SEC Media Days Live Blog: The hottest coach, attention-wise, and the two on the hottest seats

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s Day One at the SEC Media Days, the annual extravaganza to hype the upcoming season and bring even more attention to the Southeastern Conference.

Somehow, nobody’s bothered to notice we still have nearly two months until the season starts, there’s likely not any breaking news to come out of here this week, but it’s never too early to jump-start all the hype.

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey will do the traditional welcome speech, then he’ll be followed to the stage by three coaches — Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Tennessee’s Butch Jones.

Orgeron, who stepped in as interim coach last year, is the odds-on favorite to replace Steve Spurrier in the Best in Quote category. There’s a lot of potential at LSU and Orgeron is a man of relentless enthusiasm.

Bielema is entering his fifth year at Arkansas and though  the Hogs have gone to three straight bowl bits, 7-6, 8-5 and 7-6 records don’t sit pretty.  Plus, the SEC West remains the best division in college football. The pressure is on.

Meanwhile, Jones has merely won nine games each of the last two years. However, the Vols neglected to win the SEC East as predicted last year — they even neglected to beat Vanderbilt — and failing to meet expectations has Jones on a hot seat.

The fun will continue through Thursday morning, highlighted by appearances from Alabama’s Nick Saban and his players on Wednesday and Auburn’s Guz Malzahn and his guys Thursday.

Anyway, follow along with our regular updates as these gentlemen hit the stage today.

Maxie Gardner July 10, 201711:11 am

Maxie Gardner July 10, 201711:27 am

Mark McCarter July 10, 201711:44 am

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey likes to use his moment on stage to provide history lessons. This year, a reminder that it was 50 years ago this season — on Sept. 30, 1967 — when Kentucky’s Nate Northington became the first African-American football player in SEC history.

Mark McCarter July 10, 201711:57 am

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey tends to give a banquet speech more than an update when he opens the SEC Media Days. His predecessor, Mike Slive, liked to drop tidbits about success and money and winning records that helped us fill our notebooks – and continue to inflate the conference’s collective ego.

Sankey did oblige with some remarkable facts: For the 10th time since 2006, an
SEC team played for the college football national championship. Three of the
Elite Eight and two of the Final Four in men’s basketball were from the SEC.
Both NCAA women’s basketball finalists were SEC teams, as were both NCAA
baseball finalists. Eight of the top 10 outdoor track and field were from the
SEC and all 13 softball teams were selected for the NCAA tournament.

All told, there were six NCAA champs from the SEC.

Then, unlike Mike Slive, Sankey completed his prepared statement by quoting from U2 lyrics.

https://localtvwhnt.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/sankey.jpg?quality=85&strip=all&w=770

Mark McCarter July 10, 201712:11 pm

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey tends to give a banquet speech more than an update when he opens the SEC Media Days. His predecessor, Mike Slive, liked to drop tidbits about success and money and winning records that helped us fill our notebooks – and continue to inflate the conference’s collective ego.

Sankey did oblige with some remarkable facts: For the 10th time since 2006, an
SEC team played for the college football national championship. Three of the
Elite Eight and two of the Final Four in men’s basketball were from the SEC.
Both NCAA women’s basketball finalists were SEC teams, as were both NCAA
baseball finalists. Eight of the top 10 outdoor track and field were from the
SEC and all 13 softball teams were selected for the NCAA tournament.

All told, there were six NCAA champs from the SEC.

Then, unlike Mike Slive, Sankey completed his prepared statement by quoting from U2 lyrics.

https://localtvwhnt.files.wordpress.com/2017/07/sankey1.jpg?quality=85&strip=all

Maxie Gardner July 10, 201712:12 pm

Mark McCarter July 10, 201712:15 pm

Remember the big stink last year when a hurricane in Florida forced the LSU-Florida game to be rescheduled and nobody — including other opponents — was very happy with the deal? The schools tried to work out the situation themselves. SEC presidents and ADs have unanimously given the SEC commissioner full authority to handle such scenarios in the future.

Maxie Gardner July 10, 201712:20 pm

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Mark McCarter July 10, 201712:29 pm

My long-time friend Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press is nearly as good an artist as he is columnist. Here’s his “doodling” while listening to SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey’s speech:

Maxie Gardner July 10, 201712:47 pm

Mark McCarter July 10, 201712:48 pm

Maxie Gardner July 10, 20171:05 pm

Mark McCarter July 10, 20171:09 pm

Arkansas ran out of gas with an uninspired loss to Missouri, then a bowl game loss to Virginia Tech, finishing 7-6 after a 6-2 start.

Coach Bret Bielema took a hard look at personnel and the coaching staff, deciding to change to a 3-4 defense to better contend against spread offenses and bringing in two new assistants on that side of the ball. 

Bielema felt like, for the first time in his four years at Arkansas, the team was playing more poorly at the end than the beginning.

