by Jim Harris on Friday, Jul. 20, 2012 2:47 pm
This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.
The addition of two new teams to the Southeastern Conference and its annual July football media days event brought some additional personality to what can often turn in a mundane three days of coachspeak.
We've come to expect the well-placed barbs from Steve Spurrier to the subtle jabs from Nick Saban to the outright sleep-inducing speech of Gene Chizik. However, Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin and Missouri's Gary Pinkel managed to take the event up a notch rather than lower it into the perfect advertisement for 5-hour energy drinks. But even the newcomers couldn't quite reach the enthusiastic level was hit by Vanderbilt's James Franklin and Arkansas' 10-month coach, John L. Smith.
In our annual after-the-trip look back at three days in Hoover, we rank the performances of all 14 coaches, basing the ratings also on how most of the media reacted to the head men in the SEC.
1. James Franklin, Vanderbilt — Finishing off an upbeat session by fist-bumping the Nashville Tennessean's David Climer and other media he knew well on the way out of main room, Franklin ruled. He commands a lot of the good that Houston Nutt would display in his prime, working the guys who write and talk about him. That's half the battle in staying employed or improving your surroundings. A seven-win or better season this year, and Franklin may have his choice of good, new jobs. Everybody enjoyed him. He seemed happy to be there.
Most memorable quote: "A little bit different. Last year I walked in with Coach Saban. People were throwing babies to him to autograph and everything else," on the difference in reaction to him between last year's Media Days and this one.
2. John L. Smith, Arkansas — They liked him, they really liked him. Smith ventured off into some of that odd buddy-speak with longtime acquaintances, such as when he and veteran Memphis sports personality George Lapides had some jocular give-and-take. But Smith won the day Wednesday in what could have been a torturous bore of six coaches at the dais in succession. It led Tuscaloosa sage Cecil Hurt to opine on Twitter: "A guy named John Smith was funny and a guy named Joker Phillips was boring. Which shows us that names mean nothing."
Most memorable quote: "Well certainly. Do I look stupid? Wait, don't answer that," in response to whether he wanted the permanent Arkansas head coaching gig after this season.
3. Steve Spurrier, South Carolina — Wry as always, Spurrier served up a few gems. He also pointed out that this year was the first in eight seasons at South Carolina that he'd brought his quarterback to the media days, which reminds us of how long Stephen Garcia was in Columbia and how many times he was suspended in the off-season. Connor Shaw could finally be the right guy for Spurrier, even if he isn't much of a passer.
Most memorable quote: "You think I make the schedule? If I made the schedule, Georgia would be playing LSU and we'd be playing Ole Miss," in answer to our question about whether he had placed an open date before and an easy non-conference game after Arkansas to better focus on the Hog game, a problem for his team the past three years.
4. Nick Saban, Alabama — Just when you think the Alabama coaching genius will matter-of-fact-you to death for 30 minutes, Saban comes out of nowhere with a jab that cracks the entire room up. He'll even smile half a dozen times while he's up at the dais.
Most memorable quote: "I think, to be quite honest with you, whoever's making the statements about conference champions is really making a statement against the SEC and against any league who has more than one good team who would qualify, trying to enhance the opportunity for somebody from their league to get in," on the college football playoff proposal.
5. Les Miles, LSU — Beginning with Bear Bryant, the league has a history of great coaches with loaded teams coming to media days and whining about all their shortcomings. So give Miles credit for saying flatly that LSU has the talent to be outstanding in the three phases of the game and should be great. Plus, he made the media laugh a few times.
Most memorable quote: "I can tell you that no game is won in a Twitter page. It's a nice, pleasant pastime, very much like media days. But it's all about what you earn in the fall. I think certainly not only Tyrann [Mathieu], but those people that he was communicating with, they understand that, as well," on a Twitter rant by his star defensive back after the national championship loss to Alabama.
6. Gary Pinkel, Missouri — One of the two Hoover interlopers saved his most controversial quote for a smaller gathering of writers when he praised Joe Paterno at a time when the late JoePa is being scorched nationally. He seemed hell-bent on defending Mizzou's and the Big 12's honor in SEC company, and served up answers to nearly everything except for recommendations for a good Columbia, Mo., restaurant. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see if he could turn irate as nobody asked him for any bar recommendations.
Most memorable quote: "You get a lot of, 'We're playing in the SEC now, this great league.' It's like some people, around the summer, I've got a place down in Florida, go down there sometimes, people act like we've been playing a bunch of high school teams. We've played in a pretty big league."
7. Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M — The Aggies' new coach didn't shy away from pointing out his own team's deficiencies as the Ags move into the SEC, but he was comfortable and warm with the media as its kickoff speaker in the main room. That can be a tough gig, even following Mike Slive's Shakespeare-laced "the SEC is awesome and rich" state of the union.
Most memorable quote: "What's my assessment [of the SEC West]? It's a pretty damn hard league. How is that? That's my assessment."
8. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State — The fourth-year Bulldog head coach seemed to be selling something all during his visit to Hoover, whether it was how it didn't matter that he'd only beaten Ole Miss among all the SEC West teams to how great Starkville is as a college town. A lot of the media wasn't buying any of it. But Mullen sure was enthusiastic about it all.
Most memorable quote: "I think the neatest one was the three in a row one, our three Miss Mississippis, in a row. It had all three of those young ladies with the crown on. I think that was a pretty cool one that they put up there," on whether he had a favorite highway billboard marketing his school in Mississippi.
9. Mark Richt, Georgia — Frankly, the veteran Bulldogs coach seemed bored with it all. For the umpteenth season, he was asked about the team's discpline and why he thought it was an annual problem. He gave close to the same laconic answer, but you could sense he had grown weary of it all. He may be off the hot seat this year, but if you asked who we thought might have a new coach next year, we'd include Georgia in the mix. Richt might decide to try something new.
Most memorable quote: "Oh, I don't know, he'd be competing to be the starter, if not being the starter," on quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who was dismissed from Georgia and is now at LSU, and if he had stayed in Athens.
10. Hugh Freeze, Mississippi — Freeze's bad luck was being the 14th man up in the media main room when everyone was mentally done after Saban, who was the 11th overall and first on Thursday. He had some charm about him. He danced around the tougher questions, such as whether he inherited less talent in Oxford than he had coached at Arkansas State in Jonesboro last fall. The low point was when it sounded like Freeze was representing the Oxford Chamber of Commerce in selling the town.
Most memorable quote: "I heard he said something to that regard. I guess my thought would be 2013, they're on our schedule. We will circle that date and maybe change his perspective about what he thinks about Ole Miss football," on Steve Spurrier's scheduling comment.
11. Derek Dooley, Tennessee — Dooley is at least fascinating in an odd sort of way when he's addressing the media. He sounded upbeat, but nobody in the media was convinced. He got the second fewest questions in the main room from the media, just ahead of Joker Phillips, which was strange because Dooley will entertain, even if asked for his Knoxville restaurant suggestions.
Most memorable quote: "It's been a tough four years in Tennessee. I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there's a nice mood on our team right now that you're not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore."
12. Joker Phillips, Kentucky — The Wildcats ranking at or near the bottom of the SEC is probably not completely his fault — Phillips is just in his third year as head coach — nor is his rating in this column. Nobody cares about Kentucky football, and that includes the SEC media. It is as irrelevant as Kentucky basketball is king. He was asked the fewest questions of anyone this week. He was dull when he answered them.
Most memorable quote: "We want to hitch our wagon to our basketball program. Who doesn't want to see John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Brandon Knight, who doesn't want to see those guys play? All these football players think they're basketball players. They want to see good basketball. That's a chance for us to sell, 'Hey, come watch these guys play.' "
13. Gene Chizik, Auburn — He needs to send Will Muschamp a thank-you card for making him bearable. He'd make a great, say-nothing corporate spokesman when he wears out his Auburn welcome. Smile at least once, coach. He barely mentioned a player's name until specifically asked, and didn't do anything to overly tout anyone. He rubbed off on senior tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who was just as dour.
Most memorable quote: Seriously?
14. Will Muschamp, Florida — The second-year Gator coach's first big mistake was apparently downing three 5-Hour Energy drinks, a six-pack of Red Bull and four coffees before his early morning start for Day 2. He had the longest preamble before the questions, and talked faster than he could breathe in air. He reminded us of Houston Nutt during Nutt's hot-seat days. This was not the Muschamp who wowed everyone around him at the 2007 Broyles Award in Little Rock. Muschamp, a former Georgia player, finally spoke from the heart at the very end about keeping the Gators' game with the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville, Fla.
Most memorable quote: "Coach [Vince] Dooley never complained about it being there," in reference to Georgia playing Florida in Jacksonville.
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