The four-day marathon that is SEC Media Days kicked off Monday in somewhat predictable fashion. Conference commissioner Greg Sankey opened the event by giving a state of the state type of speech, including a decision by the universities giving him the controlling say in the rescheduling of games postponed by weather. Most will remember the controversy last year when a looming Hurricane Matthew was potentially headed to Florida, the Gators’ game versus LSU was initially cancelled, but ultimately rescheduled, albeit played in Baton Rouge instead of Gainesville. The commissioner’s office will now decide the fate of such games.
But the fans don’t spend an entire day in the hotel lobby in Hoover, Alabama, and the media does not spend four days there to hear Sankey. It is all about the coaches. The event is routinely stoic and even with only four speakers, (including Sankey), for the day, they could not get out on time. There was much to cover.
SEC Media Days News and Notes
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Bielema seems to perennially be on the hot seat. But the biggest news was not that he was back after a 3-5 conference record. It is that his wife gave birth to a daughter two days ago, yet he looked more rested now than he does at any point during the season.
He is 25-26 in four seasons but the Razorbacks lost three of their last four games last year, including a lower tier bowl game against Virginia Tech. He said the way he saw his defense collapse at the end of games during that stretch is the reason he is switching to a 3-4 defense this season. Arkansas had a 24-0 halftime lead in the Belk Bowl and lost 35-24. They were up 24-7 against Missouri at halftime before giving up 21 straight points in the loss. They were routinely outscored in the second half, and Bielema said the change is geared towards learning how to finish games.
While the media undeniably misses the thought provoking Les Miles at this event, Bielema filled in as the provocateur when it comes to bigger ideas. He has ramped up his advocacy for allowing underclassman who declare for the draft but go undrafted, to be able to return to their college program. “We need to be proactive. We live in a microwave world when some things and some answers need two hours to cook.” There were no answers about how to manage the timing of players declaring for the NFL in January, schools signing new recruits in February and then making room on the roster for players to return when they don’t get drafted in April, but props to Bielema for challenging the status quo.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Les Miles routinely avoided questions at these media events. His opening statement would wax poetic about how the family spent the Summer vacation and where his kids were going to school. He would take so long that it left time for only two to three questions. Orgeron employed his own delay mechanism. He went through the depth chart at every single position on the roster. While not nearly as entertaining as Miles, it got the job done, with time for only a few questions.
He comes into his first full season at the helm in Baton Rouge, having taken over when Miles was fired as head coach after four games in the 2016 season. He finished 7-2, including a bowl win over Louisville and Heisman quarterback Lamar Jackson. Still he has a lot to prove. He was an interim at USC but was not given the reigns full time. His only head coaching job on a “permanent” basis was a three year debacle at Ole Miss. “I was not ready to be the head coach when I was at Ole Miss. I have needed time to make changes.” He also said he knows that LSU losing to Alabama on a yearly basis will not suit his long term job security very well. “The LSU coach must beat Alabama.”
While Orgeron was more staid than Miles, he did get the random question of the day from a reporter. The season opener vs. BYU starts at 8:30pm local time. Since college football games frequently go longer than 3 ½ hours, and since BYU does not allow athletes to compete on Sundays for religious purposes, what happens if the game goes past midnight? If you are continuing to read here for an answer, don’t bother. No one has a clue at this point, but Orgeron said he will have his assistants take that into consideration in game planning.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Jones is an enigma, and no, we are not talking about the tie he wore that was orange and Smokey Mountain gray. He has succeeded well above the tenures of the last two coaches in Knoxville, (Derek Dooley and Lane Kiffin), but he has raised expectations to a level that he is having a hard time meeting. Our Mike Loveall addressed it during the Spring. The Vols finished 9-4 and in second in the SEC last year, but the #22 ranking was well below pre-season expectations and dropping games to South Carolina and Vanderbilt left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the faithful. Now, he also has to replace quarterback Joshua Dobbs, the most significant Tennessee play caller since a guy named Peyton Manning.
He has Quinton Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano to choose from. Dormady has been biding his time behind Dobbs and Guarantano is a redshirt freshman. Jones admitted he may need to be ready to give them both some snaps early in the season. It could be tough to do with those heritage college football programs Indiana State and UMass on the schedule in the first four weeks. The Vols do open with a manageable game against Georgia Tech in Atlanta and then have the divisional rivalry game with Florida in week three.
Jones touted how he has three assistants with head coaching experience. Logistically, it is four, but legitimately it is about one-and-a-half. I’m not sure Mike Canales’ two interim stints at North Texas is what Jones was referring to. Or maybe it was that Bob Shoop coaching at Columbia was forgettable. But there is Larry Scott, who had an interim run at Miami when Al Golden was fired, and there is new associate head coach Brady Hoke, who took a commuter school in San Diego State and gave them a football program for the first time in more than a decade, but who also had a horrible flameout in Ann Arbor. However the numbers pan out it is worth noting that a coach who cannot seem to keep the fan base happy is surrounded by assistants who have been a head coach. It is either bold of him or a job death sentence.