SEC Media DAYS
By George Somerville
We have now passed the half way mark in SEC Media Days, and Wednesday – or Day 3 as we know it – saw the entrance of the National Champions, Georgia.
Our SEC guy George Somerville breaks down the highlights of the Day 3 sessions.
SEC MEDIA DAYS
Day 3 - Dawgs in the House!
Moving into the second half of the schedule saw the national champions Georgia arrive in the College Football Hall of Fame. If this wasn’t excitement enough, Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky joined in to make it an entertaining third day in Atlanta. Let’s take a look at what National Champs Georgia had to say.
"We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia"
This time last year Kirby Smart took his place on the podium as the leader of a Georgia Bulldog team many felt UGA was on the cusp of greatness. Georgia was hunting it’s first National Championship in 40 years.
That prediction was right with the Bulldogs becoming National Champions in January by defeating defending champions, Alabama.
So this year, Kirby Smart arrives as the incumbent best coach in college football. I expect then that most in the room wanted to know what, if any pressure the National Champions were feeling ahead of the new season. The answer? A definitive, none. Nada. No pressure.
“To be complacent, you have to have done something and achieved something. The men on this team for this season have not done that. They have not. We had 15 players that have now gone to NFL camps or draft picks. They’re gone. We have some returning players, but they’re hungry as ever”.
Kirby carried on with that steely glare which he has perfected to stare down the room.
“People ask the question, How does it feel to be hunted? We will not be hunted at the University of Georgia. I can promise you that. The hunting we do will be from us going the other direction. We’re not going to sit back and be passive”.
When Smart moved from Alabama to Georgia, Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach, Scott Cochrane also moved in a high profile steal from the Crimson Tide. Sadly, Cocrane was missing for part of the National Championship season and Kirby was asked about his relationship with Cochrane. Kirby said this,
“I think a lot of our players saw the human side with Scott, that we all know addiction is real. It probably affected me as the leader of the organization for the first time, to have someone on your staff be involved with that.
I got a lot of help from outside sources on how to do it. I’m so proud of what he’s done and how he’s fought back to bring himself back and be the husband and father that he’s always been. He’s a tremendous husband and father. That’s first. He’s a mentor to the players on our team.
He’s got tons of players that played at Alabama that still reach out to him and talk to him. They come and work out at our place and see him because they value that relationship that he had with them.
He’s a special person that’s meant a lot to a lot of people. We’ve stood there by him and supported him, and we’ll continue to do that”.
Inevitably the topic of Stetson Bennet cropped up. But now with a Championship ring, Smart was asked if he had seen a change in Bennett’s attitude.
“I think he’s created a little bit of momentum with our players, our skill players, because there’s not a doubt there.
They understand he knows the system. He can get them the ball. He can throw the ball vertically down the field, deep comebacks, he can scramble and make a play with his feet. I think they value that.
That’s given him a little bit more credibility, which credibility to me is earned, right? He earned that by the way he played at the end of the year and most of the season. He continues to do that the way he leads out there on seven-on-sevens, practices and things”.
The biggest honor in the world is to go out there with a G on the side of my helmet
Georgia also had QB Stetson Bennett and Linebacker Nolan Smith in attendance.
This point about the National Champions being the ones with the targets on their backs was something of a recurring theme. Which meant that Nolan Smith was asked how they keep their fire for another National Championship burning. Smith is an impressive individual. This is how he answered about what needs done to maintain focus
“Humility. That is one of the big things that we took last year to move a step forward. Connect with your brother and be humble. Don’t have an ego. That’s another thing here, the past is your ego. We can’t control last year. We can’t do anything on last year. We can only look forward. Be where our feet are at, and that’s now.”
I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Georgia quarterback is a polarising figure. Georgia fans will say he still doesn’t get the credit he deserves despite leading the Bulldogs to a Natty. Non UGA fans will point to Bennett’s sporadic play and lack of stats. The truth I suspect lies somewhere in between. Does it matter to Stetson Bennett? I honestly don’t think it does. He was asked this today and answered honestly.
“You play the game to play the game, and you play the game to win and compete against the best players.
I am secure enough. I can look in the mirror. I wouldn’t have gotten drafted high last year. So, what was the guarantee that I was going to go start in the NFL last year? Probably pretty low.
This is the best football conference in the country.. I am here to compete against the best players. I think it is the biggest honor in the world to be able to go out there with a G on the side of my helmet, my name on the badge, looking across at my brothers and know we are playing for the University of Georgia, the State of Georgia and for Bulldog fans throughout the country.
So really, it wasn’t that tough of a decision. I love football. I love everything, most everything, about it and I love to compete.”
The most likeable coach in the conference
Saturday Down South’s Chris Marler called Sam Pittman the most likable coach in the conference if not the country – which is very true and shows the high regard Sam Pittman is held by fans and peers alike. Arkansas is everybody’s favourite second team – unless of course Arkansas is your team. And if they are you must be pretty happy with the way that the Razorbacks have evolved under Pittman and his staff. Arkansas fans are loving the team that Pittman has built.
And this is particularly impressive given the difficulty of the schedule that Arkansas has had over the past three years. Which seems to be almost an annual question for the Arkansas Head Coach – why the difficult schedules and how does Pittman set his team up for them season after season?
