SEC Media Days Preview: Fall Arrives
The first half of the football season is basically played in the summer. We just call it fall. And the official kickoff to fall comes every year in the sweltering heat of a Birmingham July. That's when SEC media days roll into town in the Wynfrey Hotel lobby. Southern radio stations line the hallway, fans stand just outside the ropes and clamor for autographs while players and coaches emerge -- wearing sunglasses like rock stars -- for a quick jaunt up the escalator and into the mosh pit that is a thousand members of the media hurtling questions at them.
It's a carnival; football meets the Ferris wheel.
Last year, I sent older members of the SEC media up to their hotel rooms with the vapors after I asked Tim Tebow whether he was saving himself for marriage.
This year no coach or player is as interesting as Tim Tebow.
In fact, there might not be anyone as interesting as Tebow at SEC media days for another generation. But that doesn't mean we can't craft a series of 13 interesting questions, one for each team appearing at the event, plus one to grow on.
So let's dive in.
1. Which coach, or coaches, will be at their last SEC media days?
Last season, who knew that this would be the final appearance for both head coaches in the state of Tennessee?
Lane Kiffin, after just one season in the league and Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson, just last week, after eight seasons were both finished with SEC media days before July of 2009 was over.
I'm not sure which man's departure was more surprising, but both men would have ranked in the four coaches least likely to be gone after a season if you'd polled the media before the event last year.
That just goes to show you that the SEC is the most unpredictable league in college football.
This season you can make legitimate arguments that five coaches might not return, for a variety of reasons, for next season's media days.
I'll rank the likelihood of these coaches departing in a column from Birmingham, but in the meantime here are my five in no particular order:
a. Les Miles, LSU
b. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
c. Mark Richt, Georgia
d. Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt
e. Bobby Petrino, Arkansas
Pay attention now, because they may be gone before you know it.
2. Is the NCAA being cruel to Gamecock fans if it penalizes the school?
Look, we know that schools cheat and the NCAA has a job to enforce its rules, but somehow penalizing the Southern Cals and Alabamas of the world seems fairer.
At least those schools win something.
Going after South Carolina in the wake of a 7-6 season that ended with a bowl game loss to UConn is just plain cruel.
South Carolina's the girl at the bar standing next to the girls with the huge, fake D cups. She's the cute one with the A cups, just out for a good time, doing her best to compete with the others. Until someone walks up and and says, "Did you get a boob job?"
Not only is that girl's night ruined, but the guy is an ass, right?
Gamecock fans, the NCAA is that guy.
(Women send your hate mail to my wife, who immediately came up with this analogy when I explained that one of South Carolina's players was being investigated.)
3. Florida center Mike Pouncey better have a Tiger Woods-esque statement ready for the media, given the investigation surrounding his twin brother.
In fact, what are the odds that Urban Meyer flips out at someone in the media for asking Pouncey too many aggressive questions about the allegations surrounding his brother?
Gotta be high, right?
I don't care what medication Meyer is currently taking, this situation is ripe for an explosion from the SEC's own smoke monster. You've got Meyer in the position he most treasures, defending an aggrieved player from his ultimate foe, the news media.
It could get ugly on Wednesday.
4. Robbie Caldwell is Vandy's new coach.
I'm praying someone asks if Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell is any relation.
Only catch, Vandy's coach is white.
And don't pretend you haven't wondered the same thing since Caldwell was named head coach.
Better question, how many media members will be more recognized by the fans than Caldwell?
There will be 1,000 media members in attendance. Gotta be at least 100 that are more known, right?
5. Les Miles is going to make a run at becoming the first national championship winning coach to be fired during the season and not allowed to finish the year on the sideline.
This has certainly never happened before in recent history, but I don't think it's ever happened before.
Write this prediction down: After Alabama beats LSU on November 6 in Baton Rouge, the Tigers are going to be 4-5.
As much as I hate to see his run end, that will be it for Les. LSU will replace him on the sideline for the final three games of the season.
6. Confront Houston Nutt about the latest rumor in Oxford. That he's trying to hire Leonardo DiCaprio to plant an idea in every female Memphis newscaster's mind: "Houston Nutt is damn sexy in that straw hat."
