it very much. But I guess I’ll dedicate these seconds of my life to thinking about it.” Frankly I’m not even sure what he said because he went on for a long time and I was still laughing at the first part of his answer.
- And since Leach is generally ready to answer any question, he was asked his thoughts on the game Pokemon Go. He didn’t know what it was but when it was explained to him, he did not like the idea of people having their heads buried in their phones. “I mean, there’s people who won’t even talk face to face. They’ll go across the room and text each other. I think it’s actually kind of disturbing. I think the days before cell phones, when it was dirt clod wars at construction sites, was a lot more wholesome and productive to be perfectly honest.”
Mike Leach, ladies and gentlemen…available to entertain at parties, corporate functions and football media days.
Pac 12 Media Days; they are different.