Day three of SEC Media Days brought larger crowds to the hotel lobby in Hoover, Alabama as they anticipated his arrival. Yes, he was on the way as the crowd gathered with the excitement of seeing royalty before them, and then just like that, there he was, Nick Saban himself. Yes, with Saban as the leadoff speaker for the third day of the media gathering, the attention was going to be uber focused.
SEC Media Days News and Notes
Nick Saban, Alabama
The Tide coach was there looking as he frequently does at these events, stately, as though he was there to give a speech for his U.S. Senate campaign. Resplendent in his dark suit, perfectly pressed white shirt, and crimson red tie, it was clear, as always, that Saban does not suffer fools well, so it was time to get right down to business.
A record of 14-1 overall and 8-0 in conference would make some coaches smile and wax philosophical about their success. But Saban is clearly still chapped about the loss to Clemson in the national championship game. “When you lose, everyone has to be more willing to change. We won’t waste a failure.” Wow. I mean, just wow. One loss, on the last play of the game and to Saban, it is a failure. There is a reason he is the most tenured coach in the conference with 11 years in Tuscaloosa. As dominant as Alabama has been in the SEC West and in the conference overall, this will not be an easy year for lessons to be learned. It’s Saban’s youngest team in five years with only 11 starters returning and having lost most of his defensive front seven. He also is heading into the season with a new offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll.
Since Saban is the elder statesman of the conference coaches, it seems appropriate to address conference-wide or nation-wide college football issues with him. Thus it made sense to ask him about the guidance that game officials will have less tolerance for coaches wandering onto the field to complain about calls. Saban said he is likely to need more than one “get back coach” to keep him in place. He told another media outlet later in the day that he was not a fan of the new “rule.” “It’s almost like taking a sledgehammer to a fly.” A sledgehammer? He clearly has had to face down some serious flies in Alabama.
Barry Odom, Missouri
Odom had a tough first year at Missouri, going 4-8 overall and 2-6 in the SEC and that included a five game losing streak in the middle of the season. “Winning only four games hurts your soul,” he told the gathered media.
Still he felt optimistic today, one, because everyone gets to feel optimistic at Media Days, but, two, because he is returning 10 starters on offense. For some, that would seem bleak since those starters went 4-8 last year, but Odom says the experience on offense is going to be a difference maker. “I am going to make some wrong decisions, but they (the players) are going to make it right.”
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Any coach who comes to Media Days with a 19-30 record at his school has to figure he is lucky to be in the room at all. Yet, Stoops had a bounce in his step as he ended last season with a compelling win over in-state rival Louisville, followed by the Wildcats’ first bowl win in six years. He said the way the season ended was key because, “the fan base has been patient, to an extent.” Well, everyone is patient…to an extent. But Stoops’ point is well taken. A different outcome in either of those last two games and it could have been a different coach wearing the Kentucky lapel pin on a suit Wednesday.
Stoops said with the wins coupled with 17 starters returning means he is able to push his players harder. “The biggest obstacle is consistency and we should be able to overcome that now.”
Stoops also addressed the surprise retirement two months ago of his brother, Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops. “I really had no idea it was coming. I was shocked. But I am happy for him to step away when he wants.”
In a great moment of media eloquence, Stoops was also asked about a topic that impacts many programs. Every year, there are more and more graduate transfers; student-athletes who finished their academic requirements in four years but still have a year of football eligibility remaining and go to another school to play. Stoops said when a player uses the grad transfer rules to go elsewhere within the conference, “it feels a little like free agency, but if they fulfilled their requirements and it really is about academics, then let them go.” He also suggested something which will get few headlines tomorrow but probably deserves some conversation. “Maybe it is worth giving them a second redshirt year, if it really is about academics.” To Stoops that would make it clear they are not leaving for just another football opportunity. “They would be committing to the new school for two years if it really is about academics.”
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Sumlin is headed into his sixth year as head coach. That means he has been on the hot seat for at least four. Sure, Sumlin is 44-21 over five years, but a 4-4 conference record last year with a fourth place finish in the SEC West has people in College Station antsy again. Add to that, athletic director Scott Woodward was recently quoted as saying that the Aggies need to win more.
Still, Sumlin said his approach is unchanged for this season. “The pressure I feel is the same pressure I feel all the time.” Sumlin reminisced about when he was a $19,000 a year graduate assistant fighting for his economic and professional survival. “This is nowhere near the pressure I had back then.” Of course Sumlin has his work cut out for him having lost last year’s starting quarterback Trevor Knight, and of course the top pick in this year’s NFL draft, defensive end Myles Garrett. “We could be a better team without the record showing it because the team and the schedule changes every year.”
Speaking of schedules, eight Texas A&M conference opponents are in the top 40 of the ESPN power rankings, and that comes after a season opener at UCLA, the first trip to the Pacific Coast time zone for any Aggies team in 11 years. At least he will be used to the hot seats and temperatures in Pasadena in September.