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July 16, 2013

7 at 7: Writer recalls favorite moments from SEC Media Days’ past (and a pair of links)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — It’s good to be back at SEC Media Days.

The last time I came to the Wynfrey Hotel was three years ago, but it feels much longer than that. Back then, I was still a plucky college journalist getting his first taste of covering an event as large as Media Days. And it’s only grown bigger since then, as over 1,200 media members are credentialed for Media Days this year.

robbiecaldwell

Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell was a hit at the 2010 SEC Media Days.

We’re just hours away from the event kicking off, as per usual, with Commissioner Mike Slive, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share my favorite moments from previous editions of Media Days. (Note: This will be 2010-heavy, being that I was there and all.)

1. Before or since, I’ve never seen anything like the “Robbie Caldwell Show” three years ago.  The interim Vanderbilt coach’s Q&A session with media members was almost too good for words. From his first job (which involved inseminating turkeys) to being mistaken for a doorman to reinstating profanity at Vanderbilt after former coach Bobby Johnson outlawed them, Caldwell was a walking, talking sound bite.

When Caldwell was done — and the only reason it did was because the conference’s media rep stepped in, since the coach had gone over the allotted time in the main press room — media members gave him a well-deserved standing ovation. According to veteran scribes of the league, this is the only time such a thing has ever occurred.

If you have time, do yourself a favor and read the full transcript of Caldwell’s show-stealing appearance.

2. During his own time at the podium that year, Nick Saban compared agents to pimps. Yes, it really happened. The quote from the Alabama coach, in its entirety:

“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents,” Saban said. “The agents that do this — and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?

“I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?” Saban said.

3. Former Florida coach Urban Meyer, while not comparing agents to any illicit forms of business as Saban did, said the university he worked at took the “war on agents” to levels probably not seen at other institutions of higher learning.

“At Florida we have security for one reason,” he said. “It’s not for the fans, it’s to keep people we don’t want around our players away. … If you see an agent on the campus at Florida, he’s probably going to be hiding behind a bush.”

4. OK, let me indulge myself a little on this one. After everything that had transpired with Caldwell (and to a lesser extent, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips) earlier that same day, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stepped to the podium in 2010 having to put forth a tour de force performance to become the talk of Media Days once more. I, ever the intrepid reporter, asked him if he was worried about losing the title as the league’s “most quotable coach.”

“No, I’m not worried about that at all,” he said with his patented Spurrier smirk. “I don’t think I’ve won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes. If you win a bunch of games, it’s pretty easy to give all the answers up here. But we haven’t won enough. I’m just another ball coach trying to win a whole bunch of games that we haven’t quite done yet.”

5. Though this happened well before my time as an SEC reporter, who could forget former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer refusing to appear at Media Days in 2004? In a story by Seth Emerson of the Macon Telegraph I have linked to previously, my colleague provided context behind Fulmer’s no-show.

The longtime Tennessee head coach was absent from media days in 2004, because he wanted to avoid being served a subpoena by an Alabama lawyer. Fulmer had spoken to the NCAA about the Crimson Tide, and a suit had the lawyer on Fulmer’s heels. Knowing that, Fulmer’s own lawyers advised him to stay out of Alabama, which he did, incurring a $10,000 fine from the SEC.

But Fulmer did speak at media days that year, albeit via a conference call. So of course nearly every question was about the lawsuit, Fulmer’s actions and skipping media days.

At one point, after a contentious question, the moderator tried to move on, but Fulmer’s voice could be heard: “No, no I’ll answer that.”

The most awkward moment came near the end, when a young woman near the back of the room spoke up, asking an argumentative question. It still isn’t clear to this day whether that was a media member or an Alabama fan who snuck in.

6. If you want to read some of the best quotes from older Media Day gatherings, AL.com’s Jon Solomon compiled them in one place in this handy article.

7. Brad Locke, who covers Mississippi State, tweeted out the photo you see below this morning. Things will be a little busier in the main press room at the Wynfrey very soon.

Hope you’ll join War Eagle Extra for all the happenings in Hoover over the next three days.

November 24, 2012

So what now? Chizik’s future is in peril

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Again, Auburn coaches and players spent all week talking the talk. They swore they had improved, promised practice went well, tried to convince anyone who would listen that Saturday would be filled with pride and passion.

