The SEC likes to say, for them, “It Just Means More.” It is the conference’s official tag line for all promotion. For the purposes of day two of the SEC Media Days, it means a packed day with four coaches, some style points, some people way too close to the internet and getting a day closer to the start of camp. Many of the coaches here talk about how they hope everyone enjoyed their Summer. This, while most of the country is in 90+ degree temperatures in the middle of July. Summer is hardly over. Unless you are an SEC football coach meeting with the media and getting ready for camp.
SEC Media Days News and Notes
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Smart started the day off like a guy who was going to be there for the long haul, at the podium, and with the SEC Network and doing radio interviews, one after another. He was low key and measured.
Even as he proclaimed he was “very excited over the progress of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason,” and had “elation over Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both coming back,” he expressed those emotions in a very composed manner.
Indeed with 17 returning starters, particularly Chubb and Michel, there is a lot of reason for optimism in Athens. Smart said once Chubb decided he was coming back, it made it easier for Michel to come back also so that they could share the workload in the backfield. So as to make sure no one thinks he is taking anything for granted with the plethora of returning talent, Smart declared that the SEC East is wide open and mentioned Florida and Tennessee as particular concerns for his Bulldogs. Before he even gets to those matters he has a tough season opener to deal with in Appalachian State followed by a marquee road game against Notre Dame. We’ll see how excited he is by week three.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Mason routinely wins our admiration for his sartorial splendor at these events. Yes, he wore his kitschy vest for his radio row interviews, but at the podium, he was all business….suit, that is. He was gracious, telling the assembled media he hoped they would enjoy the experience of his appearance. And then we were all treated to the Derek Mason book of quotes.
“The more you can do, the easier it is to put you on the bus.”
“It’s not about where we play, it’s how we play.”
“The future is bright, but the future is now.”
“We are all students of the game. So who are you? Look at your growth.”
As to the actual art of football, Mason said this is the first time in his coaching career that he has had no turnover at the assistant level and he thinks the continuity will pay dividends for the players. He also said it is the reason he believes Vanderbilt is closing the talent gap in the conference as recruits see the potential of the program. With Ralph Webb returning to add on to his career 3,342 rushing stats, Mason said there is no ceiling for his Commodores.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
Mullen is catching up to people. He is behind only Nick Saban in terms of head coaching tenure in the SEC. He is also only five wins away from moving into the second spot in school history for most wins. Still he has not taken the Bulldogs to where he thinks they should go. “We haven’t won the SEC West yet, or the SEC yet, or a national championship.”
If he is going to make a move on any of that, this may be a tough year to do it. He pointed out that his offensive line has a grand total of 30 starts under its collective belt. And while he has a terrific returning quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald, the receiving corps is very young. Mullen said he needs Fitzgerald to go for the home run ball less this season and be prepared to check down and dump down under the coverage more. That, he figures, will also make it easier to grow his receivers into more assured players.
Mullen could have cut his time at the podium in half if he had never coached a quarterback named Dak Prescott. But with a good half of the questions being about Prescott tutoring Fitzgerald, or Prescott being an influence in recruiting or what Prescott’s success in Dallas means for the program, well, Mullen was just going to have to put in his time like the rest of the coaches.
Jim McElwain, Florida
McElwain was ready for all issues, or so he thought. He made it clear he was refreshed from some vacation time at his lake house in Montana, so he did not even really need an opening statement and went right to taking questions. Oh, if he only had the chance for a re-do on that decision.
An ongoing theme is some reporters spending too much time in fan boards and feeling the need to chase down every unsubstantiated rumor. A lot of them have to do with why certain teams schedule particular opponents for homecoming and if there is retribution involved for past slights. One reporter asked McElwain what he thought about the Florida-Georgia game moving away from Jacksonville and to a home-and-home format. “I must have missed that while I was at my lake cabin in Montana. You all are probably talking about it more than anyone because I have never heard anything about it and I am the coach.” McElwain was also asked to address the internet doctored photo of him sans clothing and with a shark. He tried to chuckle, but became emotional because he felt, “it attacked my family, it was personal.”
Now there was actual football to discuss. He said he has spent a lot of the offseason thinking less about players and schemes and more about the organization and his staff and came to the conclusion that “sweating the small stuff matters,” so that is what he is asking the assistants to focus on the most.
Of course the biggest news for him to address was the graduate transfer of former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire. The addition gives him a stable of four viable quarterbacks to choose from. So who will it be? There was a fan board rumor that he had made his choice. “I figured out a lot of things at the lake house but the starting quarterback was not one of them.”
See. It always goes back to Summer vacation.