SEC Media DAYS
By George Somerville
SEC Media days are amongst us again, signalling the unofficial start of the 2022 season. The Touchdown team will be glued to the coverage to bring you all the highlights from the week.
Day 1 : and so it begins
The build up is over and SEC Media Days is upon us. Day one started and brought us Commissioner Greg Sankey, LSU Head Coach Brian Kelly, Ole Miss Head Honcho Lane Kiffin & Mizzou Imperial Commander Eli Drinkwitz.
It was a great start to the week, with coaches generally in good spirits. So let’s take a look at the highlights.
The Commish - Greg Sankey
As is customary, the SEC Commissioner kicks off proceedings – and so Greg Sankey took to the stage first.
In his opening remarks Sankey recognised the issues and challenges arising from conference realignment and the impact of NIL. Sankey was reluctant to get into NIL, citing that it was a matter for the NCAA Division I board of directors. Although he did call for clarity and consistency across the rules and states. But he did want to get into conference realignment.
When asked about the conference model about how you fit newcomers Texas and Oklahoma into the current scheduling, Sankey had this to say.
“There are limits on the number of options available for three permanent opponents based on the number of games. Nine makes that more practical. If you remember, I had two points when we expanded that I wanted to be front and center. One is that we engage in blue sky thinking, let’s look at the big picture. The second is that we rotate teams through campus as frequently as possible so we don’t go 12 years between visits.”
On the subject of further expansion, given the moves by USC and UCLAA to join the BIG10, Sankey had this to say,
“Again, we’re comfortable at 16. There’s no sense of urgency, no sense of panic. We’re not just shooting for a number of affiliations that make us better. Could they be out there? I would never say they’re not. I would never say that we will.
We’re going to be evaluating the landscape. I’m not going to speculate. I actually am watching a lot of this activity operating around us, more so than impacting us directly”.
Bayou Brian, the Tiger King
LSU’s Brian Kelly was the first Head Coach to take to the stage. Despite being the newest kid on the SEC block and not having been to a Media day since 2009, Kelly seemed relaxed and took the media’s questions in good form.
First up was the question “why is Brian Kelly a good fit for LSU” – tough crowd. Kelly responded,
“Well, I think fit is about the ability to run a program at the highest level. I’ve done it for 32 years. I’ve had success at Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Central Michigan, wherever I’ve been”.
“So running a program and then player development, I think those are the most important things.
I don’t think that needs to be geographical in a sense. I’ve gotten to love where I’m at in Baton Rouge”.
Kelly then went on the Louisiana charm offensive,
“I love the people. They love football – they love family – they love food. That fits me really well. I guess I should have been in the South all along”.
Moving on to NIL, Kelly was asked about the so called lower purchasing power of LSU boosters. Not something I expected to be asked. Kelly was honest in his response,
“I don’t feel like we’re being out-bid by anybody. I don’t think that’s the place of NIL anyway. So if we were being out-bid, then we’re going to be out-bid if we have $50 million in our collective.
I don’t feel hamstrung by that. I want to continue to educate with NIL. I want to be able to use the resources wisely to help promote name, image and likeness and have that available for our student-athletes when the time comes”.
It seemed inevitable that Kelly would be asked about the team he left behind, Notre Dame. Kelly was asked about the potential for Notre Dame to stay independent to which he responded,
“I would say certainly Notre Dame still is a coveted university in terms of what conference would want them. Jack Swarbrick knows what he’s doing. He’s got his ear to the ground. They’re going to land into a good position no matter what they do, whether they stay independent or whether they go into one of the other conferences”.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a Brian Kelly press conference without some reference to his newly found Southern accent. Good friend of @thecollegechaps Chris Marler of Saturday Down South asked Kelly for his favourite Louisiana dish since moving South. Chris being Chris asked Kelly to respond in his best Southern accent. Kelly took it in good spirits.
“Understand now, I have a Boston, Midwestern, Louisiana accent now. It’s three dialects into one. It’s no longer family, I got all kinds of stuff to throw at you.
The best? You know, it’s probably the crawfish etouffee. I don’t know how you top that. I would say also the grilled oysters. If you haven’t had grilled oysters, try that. That will get your cholesterol level up high pretty quickly. That’s pretty good, too”.
Lane Kiffin; the no tie , mustard bottle-signing Ole Miss Head Coach
You don’t need me to tell you that Lane Kiffin is box office. So when you look down the list of attendees at SEC Media Day, he is top 3, maybe even top 2 in terms of Head Coaches you don’t want to miss. Kiffin is the perfect mix of sincerity and comic genius, so he is always going to provide some great soundbites to the smitten audience.
First up, literally first question was about his recollection of trick plays whilst coaching under Alabama Head Coach, Nick Saban. Kiffin’s response set the tone for the rest of his presser,
“Well, Kirby Smart used to say sometimes you come up here and just talking about Alabama. So our first question somehow is about Nick Saban, so…”
However, it wasn’t long until we got serious Lane. He was asked bout the impact of NIL. We know from prior comments that Kiffin believes that NIL unregulated is a recipe for disaster so he didn’t need much persuasion to share his views,
“if we’re going to be in an NIL world, somehow you’re going to do it right, it’s going to get capped so that there’s some way of controlling it and keeping playing fields close to the same”.
