COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier made more appearances at SEC Media Days than any other head coach, 23 times in his stints at South Carolina and Florida combined. And goodness, how the annual preseason gabfest in metro Birmingham could have used him this year.
A dash of the now-former Head Ball Coach would certainly have been welcome in a week dominated by sobering issues. Commissioner Greg Sankey addressed recent shootings by quoting The Byrds and Nelson Mandela. Mississippi State’s coach was grilled about a freshman who beat up a woman, Ole Miss’ on alleged NCAA violations, Missouri’s on a spate of administrative departures. Questions on race, guns, police, and sexual assault were as prevalent as those on football.
Some coaches handled the heavy subject matter better than others. A few answers were embarrassingly bad. Many others were lost in pablum or coach-speak. In such an environment, Spurrier would have brought not just levity, but also that trademark straight-shooting — for instance, “you hit a woman, you’re gone” — that left no doubt about where he stood on anything.
But Spurrier is retired, and it was up to South Carolina offensive lineman Mason Zandi to replicate his traditional post-Media Days photograph — tie undone, flashing a thumbs-up, grabbing a ketchup packet from the condiment stand at a nearby Arby’s. Otherwise, here’s the best, worst, and most notable from a 2016 Media Days that could have used a bit of Ball Coach.
With so many coaches on the defensive, it was left to players to carry the week. Auburn’s Montravius Adams talked about former coordinator (and now USC head coach) Will Muschamp breaking a finger smashing a clipboard. Georgia’s Jeb Blazevich talked about riding scooters and playing Pokemon Go. LSU’s Leonard Fournette talked about kissing babies.
But no one was more honest than Missouri senior linebacker Michael Scherer, when asked about upheaval on campus that’s included racial unrest and a number of academic and athletic officials leaving the school.
“I could definitely deal with not having to answer so many questions outside of Mizzou,” he said. “Family deals. My brother just got married last week, and they just asked question after question about that kind of stuff. I’d rather not deal with that. But it’s not that big of a distraction. You do get that, ‘Mizzou with another deal,’ and ‘Mizzou in the news again.’ ‘I thought we were out of the news, but not any more.’ But what are you going to do about it? I can’t do anything to change it. Nobody can do anything to change it. You’ve just got to move forward like nothing’s wrong. Like nothing’s changed.”
With Spurrier absent, most of the addresses by head coaches ranged from the predictable to the mundane. A notable exception was Bret Bielema of Arkansas, who showed more personality than almost all the other coaches combined. Like this, on Michigan pulling out of 2018 matchup against his Hogs:
“The Michigan-Notre Dame thing sounds sexy to everybody else, but I think Michigan and Arkansas sounds sexy,” he said. How did he find out?
“I was in Europe with my wife. We were on a train headed to Paris. It’s ironic for me to say that in every word. My wife said, ‘Hey, there’s something on the internet about a Big Ten team canceling with an SEC team.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ She said, ‘Really? Your picture’s right here.’ She’s real quick.
And then, his piece de resistance: “At Arkansas we’re not built very sexy, we’re just kind of a work in progress. We need a lot of time in the bathroom to get ready and come out and look great. But when we do, we’ll stop time.”
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, on the “gunslinging” nature of transfer quarterback Trevor Knight, who lost his spot at Oklahoma to Baker Mayfield: “Some of that gunslinger has won games, and some of that gunslinger cost him his job and has put him in the situation that he’s in.”
Florida coach Jim McElwain, on Florida State awarding players “state championship” rings: “I mean, they won it. So why won’t you? That’s a hell of a deal.”
South Carolina’s Muschamp, on what he thinks when he sees video of one of his famed sideline outbursts: “I think I need to lose some weight.” And on a potential “homecoming” at Florida, where he was once head coach: “Most Florida fans wanted me on that (other) sideline when I was there.”
LSU’s Les Miles left little time for questions with a filibuster of an opening statement that went 21 minutes and 16 seconds, touching on the serious subject of unrest in Baton Rouge before veering into a too-deep two-deep breakdown and his usual madcap recap of how he spent his summer vacation.
One excerpt: “Anybody that’s a parent or want-to-be parent, you never catch a son pitcher, or female fast-pitch softball pitcher, in flip-flops. Let me take it back: flip-flops and a can. Because when you sit on the can, you put your feet on the can, and it’s an obvious position to be hit. So I broke two toes in my right foot catching her. So I went to Cuba, and Cuba is a communist country, and that was kind of the reason that I went.”
No idea either.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knew he was going to get questions into the NCAA investigation of his program, and he answered every one. You may not have believed him, but he was prepared, and showed accountability. He might want to recommend media training to his counterpart at Mississippi State, Dan Mullen, who repeatedly whiffed answering questions about freshman Jeffery Simmons.
The five-star defensive end was suspended one game after being caught on video beating a woman during a fight. “We’ll have a lot of different players make mistakes,” Mullen said. “And when they do make mistake, to be honest with you, I know for a lot of people it’s a story, it’s a blur, it’s a headline. For us, that’s a family member that’s making a mistake.”
Ouch. It wasn’t the best look for an eighth-year head coach who had to know the questions were coming, particularly in an offseason when treatment of women has been an issue at Baylor and Tennessee. But hey, it wasn’t all negative — a reporter for Sports Illustrated for Kids (not kidding) asked him about his Yeezy Boost sneakers.
“Pretty swagged up right now,” Mullen said. At least he was comfortable doing all that tap dancing. It only made you miss the Ball Coach more and more.