Mark McCarter July 10, 20171:11 pm

Several years ago, Bret Bielema told some reporters that beating Texas was “a borderline erotic” experience.

He was asked Monday to describe how it might feel to beat Texas A&M in a neutral site game at Cowboys Stadium.

“I know you guys are always looking for a quote,” he said, “but I can’t go much farther than that one.”

Mark McCarter July 10, 20171:19 pm

Mark McCarter July 10, 20171:30 pm

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was full of praise for the SEC for permitting the transfer of fifth-year senior running back David Williams, creating a “marriage made in heaven.” 

Williams had played at South Carolina, but had little impact. The South Carolina staff did not balk at the move.

Picking up fifth-year transfers has worked OK in the past for Bielema — for instance the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, who QB’d North Carolina State before finishing his career as a postgrad player for Bielema at Wisconsin. 

Maxie Gardner July 10, 20171:41 pm

Maxie Gardner July 10, 20171:41 pm

Mark McCarter July 10, 20171:47 pm

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We’re now in what amounts to study hall period in the Main Media room. Nearly an hour’s break between Bret Bielema and LSU’s Ed Orgeron. Many heads bowed toward their laptops, typing away, while coaches and players make the rounds on radio row and in breakout rooms for TV. 

The columnists’ dream scenario is the most quotable coach goes first in the day, all the better to bat that column out while others drone on and to assure you’re done by the cocktail hour. 

Or so others have told me…

Maxie Gardner July 10, 20171:53 pm

Maxie Gardner July 10, 20171:53 pm

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Mark McCarter July 10, 20172:36 pm

Music to LSU fans’ ears after the Les Miles Era and offenses that were often less than scintillating:

Coach Ed Orgeron has hired Matt Canada as the new offensive coordinator. He runs “a very diverse
offense, lot of shifts, motions, use of personnel, fly sweeps (and) make it difficult to defense,” according to Orgeron.

Canada promises a 50-50 balance between running and passing.

Mark McCarter July 10, 20172:47 pm

Maybe this is the result of three decades of being an assistant coach, but LSU’s Ed Orgeron has done something that few head coaches bother to do at SEC Media Days.

Orgeron has named nearly everybody on his coaching staff, and has called second-year assistant Dave Aranda “one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.”

Aranda is “a great coordinator, great position coach, great recruiter and even better man.” He transformed the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and designed a scheme that kept Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson out of the end zone in the Tigers’ 29-9 Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win.

Mark McCarter July 10, 20172:59 pm

Alabama has beaten LSU six straight games and eight of the last 10.

Last year was “a very tight game, 0-0 going into the third quarter. Their quarterback made plays and we didn’t,” LSU’s Ed Orgeron said. It wound up a 10-0 Tide win.

“Obviously they’ve done a great job at Alabama,” Orgeron said. “We can’t just point to Alabama, but they’re the benchmark. I understand that the head coach at LSU must beat Alabama. The key to that is to recruit at that level … and coach, coach very well.”

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Maxie Gardner July 10, 20173:32 pm

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Maxie Gardner July 10, 20173:47 pm

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Mark McCarter July 10, 20174:01 pm

Things you gotta think of: There are two flavors of soft drinks available in the lobby, Dr Pepper and an orange drink. I ended up chugging half a cup of the orange drink because danged if I could go back into media room with Tennessee coach coming up and me carrying an orange soda.

Mark McCarter July 10, 20174:04 pm

When a coach begins by talking about team GPA, you’re either (a) Vanderbilt or (b) a coach in job-preservation mode trying everything to show the good all-around things that he’s done. 

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Tennessee’s Butch Jones says this was “one of the most competitive off-seasons” we’ve had.

Credit, he says, goes to enthusiasm brought by strength coach Rock Gullickson.

The Vols have five new assistants — including ex-Michigan head coach Brady Hoke — and Larry Scott is a new offensive coordinator. 

Mark McCarter July 10, 20174:14 pm

UT’s Butch Jones said an indication of “how far we’ve come” is the number of Vols drafted last year into the NFL. There were six drafted in the first four rounds, the most for Tennessee in 15 years. QB Josh Dobbs was selected by the Steelers in the fourth round, the highest for a UT quarterback since Peyton Manning.

Mark McCarter July 10, 20174:39 pm

Short and sweet appearance by Tennessee’s Butch Jones. He did acknowledge last year’s failure to win the SEC East, for which the Vols were heavily favored. They lost three in a row at mid-season — to Texas A&M, Alabama and South Carolina — after a 5-0 start, then lost he season finale to Vanderbilt.

“I don’t view it as a disappointment,” he said. “The way I view it, we didn’t accomplish everything we set ourselves out (to do).”

Mark McCarter July 10, 20175:14 pm

It’s class dismissed for Day One of the SEC Media Days, at least for those of us in the main ballroom. Check in with us tomorrow as we hear from coaches and players from Georgia, Florida, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. And check out my column later today on WHNT.com on LSU coach Ed Orgeron.