For the record, college football is my favorite sport. I like college basketball, baseball, the NBA and NFL. But I love, love, love college football.
I love everything about it. The urgency of every Saturday. The larger than life coaching personalities. The, umm, how do I say this nicely...passionate fan-bases. Yeh, passionate!
I love the tailgates. And the cheerleaders. And Kirk Herbstreit. And Mark May. Well, maybe not Mark May. But I love everything else.
So when Darrell Owenby of SECRivals.com asked me sit in on the SEC coaches conference call on Thursday, I was excited. Like, off-the-wall, Tiger Woods in a VIP room excited. At least until I realized exactly what I'd gotten myself into. Yes, I was excited, but also anxious, because I got word about the call just hours before the conference was set to begin, and didn't feel totally prepared. Then again, these were the SEC coaches. Saban, and Spurrier and Miles...Oh my! No way I was missing out on this.
So while I didn't end up asking any questions, I still called in, and simply listened. Listened, while other reporters asked all kinds of questions. Smart ones and dumb ones. Insightful ones and repetitive ones. And some that really had much to do about nothing.
While I may not have jumped in with any questions of my own, that doesn't mean that I didn't learn anything. As a matter of fact, here are 10 Things I Learned, While Sitting On The Post-Spring, SEC Coaches Conference Call.
(Aaron's Note: I got into the call juuuuust a bit late and missed most of what Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen had to say. Joker Phillips of Kentucky was a no-show. So, sorry if you're looking for their names, because you won't find them much throughout the following recap.)
1. College Football Coaches Are Boring Dudes: This conference call once again proved my theory that football coaches are all built, manufactured and trained in public speaking at some weird, Science Fiction-y warehouse in the New Mexico desert. They're robots. There's no other way to describe it.
Listening in on the conference call, the coaches basically talked the same, made the same points, and used the same words. Halfway through I was pretty much able to predict every coaches answer, to every question before he even gave it.
Whenever they got on the mic, every coach made it seem like this was the best spring they've ever had, or could have ever hoped to have. There was great effort and hustle, and boy let me tell ya, fill-in-the-blank team is really going to miss fill-in-the-blank player, that recently graduated. But you move on.
Also, everyone's happy about the young guys stepping up, which was a comment I always found especially funny. Like any coach would ever grab the mic and say "Man that kid was wayyyyy worse than I thought he'd be. He really sucks. Can't believe I wasted a scholarship on him! Then again I played high school ball with his daddy, so I felt obligated to bring him on."
Honestly, the call got so dry and repetitive that by the time Mark Richt got on the conference call (8th of 12 coaches), I was actually checking my own pulse just to make sure I was alive, and even decided to stab myself with a ball-point pen, just to get the adrenaline going. Ok, I'm just kidding on the last one.
Although, I did think about it.
2. Coaches Most Definitely Live In Their Own Little World's: One question that basically every coach was asked, was about potential conference expansion. Nobody really had any thoughts on it.
Steve Addazio (Filling in for Urban Meyer) said that he puts his full faith in the decision on SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson said the same.
Bobby Petrino read about it a little in the newspaper, but had no opinion otherwise.
Steve Spurrier heard that the SEC might actually contract, and Arkansas could go back to the Big XII. I don't know who the coaches sources are, but that was a new one to me.
More than anything though, their responses to the question just showed me that outside the bubble of their football offices and practice fields, coaches really have no idea what's going on. I'm convinced an alien space ship could land 500 feet from Nick Saban's office and he wouldn't hear about it for at least a week. Then, again, I'm ok with it.
After all, in the high pressure world of college football, why should any of these guys because stressing about things they can't control? They've got enough stress as it is just making sure 85-100 guys are going to class every day, working out, getting to practice, performing at practice, and are prepared to go on Saturday's. Why would we expect them to have an opinion on a conference expansion that might not happen for two, three or four years? Especially when most don't have job security much beyond this season.
Of the coaches who did decide to venture off the beaten path a bit, I thought that -believe it or not- Les Miles actually gave the best answer.
His argument was that the league's schedule already has great symmetry now, and why would anyone want to mess with such a good thing? Miles also wondered who exactly the SEC could add with the football resume, and resources needed to compete. Which is something I've been wondering myself.
Miles ended very poignantly, saying, "I don't know that the SEC needs expansion. I hope it won't happen quickly."
Couldn't agree more.
3. Speaking Of Miles, He Was Definitely The Most Chatty Of All The Coaches: When my buddy asked me Thursday afternoon what I thought about the conference call, I said that only three coaches really stood out to me. The rest were basically monotone and repetitive, and it was pretty hard for me to distinguish one's comments from the others.
