Pac 12 Media Days; Day 2 News and Notes

Pac 12 Media Days are half as long as the SEC Media Days, despite having only two fewer teams. The conference gets the coaches up, gets them down and everyone moves on to what’s next, (or team doughnuts). So Day 2 put a wrap on the annual conference meet and greet, but not without some compelling story lines.

Pac 12 Media Days News and Notes

Willie Taggart, Oregon

The rookie head coach for the Ducks was making his first Pac 12 Media Days appearance and, having come from South Florida for the job, apparently was not prepared for the Southern California chill. He said waiting backstage to be introduced felt like taking the stage at a concert. That would explain his reaction when he came out.

  • “I thought I would get a big round of applause when I walked in here.”
  • Taggart said he knows the honeymoon is over already because it is time to get ready for the season. “The hard part was changing everyone’s behavior to what we wanted it to be. The players have bought in. For six months they have done everything I have asked them to do.”
  • Probably without knowing it, Taggart also drew inspiration from the movie, “Remember The Titans.” He said part of that behavioral transition was making sure everyone got to each other better, including the coaches. So just as Julius and Gary learned to live together in the movie, Taggart says he has had a lot of team bonding time for everyone to become more familiar with each other. “We are still in the process of getting them to want to play for each other.”

Todd Graham, Arizona State

Graham was in a unique situation compared to the rest of the coaches. He and his players, (Kalen Ballage and Jojo Wicker) could not hang out long at the event. They had a plane to catch for 4:30 practice. The Sun Devils have an early season opener, Thursday August 31st vs. New Mexico State, so they are already three days into “Fall” training camp.

  • Graham talked about having had a couple of bad years after doing so well in his first four. “We didn’t evolve. I think that is critical to being successful. You have to adapt in a highly competitive league like this. We won early but then never grew.”
  • As a result, Graham made mention of former Sun Devils coach and controversial tough guy Frank Kush. Graham said everything they do now is geared towards the motto “Sun Devil Tough.”
  • The Sun Devils also got some help from global climate change to get tougher. During the “voluntary workouts” during the Summer, there were so many extreme heat warnings in the Tempe area that the players had to go inside and hit the weight room instead. It got them to that “Sun Devil Tough.”

David Shaw, Stanford

Shaw is always one of the more anticipated coaches at Media Days because he does not back down from speaking on any topic and always appears to do so in a thoughtful manner.

He called last season a disappointment despite the 10 wins. Clearly, the offense misses its most obvious component, multi-purpose star Christian McCaffrey. “If there was another Christian McCaffrey, I’d take him right now,” Shaw said.

  • “We are a more complete team than last year. We believe we have some depth that we did not have a year ago.” Shaw said his defensive backfield had the chance to be one of the best in the nation.
  • Having annual crossover games with UCLA and USC in the South and then having to face Oregon, Washington State, and Washington in the north, Shaw said the schedule has no ease to it at all. “Oh, it’s insanity. It’s crazy. But it’s great. You know there are no bye weeks, there are no off weeks.”
  • Shaw also spoke out against the elimination of two-a-day practices, which is the topic of our quote of the day at the end.

Mike Leach, Washington State

Following the thought provoking Shaw was the always glib Leach, who never makes an opening statement, but just gets right to his views on the world, via the media questions.

  • He talked about the two players he brought, running back Jamal Morrow and linebacker Peyton Pelleur. “Two quality players getting their degrees, and basically everything that my parents wish I was.”
  • Cougars quarterback Luke Falk is averaging 50 passing attempts per game over his three-year career in Pullman. Leach gives him credit for whatever success they have. “He’s not a guy that has a bunch of highs and lows. Just kind of steady, focused, intense work ethic without any panic to it. I do think his best football is ahead of him.”
  • Leach says he is also against eliminating two-a-day practices. He advocates four practices a day, for everyone else. “I think they ought to have four-a-days so hopefully some of these teams will pound their teams into submission and make our work a little easier for us. But it doesn’t sound like they’re going to let them do that.”

Clay Helton, USC

The Trojans were one of the hottest teams in the nation at the end of last season, culminating in a classic Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Helton says it was good, but not good enough for his players.

  • “I asked the next question: Are you satisfied? And to a man, not one hand rose. Because we understand what USC is about. It’s about winning Pac-12 titles, and it’s about winning national championships. And the fact of the matter is we did not accomplish that.”
  • Helton gave credit to his relationships with the players for the turnaround, noting that once he got the job permanently prior to the season, the players would already know how he was going to be when adversity came up, like last season’s 1-3 start.
  • The expectations are sky high for quarterback Sam Darnold this season. The Heisman candidate had a breakout year after he took over the starting job in week three. He said he spent the offseason working on improving his technique with a tighter release but the biggest change came with what he called, “becoming better in the film room.”

Kyle Whittingham, Utah

Whittingham figures he lost 16 players to graduation and/or early departure for the NFL. That makes this quite the rebuilding task.

  • “The key will be the offensive line. We are short on experience, but big on talent.” He said he thinks he knows his starting five even before camp really gets under way.
  • Whittingham also said he sees a lot of improvement in quarterback Troy Williams, who threw for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. “He has worked harder than ever during the offseason and I am excited by his progress.”

That leaves us with two final pieces of business. First is the quote of the day. When Stanford coach David Shaw was asked about the NCAA taking away two-a-day practices and exchanging that for an extra, earlier week of camp, he called it an overreaction. But his reason had little to with football. He said the new rule was taking away, “those internships and summer school our guys are doing.” The first coach to mention work and academics as the reason it was a bad idea.

Lastly, since we got so much attention over the great doughnut debate, we feel compelled to report that we disregarded the healthy, gluten free, vegetarian-option available lunch to save more room for doughnuts. The UCLA doughnut was compelling because the gold color was made by the sprinkling of Butterfingers candy bars on time. Who could say no to those. The Oregon doughnut with Fruit Loops on top to honor all the Ducks uniform color schemes was a no-brainer choice.  Hey, it’s tough work but someone had to do it.

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