For the final time of too many to count, actions spoke louder than words.

The final nightmare was administered by bitter rival Alabama, which outplayed, outcoached and out-everythinged the woebegone Tigers 49-0 Saturday.

“It was a sad performance,” coach Gene Chizik said. “The Auburn fans and the Auburn alumni don’t deserve that.”

GALLERY: Check out photos from the 2012 Iron Bowl

Closing the book on 2012, the Tigers’ collective talk surfaced for a few moments in a crowded visitor’s media room beneath the south stands at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Every Tiger vouched for their embattled head coach, his coordinators and their assistants.

The outgoing seniors Emory Blake and T’Sharvan Bell … the returning veterans Jake Holland, Nosa Eguae and Chad Slade … the upstart youngsters Tre Mason, Angelo Blackson and Jonathan Wallace.

The whole group universally talked the talk: they want Chizik to lead them to better and brighter days in 2013.

But a few accurately added a caveat: it’s not up to them.

Saturday marked Auburn’s second-worst loss to Alabama in the 77-game series history, and sealed the program’s first winless SEC campaign in 32 years.

The actions the Tigers subjected their fans to this year took the decision out of their hands, and put them in the palms of university president Jay Gogue, who said Nov. 16 he would await season’s end to determine the program’s future.

The words Chizik said Saturday – in a forum offered to him to beg for his coaching life with more than 20 cameras from local and national media pointed at his face – were faint and reserved, if not completely consigned to his fate.

“I don’t have to make a case (to be retained),” Chizik said. “You all saw what you saw out there tonight. I’m just very disappointed for our fans. We’ve been in tough times before. We’ve got to come back and continue to work and try to fix everything that kind of spiraled down.”

Chizik, who admitted “there weren’t many” positives this season, was asked specifically whether he had been told by Gogue or athletic director Jay Jacobs whether he’d be back next year. He didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question, responding, “I’m not going to go into all the job situation with any questions. This isn’t about me.”

While he didn’t enter specifics of his mindset for the future, Chizik spoke as though there is an Auburn future to address.

“Of course, I am the head football coach at Auburn,” Chizik said, “and there’s no question in my mind that I believe we can get this thing turned around and back on the right track.”

Following an abbreviated six-minute press conference, Chizik’s coordinators, Scot Loeffler and Brian VanGorder, were not made available to the media for the first time this season.

That left the players to answer for their coach’s tenuous position.

“He should be back,” Wallace said. “I definitely love coach Chizik and the whole coaching staff. They know exactly where this program needs to go, and they know what to do. I hope they are back next year. I really do believe they will be.”

“Coach Chizik is an awesome coach,” Eguae said. “He’s definitely an amazing person and a man of Christ. I just wish the best for him. I’m just looking forward to next season with him as our coach.”

Asked by a reporter how he’d feel about a new regime, Wallace, the freshman quarterback from Central-Phenix City, said, “I don’t agree with that. I don’t really have any comment on that.”

Blackson, a sophomore defensive tackle, said he’d be glad to get Chizik back, but understands the nature of the business – undeniably illustrated by three other SEC coaches (Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, Tennessee’s Derek Dooley and Arkansas’ John L. Smith) being shown the door this year.

“You know, it would hurt, but at the same time, it’s something that you sign up for when you get to college,” Blackson said. “Coaching change is a part of the game … As a team, you’ve got to win. You’ve got to put together a gameplan to win to beat your rival team, but when you don’t, it’s part of the game.

“It’s the consequence you’ve got to pay.”

November 20, 2012

History not on Coach Chizik’s side

AUBURN, Ala. — One of Gene Chizik’s go-to mottos when asked on a weekly basis about his job security as Auburn’s head coach is, “it’s not about me.”

Chizik, the eighth-highest paid college football coach in the country ($3,577,500 salary) per USA Today’s annual survey Tuesday, prefers to place the focus on grooming his players, giving and receiving support from the Auburn fan base, and gameplanning for the Tigers’ next opponent.

This week, there’s a high emphasis on all three phases. Auburn (3-8, 0-7 SEC) will need nothing short of a miraculous 60-minute effort to compete with second-ranked Alabama (10-1, 6-1) in the Iron Bowl Saturday, one of college football’s most intense rivalries.

A look at history says there’s even more than that on the line for Chizik, who is widely presumed to be out the door shortly following the Tigers’ final regular season game of his fourth season Saturday.

Chizik is on record as believing this bounce-back project starts with him. That he should have an opportunity to fix this.

However, if the Tigers can’t upset Alabama — favored by more than four touchdowns in the Iron Bowl — they’ll be losers of all eight SEC games for the first time in school history.

That bodes far from well for Chizik’s job security, though athletic director Jay Jacobs has been silent on the subject and university president Jay Gogue has maintained he’ll make no decisions until after Saturday.

In the five seasons preceding this one, three SEC coaches went 0-8. None of them lasted another game.

Ole Miss’s Ed Orgeron (2007) was dismissed on Nov. 24 of that year, the final straw served by blowing a 14-point lead to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.

Vanderbilt’s Bobby Johnson (2009) retired the following July from coaching.

Ole Miss’s Houston Nutt (2011) resigned Nov. 7, sticking around for the final three games.

Fast forward to this season, with two SEC teams besides Auburn currently winless in league play. Since Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) visits Tennessee (4-7, 0-7) Saturday, one of them will definitely get on the board.

Both head coaches, however, have been told they will not return — Kentucky’s Joker Phillips, fired Nov. 4, agreed to finish out the year, while Tennessee’s Derek Dooley was ushered out Sunday and will not coach Saturday’s game.

Auburn’s history is just as ominous for Chizik, who won National Coach of the Year accolades just two years ago.

Since Ralph “Shug” Jordan’s retirement in 1975, the Tigers have won less than three SEC games in a season eight times in 37 seasons. Two of those tough years were part of rebuilding projects under first-year coaches Pat Dye and Tommy Tuberville.

The other six? 1980, an 0-6 slate. Doug Barfield was fired … 1991-92, a pair of 2-win seasons. Dye was done after that … 1998, a 1-7 effort. Terry Bowden mysteriously resigned midway through the year … 2008, back to 2-6. Tuberville resigned.

The sixth is 2012. Time will tell — likely, within the next week to 10 days – what’s in store for the future of Auburn football.

NOTHING TO SHOW

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2002

Had inherited a 0-win team in 2002, his first year; remained coach until 2009

Jackie Sherrill, Mississippi State, 2002

Coached the 2003 Bulldogs to 1-7 in SEC, retired following that season

Ed Orgeron, Ole Miss, 2007

Fired on Nov. 24 after blowing 14-point lead to Mississippi State

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt, 2009

Retired in July 2010 from coaching

Houston Nutt, Ole Miss, 2011

Resigned on Nov. 7, allowed to coach the rest of his fourth season

Joker Phillips, Kentucky, 2012

Fired on Nov. 4, allowed to coach the rest of his third season

Derek Dooley, Tennessee, 2012

Fired on Nov. 17, not allowed to coach final game of his third season

Gene Chizik, Auburn, 2012

Widely rumored to be dismissed at end of his fourth season

September 11, 2012

SEC Power Rankings ~ Week 2 edition

**All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll**

1) No. 1 Alabama (2-0); Last week, 1

Last week: beat Western Kentucky 35-0

The Hilltoppers covered! No respect, those Western Kentucky kids get. None. But seriously, Alabama is at least a two-touchdown favorite now, on the road, against a team which was ranked in the top ten before this past Saturday. The ’33rd NFL team’ jokes are warranted.

Next: at Arkansas (1-1), 2:30 p.m. | CBS 

2) No. 3 LSU (2-0); LW, 2

Last week: beat Washington 41-3

Somehow, it might benefit LSU to quietly take care of its business in the attention shadow of Alabama. Maybe take the pressure off some. Of course, it helps to play a dog schedule before starting SEC play.

Next: vs. Idaho (0-2), 7 p.m. | TigerVision PPV

3) No. 7 Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC); LW, 5

Last week: won at Missouri 41-20

Definitely the most impressive effort of any SEC team this past weekend. It’s not easy to finish the game with 24 unanswered points at Faurot Field.

Next: vs. Florida Atlantic (1-1), 6:30 p.m. | CSS

4) No. 8 South Carolina (2-0, 1-0); LW, 4

Last week: beat East Carolina 48-10

A nice bounce-back effort for the Gamecocks, and Dylan Thompson did play very nicely. But Connor Shaw still figures to retake his job when his shoulder heals.

