Live blog from SEC Media Days as Saban and Tide take the stage
HOOVER, Ala. — Dawn awoke with the Wynfrey Hotel lobby already filling up with eager Alabama fans awaiting the arrival of coach Nick Saban and his players.
It’s Day 3 of the SEC Media Days, and Saban’s appearance is the annual highlight – for fans and media. No telling what he’ll say, but he’ll be interesting.
The rest of Day 3 has Missouri’s Barry Odom trying to follow Saban’s act this morning, with Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin this afternoon.
Before the coaches took the stage, Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff, had a few minutes with the assembled media.
Hancock, who is a long-time friend and whose book “Riding With the Blue Moth” is one of the great inspirational books you could ever read, accepted my invitation a few years back to come to Huntsville for a couple of speeches.
This was in 2013, after four consecutive national championships by teams from our state. As I introduced him, I said it was the first time he had been on the stage with somebody from Alabama in four years where he wasn’t handing over a trophy.
Is there another trophy presentation in the state’s future? We’ll see what Saban – and others have to say about that today.
Follow along with our live blog as our WHNT team – sports director Chase Horn, sports reporter Taylor Tannebaum and reporter Chris Davis – join me to keep you posted with news, tidbits and fun from the SEC Media Days.
Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoffs, says there is no talk of expanding the field from four teams.
“Four lets us keep the focus on the regular season, the best, most compelling, most meaningful regular season in sports,” he said. “Why monkey with a good thing.”
The CFP has a 12-year contract based on a four-team field, and nine years remain.
For what it’s worth — and this is probably a debate column for another day — I agree with the four-team setup. Right now, No. 5 may have a legit complaint it is left out. Expand to eight, and No. 9, 10 and 11 will have legit complaints. And the more extended a field, the more chance of a fluke champion, as we often see in pro sports.
My big argument, though, is for the fans. Think about three weeks of travel, jacked-up hotel rates, expensive game tickets, airfare. The longer a playoff, the more cost prohibitive it becomes for fans and family. That’s my two cents. Tweet me @markmccarter with what you think.
Saban reminds this is his 11th Media Days as Alabama coach and jokes that “probably nobody in this room thought that would happen.”
Nick Saban noted that Alabama “lost a ton” on defense but with all the youth there, “We’re excited as coaches to help those guys develop” to be “individually and collectively successful.”
Great question from NOLA.com’s Ron Higgins to Saban about learning lessons from losing title game. The answer:
“When you lose … the mindset is much more ‘I’m willing to change.’ I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure. What could we have done better, because everybody is hurt by the way we lost. …
“We weren’t able to finish the game like we needed to. There’s a lot of lessons to learn. Hopefully we won’t waste a failure.”
Saban on young defense: "we're excited as coaches to help those guys develop" to be "individually and collectively successful"
— Mark McCarter (@markmccarter) July 12, 2017
There is a new rule to improve sideline decorum, with an automatic penalty for coaches who go onto the field to complain against an official’s call.
All staffs have what is referred to as “get-back coach” to keep coaches and players behind the boundary.
“We may need two get-back coaches” this year, Saban quipped.
The multi-Saban view from row four in the main media room.
Though Alabama has won 17 consecutive SEC games in a row, Saban said he has “tremendous respect” for all the other teams.
“There’s a lot of parity in our league. It’s very challenging from a consistency standpoint in our league,” Saban said. “I think we have one of the youngest teams that we’ve ever had so it’s going to be a real challenge for us to maintain the standard we’ve been able to maintain. Especially on defense. Especially the front seven.”
Here’s the view from outside the scrum as Calvin Ridley does interviews in the main media room. I can’t imagine what the view from inside looking out is. But for the most part players do pretty well in these big group settings.
Mark will provide a little more insight into this story in a bit. But we wanted you guys to see the basics of it.
Saban and the Alabama players have wrapped up in the big ballroom, which gets filled by dozens of media types who attend just for this hour. Now, this room’s fixin’ to empty like the Talladega grandstands after a Dale Junior wreck.
Missouri coach Barry Odom will be following Nick Saban to the stage in an hour.
Similar statement: The Baha Men will be following Bruce Springsteen to the stage in an hour.
“When you win (only) four games, it hurts your soul,” said Missouri coach Barry Odom.
Odom joked that he was so surprised by all the buzz in the building when he arrived. “Then I realized Nick was here.”