So which three coaches were my favorites? Spurrier, (Because he was as off the wall and zany as I expected him to be), Tennessee's Derek Dooley (More on him coming) and Les Miles.
Because remember what I was saying about coaches giving generic answers? Well, I need to give credit to Miles for actually opening up, and giving everyone useful information to work with.
And really, what Miles gave was beyond useful. Truthfully, it was a manifesto.
Miles told us who played well and who didn't. Who changed positions. Who's banged up. Who's getting better. Who's having trouble with their girlfriends (Ok, maybe I made the last one up). Basically, if there was a player who suited up in spring practice for LSU, we heard about him. And again, I need to give coach Miles credit for that.
For those wondering what Miles said (I'm assuming mostly LSU fans), grab a cup of coffee, and a blanket, and I'll fill you in. For everyone else, skip down to the next part.
Amongst Miles many, many thoughts on spring practice:
- There was a great deal of competition
- It was a very physical spring
- New coaches Billy Gonzales and Frank Wilson are getting comfortable and making an impact
- Offensively, six starters return, including a tackle, guard and center on the offensive line (Definitely the old offensive line coach in Miles coming out)
- He expects Terrence Tolliver to be a dominant receiver
- Improvement was made by Stevan Ridley and Michael Ford at running back
- The defense has a good nucleus, and Kelvin Sheppard is their unquestioned leader
- Patrick Petersen and Morris Claiborne looked good at cornerback
- Joe Barksdale was moved from one tackle position to the other (Truthfully I can't remember from which to which. I kinda zoned out, sorry.)
- Russell Shepard is getting comfortable at wide reciever
And that was just SOME of what Miles said. I couldn't write fast enough to get it all down.
4. Back To Derek Dooley. Tennesee Fans, You're Going To Love Him: Out of every coach who spoke on the conference call, Dooley was the one who made me most want to put down the phone, grab a helmet and step on the field for him. He was loud, clear, well-spoken and insightful. He gave what I believed to be honest answers. He seemed genuine. Basically, if I had a daughter, I'd want her to marry him. Although I can't lie, I might be a little jealous I couldn't keep him for myself.
I thought Dooley's best answer came when he was asked about building trust in the fractured Tennessee locker room, after the abrupt, umm, departure, of Lane Kiffin last winter.
Dooley's response: "In my first meeting with the team, the first thing I told them was that 'I'm never going to ask you to trust me.' That is something that's built over time."
He added, “Trust is built with the consistency of how we treat them and coach them. It’s our job to get them to trust us, not to demand that they trust us.”
Wow. I mean honestly, how could you not want to play for a stand up guy like that?
So to all you Tennessee fans who may be reading, please be patient with this guy. Next year might be tough, we all know that. You're going to be young, and really thin at some positions.
But be patient, because the future is bright. I truly believe that.
5. After Listening To Steve Addazio, I've Decided That Florida Is Going To Be Better Than I Originally Thought: So Florida fans, I've got to be honest, I'm still not sold on John Brantley. Sorry. But as I explained in my post spring recap I'm not 100 percent in on the John Brantley era.
However, despite my doubts on Brantley, Addazio still showed me the light on the 2010 Florida Gators.
More than discussing the evolution of Brantley, or who was going to replace Aaron Hernandez as the top pass catcher, Addazio talked about his offensive line, which very well might be the best in the country. As a unit, they return four starters, and have maybe the best center in the country in Mike Pouncey. They have size and depth, and as Addazio pointed out, great athleticism for a group of guys so big.
And when you have those things up front, I don't think it entirely matters how great your quarterback play is. If Brantley never gets pressured, it seems like he probably won't be turning the ball much over either. Makes sense right?
So I guess like any other team, Florida still has a lot of work to do.
But if you were asking me to pick a winner in the East today, I think I'd still take the Gators.
6. Maybe The Most Disappointing Aspect Of The Day Was When I Got Kicked Off The Line During Nick Saban's Address: Honestly, Saban is the guy I was most looking forward to hearing speak. Not because I thought he was going to say anything of much substance (By design) or that I was going to ask any hard-hitting questions, let alone any at all.
Truthfully, I was just looking forward to Saban, because I find the guy fascinating. I find him intriguing. I wish I could spend a day with the guy. I think he's that cool.