Next: vs. Alabama-Birmingham (0-1), 6 p.m. | Fox Sports Net

5) No. 23 Tennessee (2-0); LW, 6

Last week: beat Georgia State 51-13

No reason to believe Derek Dooley’s squad can’t go and win double-digit games. Their receivers are bonkers. Knoxville is a worthy host for GameDay this weekend.

Next: vs. Florida (2-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

6) No. 18 Florida (2-0, 1-0); LW, 7

Last week: won at Texas A&M 20-17

Those early stumblings against Bowling Green? Forgotten. The Gators are game.

Next: at Tennessee (2-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

7) RV Arkansas (1-1); LW, 3

Last week: lost to Louisiana-Monroe 34-31 (OT)

Why not a further plummet? Let’s not forget that Tyler Wilson’s services were unavailable for the second half. Let’s not forget that there’s actually a chance ULM and Kolton Browning aren’t half bad. And let’s not forget it’s a loooooong season ahead. Plenty of time to make amends, but yes, any national title hopes are dashed.

Next: vs. Alabama (2-0), 2:30 p.m. | CBS

8) RV Mississippi State (2-0, 1-0); LW, 10

Last week: beat Auburn 28-10

Tyler Russell is effective in the passing game, and the defense swarms to the football. This won’t necessarily be the shining highlight of State’s season.

Next: at Troy (1-1), 6 p.m. | ESPN3 

9) Missouri (1-1, 0-1); LW, 8

Last week: lost to No. 7 Georgia 41-20

Where’d the offense go? Was it past James Franklin’s bedtime? So much for overcoming old-man football.

Next: vs. Arizona State (2-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

10) Auburn (0-2, 0-1); LW, 9

Last week: lost at Mississippi State 28-10

See: Arkansas. In the “long season ahead” department. However, based on early returns, Auburn simply doesn’t pass the eye test. Drawing boards are for training camp, not mid-September.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Monroe (1-0), 11:21 a.m. | ESPN3/SEC Network

11) Texas A&M (0-1, 0-1 SEC); LW, 11

Last week: lost to No. 24 Florida 20-17

Down the road, the Aggies will regret letting this one slip away. Winnable game, and it doesn’t get much easier from here. (Well, except for this week.)

Next: at Southern Methodist (1-1), 2:30 p.m. | FSN

12) Ole Miss (2-0); LW, 12

Last week: beat UTEP 28-10

Now, uh, comes the hard part.

Next: vs. Texas (2-0), 8:15 p.m. | ESPN

13) Kentucky (1-1); LW, 14

Last week: beat Kent State 47-14

Let’s hope Joker Phillips shows his opponent due respect. (OK, we’re done with those puns now.)

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-1), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

14) Vanderbilt (0-2, 0-1 SEC); LW, 13

Last week: lost at Northwestern 23-13

Bit of a hangover after the South Carolina effort. By the way, for Northwestern and Vanderbilt kids, a “hangover” is when you feel pain the morning after you … ah, never mind. Don’t worry about it.

Next: vs. Presbyterian (1-1), 11:30 a.m. | CSS

-AB

September 5, 2012

SEC Power Rankings: Week 1

SEC POWER RANKINGS – WEEK 2

Aaron Brenner, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

****All games Saturday … all times CT … all rankings/receiving votes from AP poll****

1) No. 1 Alabama (1-0)

Last week: won vs. No. 8 Michigan 41-14

Outrage over Bama unseating USC, even though the Trojans took care of business? What exactly did the defending champions do to lose the No. 1 spot in the first place? Always keep No. 1 as No. 1 until it loses, and there’s really no questioning that de-pantsing the prohibitive Big Ten favorite was the most impressive win anywhere in the country.

Next: vs. Western Kentucky (1-0), 2:39 p.m. | SEC Network

2) No. 3 LSU (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Texas 41-14

The Honey Badger’s back on campus, but not back in uniform. Les Miles won’t commit anything long-term to Tyrann Mathieu, who you have to wonder whether he’ll go out as presumed for the 2013 NFL Draft if he sits out the entire season.

