Saturdays in Athens
27th November 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
Blink and the end of the regular season is on us, it’s week 13 and that can only mean one thing! Yes, it’s rivalry week – so it’s no surprise we are going to focus on the Iron Bowl and the Egg Bowl this week.
But first, lest we forget, Florida gave us the biggest story of the season when immediately after their overtime defeat to Mizzou, The Gators fired Head Coach Dan Mullen. So this is where we start – here are this weeks headlines… let’s get started y’all!
As discussed on these pages recently, three straight defeats to LSU, Georgia and Kentucky turned the Gators and Dan Mullen’s season upside down. A very unconvincing performance against FCS side Samford pushed Mullen closer to what was then an opening exit door. The final straw for Scott Stricklin and the UF Administration was Saturday’s overtime loss to a then 5-5 Missouri.
This defeat would take the University of Florida to a 5-6 season, and worse still a 2-6 record in conference. With the Gators’ in state rivals Florida State looming on the horizon (also currently 5-6), Stricklin would decide not to let Mullen remain in charge beyond the final game of the regular season.
“I told him we needed to go in a different direction for the Gators and our football program”
AD Stricklin told the press Sunday,
“”I gave him the opportunity to coach the game Saturday against FSU and after some discussion – he actually took some time to think about it – he made the decision that he thought he would be a bit of a distraction if he was around this week after this news came out, so he made the decision to step away and not coach the FSU game”.
Stricklin went on to explain.
And then what next for the Gators. Or more importantly, who next? Stricklin outlined what the Administration was looking fo from their new Head Coach,
“Obviously, we want somebody going forward who can come in here and they share our high expectations for sustained success and can do so at a place with great resources like the University of Florida. You’ve got to put really good structure, culture in place in order to sustain at a high, high level over a long period of time.”
And does that mean expectations for Championships? Well, yes, said Stricklin…
“It goes back to this is a place we want to win championships. We’ve won 251 SEC championships in our history as a university – that’s a hundred more nearly than the next closest SEC school. We’ve won 42 national championships across all sports, three in the sport of football. We want someone who has high expectations and big aspirations that match the University of Florida.”
So pressure on the shoulders of whoever comes in next. And there should be – UF is a huge school with a huge athletics program and proud history.
Interestingly many schools moved quickly to tie up their incumbent Head Coaches to new deals around the time that Florida announced Mullen’s departure. Dave Aranda has signed a new deal with Baylor, and James Franklin similarly at Penn State. Although I suspect both were more likely candidates for the USC or LSU jobs.
Don’t be surprised if Billy Napier’s name becomes front and centre for this role. Despite his Louisiana roots and current role, LSU seem less keen on Napier – so could the Gators swoop for the Rain’ Cajuns Head Coach?
While a broken ankle won’t allow Auburn Quarterback Bo Nix to participate in Saturday’s Iron Bowl against Alabama, that wasn’t going to stop Nix from turning up the heat in the build up to the toughest rivalry in College football.
Nix spends a lot of time jumping onto various radio shows and podcasts based in the South and is never short of a controversial take.
Earlier this week, Nix appeared on the Next Round podcast in Birmingham, Alabama and was asked about Bryce Young’s record breaking performance against Arkansas.
Nix seemed less than impressed with the Crimson Tide performance saying,
“Just a few of those, obviously, controversial calls that were in that game raises some questions for sure, I guess, unless you’re an Alabama fan. But that’s just part of the game. We’ve discussed it over and over and over. That’s not going to change, no matter what happens. But it was a good one for sure.”
Later in the pod, host Jim Dunaway asked Nix to clarify his comments saying “You’re not insinuating Alabama gets calls by the SEC officials or anything, right?”
Nix doubled down in his response,
“I mean, legitimately, I think you can watch the game, and anybody unbiased will think that something is different, but it is what it is,”
“It’s kind of how it’s always been. But that’s part of the game. And they have good players. You can’t take that away from them.”
