Saturdays in Athens
30th October 2021
Welcome to our weekly round up of life in the Southeastern Conference.
This week brings us another mixed bag of chaos, shenanigans and nonsense in college football’s biggest and baddest conference. Ex Vols head coach Jezza Pruitt wants to sue the pants off the Tennessee Orange and Grey, Mike Leach gives us a sneak preview of what’s in his Halloween candy basket, & there’s Arch Madness across the conference. If that wasn’t enough (you want more I hear you say…), let’s have a sneak peek ahead to the ‘World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party’, and Nick Saban is 70 – let him eat cake!
Here are this weeks headlines….let’s get started y’all!
I feel for Josh Huepel, I really do. No sooner has he started to build some positivity in and around Knoxville, ghosts of Jeremy’s past come back to haunt him.
In theory ex-Vols head coach Pruitt suing the football program should have nothing to do with the job that Huepel is doing. But this is the SEC. Everything has everything to do with the job at hand. And for the record, Heupel is doing a fantastic job with the Vols.
But this week I am here to talk about Pruitt and his litigation defending his dismissal.
But let’s take a step back to jog your memories around what has happened thus far.
On 18th January ’21 Pruitt was dismissed by the University of Tennessee. Pruitt’s dismissal was as a direct result of alleged NCAA violations against Pruitt and his staff. The NCAA investigation is ongoing.
Really though, the issue at hand is the $12.6m buyout that Pruitt believes he is due upon termination. The university is firm in its belief that it had just cause to fire Pruitt – thus negating the need to pay up his contract.
The interesting thing here is that neither party is actually denying wrongdoing. The university’s case states that Pruitt – as Head Coach – should have known what was going on within his staff. Pruitt’s lawyer Michael Lyons has come out this week saying that before, during and after Pruitt’s stint as HC, high ranking UT administration officials were well aware of the issues within the program. Lyons has gone on to suggest that many infractions were reported but covered up by these officials.
So Pruitt is not denying this, rather saying he was one of many bad apples.
Pruitt’s lawyer has put a deadline of 29th October for the university to settle with the Vols ex-head coach. If no settlement is forthcoming, then Pruitt will see the Vols in court.
Of course the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed that it is the 30th October by the time you read this. What in the Tennessee Vols happened, I hear you shout? Next week I will follow up…….#cliffhanger
The Candyman (Europe Has Better Candy)
Mississippi State Head Coach was in fine form after his Bulldogs routing of Vandy 45-6 on Saturday.
Speaking to SEC Network’s Alyssa Lang post game, the conversation turned in a Leach-like direction. Halloween candy was the topic.
Alyssa made the comment that Leach had previously let slip that he hated candy corn. As you might expect, the conversation went off piste very quickly thereafter,
“I completely hate candy corn”
Coach Leach said.
When asked what his Halloween candy of choice would be, Leach was more than happy to talk at length on the subject,
“gummi bears for sure….gotta be the Haribo ones….let me see, the other thing I like is, when they used to have the Sprees in a box. You have to go to the Dollar Store to find it. But I do.
There’s still candy innovation, although a while back I found that Europe had better candy than we did overall because they have gummy everything.
But they have those Nerds clusters, which is new – which is good! But then if you go chocolate, probably Almond Joy”.
I’m sure not what anyone expected from Coach Leach straight after the game. But probably not surprising.
Let me say this again.
We love Mike Leach.
New Orleans, LA
I’m convinced that you have either been in space or living in a cave not to know that the latest quarterback in the Manning dynasty is being wooed by every team in the FBS.
Given the Manning legacy, it is rightfully expected that his Royal Highness will play collegiate football in the South.
It is unsurprising then that Arch Manning – son of Cooper, grandson of Archie and nephew to Peyton and Eli – is currently on a grand recruiting tour of Southern schools. Like Gameday, a huge wave of excitement engulfs each school as the tour rolls into town. When the Mannings visited UGA in Athens, fans professed their undying love of the young QB, including the body painting of fans spelling…We Want Arch! (see exhibit A, above).
This last weekend, Arch visited Oxford and Ole Miss – a school his Grandfather and Uncle Eli know well.
So let’s be honest, the pull to Oxford is a strong one.
But you will hear little out of Camp Manning about any favourites to recruit Arch, or indeed anything about the young QB. The Manning’s seem fiercely protective of the 2023 recruit. And rightly so.
However, the speculation as to where young Manning will end up in 2023 remains rife. This season he has been the guest of the biggest schools in the South East – Georgia, Clemson, Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. A visit to LSU is also on the cards, but probably slowed due to the head coaching change there.
It was no surprise as to the timing of Manning’s visit to Ole Miss. It coincided with the retiring of Uncle Eli’s #10 jersey, which will sit beside Grandad Archie’s retired #18 jersey. And if that wasn’t enough, Mississippi Head Coach Lane Kiffin got off the team bus wearing a Manning jersey.
And y’all though he was wearing a tribute to Eli. Ha.