What is most interesting to me about Saban, is that he doesn't seem like he should be all that intimidating, but he is. I mean, Urban Meyer was a pro athlete (Granted it was baseball, but still), I get why players are scared of him. Lane Kiffin has Ed Orgeron doing his dirty work for him. Saban? He's some dude who can't be more than 6'0 tall, yet he still makes 300 lb. men pee themselves every time he raises his voice.
Unfortunately, right as Saban got on the call, I got kicked off it. Why, I don't know. Even worse, after waiting five minutes to get back on, I found out that Saban had kicked off too. So of what Saban did say on the call, I didn't get much.
Amongst the few nuggets I did catch though:
- Saban's not making any excuses for the SEC scheduling quirk that sets up with six of Alabama's eight conference opponents play them off a bye week. His bigger concern is having another short week to prepare for the Iron Bowl and Auburn (They'll be playing the Friday after Thanksgiving again this year).
- Saban said the quarterbacks behind Greg McElroy are deep and talented. He called them "The best group we've had since we got here." Not that any Alabama fan wants to find out if that's true or not.
- He thinks his team has handled the responsibility of being the defending National Champions well. Which is what we've been hearing all spring anyway. Still good to know though.
7. Speaking of Saban, I Think He's A Lot Nicer Than People Give Him Credit For: I mean, I guess I understand why people get the impression Saban is a crusty guy. Basically, he can be prickly with the media, and for better or worse, the media dictates our perception of public figures. Sorry, but it's true.
Then again, Saban is also a perfectionist, with maybe the most stressful job in all of college football. What exactly should we expect? Should he be sending the media hand written Christmas cards? Baking them cookies for his news conferences? I guess I'm a little confused.
Either way, I'll say this about Saban: After getting kicked off the call, and then coming back on the line, he went out of his way twice to apologize for the incident. Once right after getting back on the phone, and once right as he signed off for the afternoon. I'm not saying that the act alone makes him a hero. Just that I'm not sure many coaches would have bothered to call back at all, and yet not only did Saban do exactly that, he seemed apologetic as well.
So to Coach Saban, I hope you're reading, (Even though I'm 146 percent positive you're not).
Because that simple "I'm sorry," showed me a lot. I think deep down inside, you might have a soft side.
Either way, I'll still drop and give you 20 up-downs just incase.
8. The Quote of the Day Goes To Steve Spurrier: Who, after being asked about the inconsistency of his quarterback Stephen Garcia, said...
"Well, we have a plan on every play...He doesn't exactly follow it very often."
Honestly, I'm not a good enough writer to describe to you how deadpan and funny the comment was coming out of Spurrier's mouth. I actually laughed out loud when I heard it, and I never really laugh out loud (Except whenever I see Ron Zook pacing the sidelines. Now THAT my friends, is comedy.).
As for the quote itself, well, I watched South Carolina's games last year. It's kind of hard to disagree.
9. The Second Best Quote of the Day Goes To Bobby Petrino: Remember when I was saying that some of the questions being asked were dumb and others repetitive? Well, one of the reporters on the call must have been going through a mid-life crisis, because he decided to ask just about every single coach what their thoughts were on Spurrier, who is still coaching at the age of 65. Dumb and repetitive? Right?
Either way, most coaches all gave the same answer, like they did to every question: "I have so much respect for Coach Spurrier. He's a legend, blah blah. He's great for this conference, blah, blah, blah."
Anyway, when the reporter asked Petrino the question, he didso with a twist, mentioning that Spurrier- even at the age of 65- had recently been seen working out with his shirt off, and that a local camera crew even caught a picture of it.
Petrino's response, without missing a beat: "No shirt huh? Well how'd he look?"
Needless to say, the reporter didn't have much to say after that.
10. Finally, The Word Of The Day Was "Market," Value: In what sense you ask? In the sense of assistant coaches salaries, which continue to get bigger and bigger each offseason.
Like every other question, most coaches gave an almost universally similar answer. And I was ok with that.
Here's Dooley's take on the subject: "It's free market economics."
And Saban on the subject: "It's the market for coaches."
Ole Miss' Houston Nutt: "With the pressure they have, that's just the market."
Les Miles: "It's market value."
And Gene Chizik of Auburn, who had maybe the best quote on the subject: "It's not too long ago that I was an assistant...There's a lot of pressure and need... It's simple supply and demand."
Was much, if any of it insightful? Nope. Did anyone tell us much that we didn't already know? Not really. But would I do it all again? In a heart beat.
How many days until kickoff again?
(Also for more in-depth coverage of Thursday's conference call, be sure to check out SECRivals.com)