It wouldn’t be Iron Bowl week without Alabama quarterback Bryce Young being asked what he thought about Bo’s comments. As Saban would wish, Young was diplomatic in his response. Speaking to the media on Tuesday the “Young” Alabama quarterback said this of the comments,
“That’s something as a team we don’t look at, we don’t control. So whatever happens that’s out of our control. Coach Saban’s always talked to us about making sure that we control what we can control and focus on what we can do”.
Young went on,
“So any external factor, that’s not really something that as a team we’re concerned about.”
I could be wrong but I am pretty sure that’s not what is being said behind closed doors in Tuscaloosa. It’s certainly shaping up nicely…
For All You Self Absorbed Folks Out There...
This season Nick Saban has used press conferences to moan about complacency amongst his team, players not buying into the cause, and now most recently Alabama’s self absorbed fans came under criticism for their unrealistic expectations.
One question I have been very keen to ask Coach Saban this year is if the players and coaching staff are getting enough credit for the effort of trying to achieve back to back National Championships.
However on Coach Saban’s weekly radio show, “Hey Coach”, a fan decided to go in a different direction with this question. The fan made the fatal mistake of making reference to fans “going to the game knowing we’re going to win, we just don’t know by how much” and not “blowing out” teams like Arkansas.
If you know anything about Alabama’s Head Coach, you know he preaches focus, hard work and taking nothing for granted. So Saban was unlikely to take kindly to this line of questioning from a fan.
Saban started by saying,
“I’m glad you go to the game in that way because I never go to the game that way. I have too much respect for the other team”.
Which was the start of a response which kept the audience captivated for the next three minutes or so. And Coach got so wound up to the point of this being a truly classic Saban rant,
“when I came here everyone was happy to win a game, now we’re not happy to win a game any more – we’re not happy to win a game at all”.
Saban went on and was in full flow by this point,
“to get criticised for what they work hard for, so that you can be entertained, so that you can enjoy and have pride and passion for what they accomplish and what they do…..they’re not perfect, they’re just college students – they go to school every day and study, they have to run extra after practice when they miss study hall….I mean c’mon give me a break, this is not professional football”.
The radio show is taped before a live audience in a local bar and restaurant in Tuscaloosa. Safe to say Saban received rapturous applause for his passionate response.
And as Coach Saban approached the peak of his rant he uttered those immortal words,
“so for all you self absorbed folks out there who can’t look past your own self, to appreciate what other people are doing….”
to which the Alabama Head Coach sat back in his chair and threw his hands up in the air. If ever there was a “prawn sandwich” moment, this was it.
If you have 2 minutes and 48 seconds you won’t regret watching Coach Saban’s response, link below. You really won’t.
The Egg Bowl With A Higher Purpose
The State of Mississippi
By the time you read this on Saturday, the Egg Bowl will have been won and lost. This will be the 30th time that the game has been played on Thanksgiving night, a game which captures the hearts of a nation.
The rivalry dates back to 1901 but the first time that the “Egg Bowl” was played for was in 1927.
I wrote last week about there being more love than hate between the current Head Coaches of both teams. There was no dialling up of the hate this week as the Coaches previewed the game. First up was Mississippi head coach Lane Kiffin, who had even more positive things to say about State’s Air raid offense,
“It really is amazing, it kinda goes against what you would think. I think there was a thought there amongst people including coaches that the SEC had figured it out and slowed them down….you know that obviously wasn’t the case because now they are right back to where they started the season leading the country in passing”.
Kiffin who was talking to the press on Monday, went on to discuss the passion of the rivalry and whether there was any need to talk to his team about keeping their emotions in check,
“we’ll do that as we get closer to the game when it’s fresher in their mind, to control their emotions in this type of game. Don’t be the team that makes these mistakes”.
And of his relationship with Leach and the fact that the “toxicity” of this rivalry seems less intense with these two Head Coaches in charge, Kiffin said,
“someone said it the other day, we don’t kinda make sense to be here in that we get along – maybe we were brought here to bring a State together or something…it is football y’know. Shouldn’t really hate people because they went to a certain school”.
“I like him, I’ve always liked him, he’s funny. Does a great job wherever he’s been…somehow he came up with something a long time ago that keeps on working”.
So what did the Bulldogs Head Coach have to say about this rivalry game compared with others he has coached in such as the Apple Cup in Washington? Leach had this to say,
“I would say it’s similar, it’s probably a little closer to what it was in Texas Tech versus A&M, but it’s just good to be in stands where you’re not looking at paper cut-outs, so it’s a lot better and more exciting that way”.
Asked about comparisons between a Leach offense and Kiffin’s offense, Leach said,
“well, they’re quite a bit different – they’re kind of a RPO offense, run, pass offense and then the quarterback keeps it some. Both of us have some tempo and both are trying to attack the field. And both having good quarterbacks are key to it too”.
And on his relationship with the Ole Miss head coach, Leach bemoaned the lack of opportunities for old friends to catch up,
“there haven’t been as many circumstances when you see one another. I’ve known him for decades, but [the relationship] is pretty much the same – we haven’t seen each other as much because they haven’t had the conventions or gatherings so much”.
Whether this game unites the State of Mississippi we’ll have to wait and see. I think it’s unlikely that Kiffin and Leach will be winners of the next Nobel Peace Prize, but I look forward to being wrong.
Cecil Hurt 1959 - 2021
Sad news from Tuscaloosa that Cecil Hurt, reporter for the Tuscaloosa News had passed away following complications from pneumonia.
You may not have heard of Cecil, however it is no exaggeration to say that Cecil was the godfather of sports reporting in the State of Alabama.
A reporter with the Tuscaloosa News since 1982, Cecil was known widely and fondly as much for his kindness, generosity and hospitality as his brilliant journalism.
It was no surprise as to the level of outpouring of tributes that poured in. Here are just a few…
Greg Sankey, SEC Commissioner: “I am saddened to learn of Cecil Hurt’s passing. Cecil was a leading voice in telling the story of the SEC for four decades. The relationships he built, his credibility with readers, his clarity in communication and unrivaled wit made him a pillar of his profession. RIP Cecil”.
Bruce Feldman, the Athletic: “Sad news about a legendary CFB voice..Spent a lot of time around Alabama over the years, and it’s impossible to think about covering the Tide without feeling Cecil Hurt there. He was the dean of that beat. Condolences to his family and friends, and all those who loved reading him”.
Rece Davis, ESPN, Host of College Gameday :”Saddened to hear of the passing of my good friend Cecil Hurt. Cecil was a brilliant writer. An institution covering Alabama football. From Bryant to Saban, Cecil knew the pulse of Alabama better than anyone. Equally adept at discussing esoteric European literature or virtually anything that’s ever been published. Fearless with informed responsible opinions. Gracious, smart, witty and kind. College football will miss one of the great local writers of the generation. Prayers to all who knew & loved him”.
Nick Saban, Alabama Football Head Coach: “Cecil Hurt was a good friend and one of the best sports writers I have ever had the privilege of working with, not just at Alabama, but all of our coaching sports. He was a man of integrity and a fair-minded journalist blessed with wit, wisdom and an ability to paint a picture with his words that few have possessed. Cecil was loved throughout this community and state as an old-school journalist who covered the Alabama beat with class and professionalism. He was a role model for young writers and the most trusted source of news for Alabama football everywhere. He leaves a wonderful legacy as one of sports journalism’s best. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends as well as Alabama fans everywhere who loved Cecil as much as we did”.
Ivan Maisel, On3.com: “I am heartbroken that @CecilHurt has died. Cecil was a singular, compelling, trustworthy voice on all things @AlabamaFTBL . And pretty much everything else. And such a quick, dry wit. What a shame”.
Cecil graduated from the University of Alabama in 1981. He joined the Tuscaloosa news in 1982 and won a Pulitzer Prize as a part of the team for its coverage of the 2011 tornado which tore through Tuscaloosa killing 53 people in the town alone and over 300 across the state.
I didn’t know Cecil but enough people around my twitter-verse have been deeply impacted and moved to write some very touching things about him. If there was any doubt about the impact his career had on journalism in the South, please see the link to that afternoon’s Finebaum show which was dedicated to Cecil.
He will be missed.
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.