One of the fascinating things about SEC Football Media Days is the introduction of new coaches to the four-day rotation. This year, the rookies all hail from the Eastern Division. Barry Odom (Missouri) and Kirby Smart (Georgia) will make their media days’ debut during the course of the week. Will Muschamp will return to Hoover crowing all the way as the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks, rather than doing the Gator Chomp from back in the day as Florida’s former head coach. Entering their fourth seasons, Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) can each claim the Longevity Trophy at their respective schools in the Eastern Division.
In the wild, wild West that is the Western Division of SEC, two seemingly veteran gunslingers, Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bret Bielema (Arkansas), both enter their fourth seasons preparing to challenge many long-standing cowboys. Led by LSU’s Les Miles (12th year) and Alabama’s Nick Saban (10th year), the SEC Western Division is home to coaches who have been at their respective schools through at least one full recruiting cycle.
The longevity of SEC Western Division coaches is even more amazing when considering the fact that the division is widely regarded as the most competitive of any grouping of teams in the nation. Such longevity also signals the long-term commitment schools are making to invest in building a consistent national championship contender within the confines of a brutally difficult intra-divisional schedule. Here is a summary of the coaching landscape across the SEC:
Head Coaches at Current School
(Entering the 2016 season)
Nick Saban, Alabama – 10th
Bret Bielema, Arkansas – 4th
Gus Malzahn, Auburn – 4th
Les Miles, LSU – 12th
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss – 5th
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State – 8th
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M – 5th
SEC Western Division Average – 6.85
Jim McElwain, Florida – 2nd
Kirby Smart, Georgia – 1st
Mark Stoops, Kentucky – 4th
Barry Odom, Missouri – 1st
Will Muschamp, South Carolina – 1st
Butch Jones, Tennessee – 4th
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt – 3rd
SEC Eastern Division Average – 2.29
Georgia’s head coach was the first of the SEC Football Media Days newcomers to take the stage. Smart didn’t feel like your average rookie for at least a couple of reasons. As a high-profile coordinator in the SEC, fans around the league are more than familiar with Smart’s body of work. In fact, Smart shared that while it was his first trip to media days, it was the start of his 18th season in the SEC, including five as a player, one as an administrative assistant, three as a position coach and eight as a coordinator.
What also made Smart come across as a veteran was the seamless way he navigated his first live nationally televised 30-minute infomercial on the SEC Network. The former Broyles Award winner certainly affirmed what almost everyone knew, he was ready to be a head coach.
What is a little more uncertain is the quarterback situation at Georgia. In his opening statement, Smart simply stated that they would put the quarterback on the field that gave them the best chance to win. When a reporter later tried to paraphrase the question and framed it in how much the head coach would weigh all of the options of putting the best player on the field, Smart quickly corrected the record.
“Zero. I mean the options we’re going to weigh are going to be what gives us the best chance to win. Notice I didn’t say exactly what you said, where we’re going to play the best player. We’re going to play the best player that gives us the best opportunity to win football games. And I don’t know who that is. If I knew, I promise you, I would tell you. I would give you that information. But I don’t know that.”
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
SEC Coordinator of Football Officials Steve Shaw, drew no illegal procedures calls as he took the stage early Tuesday morning to address those in the main media room on officiating and rules changes for the 2016 season. It is easy to see why Shaw has been a mainstay in college football officiating for many years. Not only was he one of college football’s best officials, he has a passion for the game. He still looks like he could run up and down the field with the quickest of hurry-up offenses, but now he resides in Birmingham at the league office overseeing the football officiating program for the nation’s premiere conference.
Among the topics Shaw addressed in his 30-minute presentation on Tuesday was the recent change to a centralized replay system that allows officials in the league office to consult with those at the game site to help ensure the call is correct. Shaw said three replay officials will be in the video command center each week to review replays identified by the lead replay official at each game. Just as in the past, the on-site replay official will determine whether the game needs to be halted and will have the ultimate decision on the call. However, unlike the game show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” the on-site official will be able to use all three lifelines for each call. Never hurts to have a little help, especially when millions of interested and officiating experts are tuning in.
“But let me tell you what this thing is not, and this is very important,” Shaw said. “What this is not, it is not perfection. Perfection is a difficult thing to define in officiating. There are gray plays. I can sit our 14 coaches at a table, put a play up, and there are some great plays that we wouldn’t get agreement at the table. So it’s not about perfection, but it is about consistency and avoiding any incorrect outcomes.”
* Replay officials will now be able to call a targeting foul via replay, even if a flag was not originally thrown on the field during the play. Shaw said that only two plays last year would have been impacted by this rule change.
* As normal, replay officials may also overturn a targeting foul assessed on the field.
* SEC games averaged 13.0 penalties per game last season.
* If all TV timeouts have been taken, an SEC coach will now have the option to extend one 30-second team timeout per half to a full-team timeout so he can discuss strategy with his team. The official’s signal will be similar to that used in basketball when extending a 30-second timeout to a full timeout.
* After previously passing a rule allowing technology to be used in the coaches’ booth and in the locker room, the rules committee delayed the implementation of the rule until the 2017 season to allow more time for review and discussion.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE SIGNAL CALLERS?
Tuesday marked the quarterback bonanza day at SEC Football Media Days. Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs and Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight both made their way through the media gauntlet. In a normal year, that would seem fairly standard. But out of 42 student-athletes selected to come to this year’s event, only three are quarterbacks. In addition to Dobbs and Knight, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly will travel to Hoover on Thursday.
In a league that has had some of the best quarterbacks in college football, the lack of high-profile quarterbacks entering the season is remarkable. Consider that five tight ends will be featured at media days this year. Guess between now and the start of the season, teams will have to find someone to throw the ball to those all-star tight ends!
SHOUT OUT: HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM
Tennessee head coach Butch Jones is 43 years old and the head coach of one of college football’s storied programs. Yet, even he couldn’t resist a national opportunity to take care of a little bit of personal business. As Jones neared the end of his opening statement on Tuesday, he gave the first podium shout out of the week.
“I’m going to do something that I’ve never done before (on TV),” Jones announced. “I’d like to wish my mom a Happy Birthday. She’s a regular on the SEC Network. She’s at home right now watching it and she turns 79 years old today. So, Mom, I love you and Happy Birthday.”
ABSENCE ON RADIO ROW
As I strolled through the Infinite Corridor that houses Radio Row today, I was able to catch up with many old friends and renew acquaintances with many of those who talk SEC Football on the airwaves throughout the year. But one familiar face that wasn’t in his usual position was legendary Memphis broadcaster George Lapides. Lapides was a staple in the mid-south first on television and then on radio. He was always one of the first ones to catch me and try to set up an interview with the Arkansas head football coach for “all the Razorback fans down here in Memphis.”
Sadly, Lapides passed away last month after a long bout with lung disease. He was 76 years old. He is missed.
On Tap for Wednesday (All Times Central)
9:05 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. – Alabama (Head Coach Nick Saban, DL Jonathan Allen, TE O.J. Howard, DB Eddie Jackson)
9:05 a.m. – 12:05 p.m. – Arkansas (Head Coach Bret Bielema, LB Brooks Ellis, DL Deatrich Wise Jr., TE Jeremy Sprinkle)
1 – 4 p.m.– Kentucky (Head Coach Mark Stoops, RB Jojo Kemp, LB Courtney Love, C Jon Toth)
1 – 4 p.m. – Missouri (Head Coach Barry Odom, TE Sean Culkin, DE Charles Harris, LB Michael Scherer)
SEC Network – SEC Now: 2016 SEC Football Media Days Special (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
SEC Network – Paul Finebaum Show (3 – 6 p.m.)
For the sixth consecutive year, University of Arkansas Associate Athletic Director for Public Relations Kevin Trainor is serving as the press conference moderator in the main print media room at SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Throughout the week, Trainor will share some highlights and observations from this year’s event.