“We’ve got to become more consistent on offense,” Missouri’s Barry Odom said. That will fall on QB Drew Lock, a junior who was first in the SEC in passing last year with 3,399 yards.
OK, to take the liberty to plug a book by some friends. Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl and the Alabama radio network color analyst, has teamed with press box colleague (for more years than we’d want to admit) Ray Glier for this book. Can’t wait to start reading.
The full transcript of Nick Saban’s speech and the Q&A session in the main media room at the SEC Media Days is available right here:
All due respect, but can’t agree with this: Coaches’ decorum has gotten bad in college football. There are some in the SEC who have pushed the envelope (see Muschamp, Will) and it’s time for the officials to regain control of the field again. If for no other reason, this can help college coaches set a better example for high school and youth coaches who can go berserk on the sidelines.
Much discussion at lunch over SEC’s pondering a move of Media Days to Atlanta or Dallas, or setting up a rotation.
With each passing year, it does seem that Birmingham feels less like home to the SEC, even as the HQ sits downtown.
I can understand interest in moving things around, and certainly with SEC Championship Game locked into Atlanta for years to come, that makes some sense. On the other hand, this is a monumental event and the SEC staff can work this and go home at night. Not that money is a factor, but the cost of taking a huge SEC staff to Atlanta or Dallas would be expensive.
The big thing is this: The signature moment and the resonating picture each year is the arrival of the Alabama coach and players, and to a slightly smaller extent, the Auburn arrival. That helps with SEC’s hype for itself. That can’t be replicated anywhere else. Kirby Smart is not going to fill the Marriott lobby in Atlanta.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says the Wildcats are “a more mature, stronger team” and “things are going exceptionally well in the summer.”
Kentucky has found a fertile recruiting ground in Ohio. Coach Mark Stoops is from Youngstown, where his dad was a high school coach and his brothers began to establish their names.
Three of the potential All-SEC players — LB Jordan Jones, running back Benny Snell and safety Mike Edwards — are from Ohio, and six of the 17 returning starters are from Ohio.
“The SEC is an easy
selling point for guys that grew up in Ohio,” Stoops said. “They embrace the opportunity to come
down and play in this league.”
Mark Stoops’ brother Bob was the long-time coach at Oklahoma who surprised the college football world with his retirement announcement in the spring. As Mark admits, “It was a bit of a shock to me.”
Mark said he still has “mixed emotions” about the news.
When Bob called him, Mark left his office and walked around the practice field so he could make sure the conversation was private.
“I’m proud of him what he’s done … to be able to step away how he wants and when he wants.”
Stoops acknowledged of UK’s history, “We haven’t been relevant. We’re gaining on it. We’re getting in position to compete in the SEC East. … You can’t go from zero to 60. It’s connecting the dots, doing the things necessary, being consistent.”
Here’s my column on Nick Saban and his media day appearance. He caught me off-guard by not railing on preseason predictions. He was really good, introspective and, for the most part, patient.
Parade, meet rain.
SEC Media Days, meet Houston Nutt.
“Energy level is as good as it’s been” in the Texas A&M locker room, Kevin Sumlin said.
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis served in that same role at Alabama A&M from 1986-88 and had a previous stint there from 1980-83.
The Texas A&M defense was 10th in the SEC last year, allowing 441.8 yards per game. (For comparison’s sake, Alabama allowed 261.8 per game in leading the league.)
Chavis enjoys a reputation as one of the best D-coordinators in the country, but there is some heat on him.
“We have got to be a better run defense,” said A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. “I don’t think there’s any secret to that. Our ability to do that and be multiple and change things up are things we’ve worked on.”
This is something “we have discussed openly” and “it’s not just John Chavis. It’s across the board. The biggest sign in our building says ‘No Excuses,” and we’re not giving excuses. And that starts with me.”
To help replace top NFL draft pick Myles Garrett, Texas A&M signed JUCO standout Micheal Clemons, who goes by the nickname “Cyclops.”
Said Kevin Sumlin, “I’m always going to recruit somebody who is 6-5 and can rush the passer and is called Cyclops.”
Alabama is “the mark everybody wants to be … The consistency of that program did not come overnight. I think people understand that. You can’t argue that is the mark and that is where everybody wants to be,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said.
“Without question, what Nick has done, and that program has done, they were ahead of the curve a long time ago in how they approach things. That has basically been the model people have tried to follow.”
Something tells me that the picture below is a good sign that it’s time to wrap up today’s live blog. Thanks so much for following along all day and we’ll see you in the morning with Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp.