Live blog from SEC Media Days as Auburn takes the stage and Freeze gets the heat

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HOOVER, Ala. – A man was holding a tiny designer-dog on a leash in the Wynfrey lobby this morning. The dog was painted with orange and blue stripes, like a tiger.

Welcome to Day Four of the 2017 SEC Media Days.

Welcome to Auburn’s turn to take the stage.

Coach Gus Malzahn will be among today’s speakers, and the chances he’ll reveal the identity of his starting quarterback is somewhere along the same chance the Daily Planet will reveal the true identity of Clark Kent.

Not that he won’t be asked.

Malzahn will be joined by the league’s most consistent offensive weapon – placekicker Daniel Carlson – who is 141-for-141 on PATs and has kicked 69 field goals, eighth most in SEC history. It’s an encore performance at media days for Carlson, who – at a quick count – is one of fewer than five kickers to appear since media days began in 1989.

Also here from Auburn are defensive back Tray Matthews and offensive lineman Braden Smith.

Taking the stage along with Auburn today are Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze and South Carolina coach Will Muschamp.

Freeze would be the most intriguing story, except an attorney has surely told him he can’t talk about legal matters. On Wednesday, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt filed an antidefamation suit against the school and against Freeze.

The suit said, in part, it “is common knowledge among sports journalists that Coach Freeze does not take kindly to criticism, that he is “consistently exhibiting behaviors that are massively defensive” and goes “to extraordinary lengths through social media and otherwise to promote his self-image as a deeply spiritual Godly man who’s done nothing wrong and is being persecuted.”

Follow along with our live blog this morning as we hear what Malzahn, Freeze and Muschamp have to say.

Mark McCarter July 13, 20178:42 am

The aforementioned tiger-dog meets a young friend:

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:01 am

Wright Waters, the executive director of the Football Bowl Association, spoke early this morning. He’s not unaware of the “too many bowls” criticism, but he stresses the positive experience for players, fans and the institutions that receive
substantial funding from bowls.

“I’m here to tell you every bowl has its own significance and own priorities,” Waters said. “You go to the Bahamas Bowl. Bahamians haven’t figured out our football yet, but for those teams and their fans, a week in the Bahamas isn’t bad.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:07 am

WIll Muschamp noted that some of the media looked a little worse for the wear after 3 previous days (and nights). He teased a writer friend that he reminded him of the Joss Turner song, “You Look Like I Need A Drink.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:08 am

While acknowledging attendance has declined – some bowls are in smaller stadiums now – and the TV ratings are slightly lower, Wright Waters of the Football Bowl Association said “our TV partners are happy.”

He offered some numbers:

Total revenue paid by bowls: $616.8 million

Total expenses for the teams: $195.5 million

Net to teams: $511.4 million

Attendance drop: 4.5 percent

Number of bowls: 40 

Number of bowls owned by ESPN Events: 13

Number owned by pro franchises: 4

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:19 am

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:26 am

Jake Bentley, South Carolina’s sophomore quarterback from Opelika, won the job on Sunday nights, not Saturdays. The Gamecocks hold Sunday practice for players who don’t get much playing time and “you could see him continuing to improve,” coach Will Muschamp said.

With the “frustration of not playing well on offense,” Muschamp finally installed him as starter for the final seven games. He won his first three starts and finished with a 65.8 percent completion rate and 1,420 yards. 

“Part of being a good quarterback is understanding how to be a quarterback,” Muschamp said. “Jake gets it.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:32 am

The Facilities War rages everywhere in the SEC, with all teams trying to have the best of the best to lure recruits.

Said Will Muschamp: “We don’t believe in bells and whistles but recruits do. They like to see shiny.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 20179:43 am

The timing of Houston Nutt’s lawsuit against Ole Miss and current Rebels coach Hugh Freeze is, as they say around Oxford, “tacky.”

It’s an obvious attempt at public shaming after Nutt believes Freeze has backstabbed him in repeated phone calls with journalists. 

It also brings to mind that in 2004 Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer skipped media days and spoke over the phone because of the threat he’d be presented a subpoena once he landed in Alabama. That was all part of the ugly recruiting scandal that ultimately put the Crimson Tide under NCAA probations.

When Fulmer showed in 2008, he was indeed presented a subpoena as he climbed from his car outside the Wynfrey. For your reading pleasure, from the ESPN archives:

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:12 am

Gus Malzahn says “there’s that feel” with a lot of excitement around Auburn complex. 

Auburn is “hungry and has something to prove,” and it’s the first time he’s had that feeling since 2013.

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:20 am

Alabama State Troopers are in the room. Which means there must also be a college football coach from Alabama in the room.

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201710:21 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201710:21 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201710:21 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201710:22 am

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:22 am

The Auburn-to-the-SEC-East discussion has pretty much been stifled, as much as the geography makes sense.

“I like the way it is,” Malzahn says of the SEC alignment.

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:22 am

Here’s Gus from the fourth row of the main interview room:

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:26 am

Auburn’s offensive front added Jax State transfer center Casey Dunn and Florida State trasnfer Wilson Bell  — “a mountain of a man” at 6-5, 355 pounds — and Malzahn said “our depth up front on offense is as good as it’s been. You can’t have enough depth on the offensive line in our league.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:34 am

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn explained his decision to turn over play calling to offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey as “best for the team.”

He said Lindsey “was with me in 2013 and was a righthand man for me. He’s a former high school coach, he understands our core offense, he’s very good with the passing game. I got to the point, I had trust in him. He’s going to do very well.”

Some of the decision was based on the extra demands on being a head coach in this league.

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201710:37 am

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:41 am

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze notes that “it seems like there is something I have to talk about other than my kids” every year at SEC Media Days.

If not the on-going NCAA case, there is Wednesday’s lawsuit filed by former coach Houston Nutt as another distraction.

“I’ll sure be glad for the day when I can stand here when it’s not” wrapped in controversy. 

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:47 am

Much as Auburn’s Gus Malzahn has learned, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has learned the demands of calling plays takes away from all the other duties. As Freeze said, “I can’t be sitting in the offensive staff room all the time.”

He has hired Phil Longo as his offensive coordinator.

“He’s put up crazy numbers everywhere he’s been,” Freeze said. He was impressed by “his love for being innovative and thinking outside the box.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:49 am

Only a cynic would suggest that Hugh Freeze working off a long, well-prepared statement, with in-depth discussion of his coaching staff, then just beginning to talk about the specifics of his team 12 minutes into his 30-minute stint, is happening to minimize the Q&A time. 

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:52 am

At 10:51, Freeze said he’d take questions. His stint ends at 11:05.

Mark McCarter July 13, 201710:53 am

On the lawsuit filed by Houston Nutt that includes Freeze, he said:

“I would absolutely love to share my opinion on it. Unfortunately it’s a legal case
and I can’t comment on it.”

Mark McCarter July 13, 201711:02 am

Ole Miss has self-imposed a bowl ban for this season, but Hugh Freeze is trying to look at all the positives.

“It has the potential to set up our staff to have our greatest hour,” he said.

He said Ole Miss can be “a model for a lot of people for what it looks like for people who genuinely care for each other as people and look at what we have as a blessing.”

Freeze also said, as an aside, “I might go for it on fourth down a lot more.” 

Mark McCarter July 13, 201711:05 am

Hugh Freeze acknowledged that “we have obviously created” the NCAA situation at Ole Miss. “We have to be responsible for the situations we were deficient in. We have to own that.”

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:29 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:32 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:35 am

Huntsville mayor and gubernatorial candidate Tommy Battle is in Hoover for SEC Media Days.

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:41 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:41 am

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201711:41 am

Mark McCarter July 13, 201711:55 am

Ole Miss QB Shea Patterson:

“When (the NCAA investigation) first happened it was kind of devastating. We all came here to win a national championship, but I think it has brought us all closer together. Adversity tends to crumble people a part or brings guys together. I have never been around a group of guys and coaches that have worked as hard as we have in the spring in the summer. I think we are going to take that chip on our shoulder going into the season.”

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201712:01 pm

Mark McCarter July 13, 201712:09 pm

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn on Kerryon Johnson, the running back from Madison Academy:

“He’s one of our most versatile players. He’s an excellent player. He can do a lot of different things. The thing that Chip (Lindsey, new offensive coordinator) was brought in to provide balance and get the ball to the back side of the backfield, and that’s K.J.’s strength. Kerryon is an excellent running back in his own right. He can run the ball and catch and do a lot of things.”

Maxie Gardner July 13, 201712:10 pm