And if you don’t believe me and don’t think that SEC Head Coaches will stop at anything to get their recruit, then check out the photo below. That is UGA head coach Kirby Smart, on the sideline on Friday in Tampa at Arch Manning’s Newman vs Berkely Prep High School game. Two points of note: (1) Smart took the UGA helicopter to the game and made sure he was visible, and (2) this game was broadcast live on ESPN.
Let me remind you. This is High School.
This story will get even more fascinating as the months roll by. Manning Jr isn’t expected to commit until spring ’22 at the earliest. Doesn’t mean the story is going to get any less attention. No sir.
Watch. This. Space.
Call it what you will. An in-conference game; All SEC contest; the Two Best SEC East Teams; The Border War; the River City Showdown.
But for those living in Georgia and North Florida, this game will only ever be The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
Named by Bill Kastelz, sports editor for The Florida Times-Union during the 1950’s – the name was coined as a result of the number of drunk tailgater’s. After some high profile drunken incidents the authorities and schools sought to play down the alcohol association. It still exists, although the cocktail moniker isn’t encouraged. But those tailgating and attending the game know it for what it is.
UGA and Florida is a historied rivalry game. The schools are close geographically, and the hatred runs deep. While the trend to play neutral games in college athletics has grown in recent years – mostly to enhance attendance numbers and revenue – UGA and Florida is one of the oldest games to be played on a neutral venue in the history of the sport. The game is always played during the last week of October/first week in November, and the teams take it in turns to be the home team. The game has been played in Jacksonville – meant to be equidistant from the campuses of both schools – since 1933, although the game has been played since 1904, albeit this is disputed by the University of Florida (they weren’t yet called the University of Florida in 1904 and were beaten, so it doesn’t count!).
This week on @thecollegechaps we talked about the game with SEC Nation’s Laura Rutledge. Laura is well placed to know this game inside out being both an alumni of UF and also SEC Nation hosting their pre game show in Jacksonville every year.
Laura talked about the build up to the game,
“It is one of the wildest scenes that you are going to see in college football. It’s really fun for us on SEC Nation because on Saturday morning we are on a lot which is right outside the stadium so people just naturally gravitate toward where our site is so we end up having a great crowd. I just get goose bumps just even talking about how exciting it is to be at this game. At a game that no matter what these teams are ranked, no matter how they are thought of, I think everybody checks the score or wants to see what the scene is like”
“It doesn’t really matter how good, or in Florida’s case, not so good the teams are, because it really is one of those games which brings something out in the players and the coaches that you don’t normally see.
Now let’s be honest about this year, as much as Florida fans are excited that yes there is the possibility that they can knock off #1, Georgia’s defense is so dominant I’m not sure how anybody at this point feels like they can score a lot of points on Georgia”.
On the perception of UGA having a “QB controversy, Laura had this to say,
“Stetson Bennett has operated this offense quite well and throws a pretty nice deep ball and does things which makes you say “how can you bench this guy?” – I think they have a real Quarterback dilemma on their hands and it’s going to be fascinating to watch because the way that Bennett has led the team you can’t say that “hey, you’ve led this #1 team in the country to relatively dominant victories, oh but now JT Daniels is back and we’re going to remove you form the situation”.
However, can UGA win the SEC title and progress to a National Championship with Bennett at the controls? Here is what Laura had to say on this subject,
“when do you need JT Daniels?….because they’re balancing this sort of delicate act where, you probably need JT Daniels against Alabama, I would say. You probably need JT Daniels in the College Football Play Off. You probably need JT Daniels to win a National Championship. So if he doesn’t have reps in games with this offense by the time that you get to the point you’re going to say “we should have played him” and that’s no slight to Stetson Bennett who has done a nice job but we’re talking about wining a Championship. You’re going to need JT Daniels at some point”.
You can hear the full Chaps episode below.
Happy Birthday Coach
Saturday will see Alabama head coach Nick Saban celebrate his 70th birthday.
So it was no real surprise that the questions levelled at Coach during the midweek SEC Coaches Conference call had a somewhat celebratory feel to them.
First up a moment of hilarity as Coach Saban was asked about Lou Saban coaching at the age of 80, and what thoughts Nick Saban had about the future,
A clearly humoured Saban said,
“I’ve got 10 more years man…
You know I really never thought about it to be honest with you. I can tell you that I am thankful every day and feel blessed that I have the opportunity to continue to be healthy and be able to do this job without a lot of issues or problems….so no, I’m not really thinking a lot about what’s going to happen 10 years from now”.
Perhaps the most unexpected question was around what his preferred type of birthday cake would be, come Saturday. Not exactly the hard hitting question you might expect of the greatest College Coach of all time. Coach Saban’s answer?
“I like carrot cake”
Said the Alabama Head Coach,
“Miss Carla who sometimes works and cooks for Terri probably makes the best carrot cake in Tuscaloosa County for sure”
Well. There you go. Carrot cake, huh.
Happy 70th Birthday Coach!
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.