Shush, Nutt believes that Inception is a documentary.
Last week, he had a staff meeting to ask how the guy from Titanic isn't aging. Assistant coaches turned him away from this obsession by pointing out that everyone ages differently. "After all," said the assistant, "we start a defensive tackle who graduated from high school in 2004."
7. Dan Mullen needs to be asked how his New Hampshire friends respond when he explains the controversy over the cowbell at Mississippi State.
Right now, Dan Mullen at Mississippi State is the greatest cultural dissonance between coach and school that has existed in a generation in the SEC.
He just doesn't fit there.
Honestly, is there a head coach whose conversations with his old high school buddies would be more entertaining than Mullen's with his?
Can you imagine the culture shock? Or how little his friends can understand Starkville?
Mullen buddy: "So you have to talk about how much you like a cow bell at every booster meeting?"
Mullen buddy: "You're not making this up?"
Mullen buddy: "What would happen if you said, 'I hate cowbells,' at one of those booster meetings?"
Mullen: "They would fire me."
8. What are the odds that Auburn's athletic department ends up pulling a Bobby Petrino-level pursuit of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn before the Chizik regime is over?
Last year, I described the Auburn athletic department as a perfect representation for what the South would have looked like if we'd won the war. A bunch of really rich guys who run around all day all believing they are actually the leaders of a completely dysfunctional banana republic.
Eventually the Confederacy would have turned into 45 small countries all led by an emperor.
Anyway, there is a 100 percent chance that Malzahn and Chizik end up having some sort of sordid family drama play out over who should be the next coach.
I'm picturing a rogue Auburn booster commandeering a helicopter and landing it in Gus Malzahn's backyard, probably on the family trampoline, at two in the morning as rumors begin to surface that Malzahn is leaving for a new job.
9. "Hi, I'm Joker Phillips, and I don't play or coach basketball at Kentucky."
(Media leaves room.)
10. Reason I wish SEC Media Days were in Florida: So Gator fans could throw red panties at the arriving members of Georgia's football delegation.
If this doesn't happen when Georgia runs on the field at South Carolina, Gamecock fans have failed all of us. But doing it at the carnival that is media days would be outstanding.
Who knew that Russ, the stand-in for Uga VIII, would outlast the athletic director?
If the text messages sent between Evans and the girl whose panties he had in his lap get published this week, no one will even realize Mark Richt was at media days.
That's probably good for Richt since this might be his last year here. But no one's ever going to forget that he tried to convince us last year that Joe Cox could win an SEC Championship.
11. Toughest job at media days? Derek Dooley.
As long as the Knoxville police department continues to investigate the incident at Bar Knoxville without providing any resolution, the worse it is for Dooley.
Right now Dooley wants all attention to be focused on his first game as Vol coach. It's the only guaranteed win he has all season, a home opener against UT-Martin. Given the fact that the Vols will be underdogs in six of the first eight games, he needed complete focus from his team on the game preparations.
But right now his team is worried about who, if anyone, is going to be charged next.
That's a recipe for disaster with a schedule that already looks disastrous.
12. Anyone else think Bobby Petrino's wife, Becky, is already checking out homes in Ann Arbor?
Just in case Jim Harbaugh turns down that job after Rich Rodriguez is fired in November?
I'm certain of it.
Especially given how depressed the real estate market is in the state of Michigan. The Wolverines might even be willing to build him a castle up there; anything to win more than four games in a season.
Petrino has never coached for more than four seasons anywhere, and he's only done that one place: Louisville.
Given the weak recruiting classes he's put together at Arkansas and the fact that he's only 5-11 in the SEC in his first two seasons, nine wins at Arkansas in his third season and Petrino is going to be out that door.
Where is anyone's guess, but he won't be in Fayetteville come season four.
13. If you've ever wondered what it would be like if Jesus returned to the Earth and landed in Alabama, come to the Wynfrey Hotel lobby when Nick Saban arrives on Wednesday.
It's really impossible to explain the scene.
But I'll do my best come Wednesday.
I can't wait.
Because while it may be 98 degrees in Birmingham, fall is in the air.