Next: vs. Washington (1-0), 6 p.m. | ESPN

3) No. 8 Arkansas (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Jacksonville State 49-24

No sense in waiting for Tyler Wilson and the Razorbacks’ offense, rolling it up on Jacksonville State. This week, they’ll provide Auburn fans a glimpse of what to expect in the Tigers’ home opener.

Next: vs. Louisiana-Monroe (0-0), 6 p.m. | ESPNU

4) No. 9 South Carolina (1-0, 1-0 SEC)

Last week: won vs. Vanderbilt 17-13

Maybe take it easy there on the run, Connor Shaw. Long season ahead. No more taking knees to your back, eh?

Next: vs. East Carolina (1-0), 11:21 p.m. | SEC Network

5) No. 7 Georgia (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Buffalo 45-23

Aaron Murray has the adoring respect of Gary Pinkel – “we watched film on him all summer”, Missouri’s head coach said – but he’ll have to continue working to be listed on the same line as Wilson, Shaw and A.J. McCarron to earn the “winner” tag.

Next: at Missouri (1-0), 6:45 p.m. | ESPN2

6) RV Tennessee (1-0)

Last week: won vs. North Carolina State 35-21

Who needs Da’Rick Rogers? Cordarrelle Patterson looks like one of those freaks of nature who only needs more time to coordinate with quarterback Tyler Bray and the Volunteers’ schemes.

Next: vs. Georgia State (0-1), 3 p.m. | Tennessee PPV

7) No. 24 Florida (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Bowling Green 27-14

Turns out the Georgia Dome gets support for more than one team named the Falcons. When the Bowling Green game was shown in the Georgia Dome during pregame warmups Saturday, every negative Florida play was met with cheers by both Auburn and Clemson sections. The Gators are, uh, not the most popular with either fan base.

Next: at Texas A&M (0-0), 2:30 p.m. | SEC Network

8) RV Missouri (1-0)

Last week: won vs. SE Louisiana 62-10

Ladies and gentlemen, your SEC scoring leader. Go figure the Tigers would take their high-powered offensive ways with them from the Big XII. How will they deal with defenses in their new league? We’ll find out in a splendid Saturday night showdown.

Next: vs. No. 7 Georgia (1-0), 6:45 p.m. | ESPN2

9) RV Auburn (0-1)

Last week: lost to No. 14 Clemson 26-19

Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler was asked cordially how he was doing Tuesday night before his interview with reporters. The answer: “could be better, could be worse.” Fitting.

Next: at Mississippi State (1-0), 11 a.m. | ESPN

10) RV Mississippi State (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Jackson State 56-9

Dan Mullen says his team wants to win the SEC West. You know, the same way the Charlotte Bobcats want to land the NBA title and Gilbert Gottfried wants to score Kate Upton. Mississippi State is 3-12 against its division under Mullen.

Next: vs. Auburn (0-1), 11 a.m. | ESPN

11) RV Texas A&M (0-0)

Last week: vs. Louisiana Tech ppd. to Oct. 13

So College Station was chosen over Columbia, Mo. for the site of College GameDay this weekend. The Aggies will have to take all the hoopla in stride as the league’s only team which hasn’t kicked off yet due to Hurricane Isaac.

Next: vs. No. 24 Florida (1-0), 2:30 p.m. | ESPN

12) Ole Miss (1-0)

Last week: won vs. Central Arkansas 49-27

Patterson wasn’t the only transfer to make an impact with his new team. Quarterback Bo Wallace was near-perfect, setting a school debut record with 346 yards from scrimmage. Rebs’ defense needs work.

Next: vs. UTEP (0-1), 6 p.m. | Fox Sports Net

13) Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-1 SEC)

Last week: lost to No. 9 South Carolina 17-13

The ability is there. The commitment is there. The want-to is there. It just seems like Vanderbilt football isn’t ever going to crack through that glass ceiling. Maybe when James Franklin is in Evanston, he can commiserate with Bill Carmody, Northwestern’s basketball coach, on the subject.

Next: at Northwestern (1-0), 7 p.m. | Big Ten Network

14) Kentucky (0-1)

Last week: lost at Louisville 32-14

Joker Phillips bans Twitter for his players for a whole day before any opening kickoff. Policy on touchdowns and tackles unclear at this time.

Next: vs. Kent State (1-0), 6:30 p.m. | CSS