Which is what Kiffin has been consistently saying from day one about the opening p of Name, Image & Likeness. Kiffin expanded,
“Otherwise, you’re just going to have these glaring differences within Division I football based off of what I’ve said before, their salary cap. I know it’s not really the right word”.
“Ideally I would think that the coach should be part of managing that. That’s how you’d want it done. But I don’t know if it will be that way or whatever. So that’s just how I would do it. That’s based off of look what happens in professional sports. There’s salary caps. The coach and the general manager/owner manage that”.
Then Kiffin opened Pandora’s box on the subject of boosters,
“If you have boosters out there deciding who they’re going to pay to come play, and the coach isn’t involved in it, how does that work? They could go pick who they want, pay him however much. Are the boosters going to tell you who to play, too? When they don’t play, how is that going to work out?
Again, this is not thought out at all, in my opinion, and has created a massive set of issues which I think when people really thought about it, from a coach’s standpoint, could have predicted this was going to happen”.
Finally you may recall last season’s Tennessee game (vs Ole Miss) when Vols fans elected to throw all matter at things from the stands at their former Head Coach. Of all things a mustard bottle ws thrown. And without condoning the hooliganism of throwing things from the stands, did seem an odd throwing object of choice. Kiffin, as he is prone to do, takes these things in his stride. In fact at Media day, a fan asked Lane to sign a mustard bottle. Which he did. Kiffin had this to say,
“I did sign a mustard bottle. That was the first guy to come up, which I think he had an Alabama shirt on, so I was a little confused there.
I have signed a lot of mustard bottles and golf balls, which normally I haven’t. It’s been a unique off-season.”
Kiffin then went on to tell us about the effect that he had on the Ole Miss Rebels baseball team winning the National Championship this season,
“On the golf ball, which goes back to the first pitch I threw out for the Tennessee game, we got swept by Tennessee, didn’t play well. Everybody thought it was my fault. I had a plan. I wanted our guys to stay humble, not play very well, then we’d go win the national championship in baseball. I’d like to say that was a plan. All the Tennessee fans that were all excited about sweeping us, there was a plan”.
"I'm not the old man yelling at the clouds"
Like Lane Kiffin, Missouri Head Coach Eli Drinkwitz is not short of a soundbite or quip, or two. Drinkwitz does have a wicked sense of humour so having him as last on the podium on day one is not a bad idea. It feels like everyone up until this point has been Coach Drink’s warm up act.
However in his introduction, Coach Drinkwitz laid out his concerns for the way that the game is changing. A subject which is close to my heart – that perhaps the game is about to change forever. As Kiffin had done before him, Drinkwitz fired a warning shot to any of the games leaders listening.
“The passion for college athletics is special”.
“My hope is that we don’t lose sight of that moving forward with college football and college athletics.
I know that the college football world and college athletics is changing. For any of you Simpson fans, I’m not the old man yelling at the clouds that we want to go back to the way it was”.
Coach Eli continues with his impassioned plea,
“But I do worry and I do question what are the guiding principles for college football and athletics moving forward.
I sure hope it’s not, as Pat Forde wrote, about the almighty dollar. I hope it’s bigger than TV deals being the college football guiding principles because every action we take moving forward, we lose sight of what we love about this game……. it’s also time for college athletics to set a course and a vision for the future. Let’s make sure that the core principles and guiding principles that we have reflect the values that we want it to be moving forward”.
Coach Drinkwitz also seemed to set the tone for his players. The ones that are impacted by all of this. And let’s be honest there is a consensus out there that believes the players are after whatever they can get out of NIL deals and the like. The tone is that the players no longer care about the game or their education. But of course that is not true far from it. So it was good to hear Missouri defensive back, Martez Manuel articulate what playing college ball in Columbia meant to him. Martez had this to say,
“It’s a money game now. That’s the best way to put it. Whoever has the most money is going to get the best players sadly”.
“You all may not know, but I’m from Columbia (Missouri). I went to high school and middle school there. So, it used to be about what team meant something to you. Columbia and the Tigers obviously meant something to me being from there. I feel like now it’s more about what team is going to give you the best NIL contract. Hopefully that doesn’t make the game lose its integrity and make college football lose what’s special about it, but only time will tell.”
Which was refreshing to hear from a student athlete. That perhaps it is still about the tradition and honour of playing for the school.
Coach Drinkwitz finished the day on the Paul Finebaum talking about his love for country music and his friendship with country music star, Luke Combs. Combs is from the Appalachian State area and built a relationship with Drinkwitz when he has Head Coach with the App State Mountaineers.
“well, you’re an idiot Paul”
said Drinkwitz when Finebaum said that he hadn’t heard of Combs before interviewing him earlier in the year. And then the unlikely Finebaum/Drinkwitz duo discussed their lack of success in the songwriting business. Lennon and McCartney they were not. Must watch TV they were. I loved it. On to Day 2……
College football writer
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.