“Challenging schedule again. I think this is the third year in a row, only been here three years, so I know it’s the third year in a row that we’ve been awarded the toughest schedule in college football”,
Said Pittman, before continuing
“Well, you know, schedules are scheduled out so many years in advance. Nobody knew, maybe they did, but Cincinnati, when they were scheduled, I know they weren’t in the College Football Playoff.
BYU has always been really, really a good program. But they’re at the top of their game. Well, not top. I think they played for a national championship a few years back. I may be all messed up on that one.
But being 21-4, having 20 starters coming back, I laugh at home saying they’re trying to fire me. I hope not. I mean, I like it there.
I don’t know. One point I’m hoping it will ease up a little bit. But right now it hasn’t”.
Given the geographical location of Arkansas and the fact that the Razorbacks beat Texas last season, Pittman was asked about Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC. The questions being, would he like Both teams as permanent opponents?
Sam Pittman laughed and replied,
“We love you, Texas and Oklahoma. Can’t wait for you to come over. We got a great place. I don’t know what to tell ’em.
OU, I was a kid, rooted for the Sooners till I moved over to eastern Oklahoma where I became a Razorback fan. Storied football program.
We’re having recruiting battles with them right now, thank the Lord. Before we couldn’t get in the door. But we’re having recruiting battles. We are having recruiting battles with Texas. I’m not telling you we’re whipping them or anything like that. I’m telling you we’re in the conversation. It’s so close, you know? You have two storied programs there.
But I would tell them what they already know: it’s a hell of a league. It’s about big people and fast people. Not any different probably than the Big 12. Consistently each week you better have some depth.
Those guys are great coaches over there at Texas, Oklahoma. They know that.”
Florida Head Coach, Billy Napier is another new kid on the block. Not only that but such are the expectations at Florida from fans and boosters that Napier finds himself under pressure. Yes. Even before a ball is thrown in anger.
Which made Napier’s appearance at Media Days all the more impressive. He showed no signs of nerves and came across well. He came across as in control, which was exactly how he needed to be. The sharks were circling.
And they are circling because of a perceived lack of recruiting since Napier arrived. Let’s be honest, Florida is as fertile a recruiting patch as almost anywhere. So the assumption is that the Gators should be securing all the top talent in the region. Despite that fact that Miami, FSU, UCF and the other Florida schools are all next door to each other. And that’s before we include Georgia, Alabama, LSU etc who are but a stones throw away.
But despite the competition Napier finds himself on the hot seat because recruits are getting away from him. So, a question about recruiting was expected. And it came. Napier answered it this way,
“I can’t compliment the staff enough. I think we put together a really good group of people. They’ve worked hard”.
Said Napier, before continuing,
“Reality is you have four opportunities to add players to your team: December, the winter portal period, February, then the spring portal period. I thought we made the most of our time.
I think we were fortunate we were able to observe bowl practice and address maybe some of the issues that we observed. Did a great job in December. I think the momentum carried over to February. We added a few more players in the spring.
I like the group that we added. We’ve had a chance to work with those guys, observe them throughout the summer. So far so good”.
Given the turnover of Head Coaches in recent years, its a given that all Gator Head Coaches are compared to the Ol’ Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier. So, yes Billy Napier was asked about comparisons to Spurrier and why he, Napier would last longer than the others. Like other questions fired at him Napier answered in an impressive fashion,
“I have been impressed with the leadership at Florida in terms of their awareness, what it’s required to be competitive at this level”
Napier went on,
“We have an incredible product. I mean, we have history, we have tradition, we have an elite degree. We have one of the best experiences for scholar athletes in the country. It’s been done before, and they’re passionate about doing it again, right?
I think they understand maybe why there’s a struggle. I think they’re working hard to address those things.
But I love a challenge, and this is a challenge. I think we can get caught up in all that or we can see an unbelievable opportunity, and that’s exactly what I see”.
Mark Stoops celebrates his Tin Anniversary
Kentucky Head Coach has been in the job for 10 years, which makes him one of the longest serving coaches in the SEC.
But if you listen to Mark, much in the same way that he builds his teams, you would never know.
Coach Stoops is reserved and understated but like a deadly assassin, Kentucky will take out most teams on their schedule this year. So Stoops wasn’t really in the mood for reflection on his decade in charge although he did acknowledge his time. Stoops said,
“I really don’t spend much time thinking about that. The 10 years in Lexington is something that I am proud of because I know how difficult it is. I know how difficult it is to walk into this league with the great coaching, with the recruiting, and starting like six feet below 14, then trying to climb that ladder as high as we can.
I am proud of that, and I appreciate the work. However, we’re not satisfied. We want to continue to grow. We want to continue to push it. Obviously some teams at the top of the food chain in the East and the West are doing some really special things. So you have to continue to elevate your game.
However, I have no control over anybody else, just what we can do at Kentucky. That’s my focus, my energy, to continue to grow in that area”.
There is a lot of excitement around the league about quarterback Will Levis. Many are predicting a high draft stock for Levis and Stoops was happy to wax lyrical about Levis and the latest addition to the coaching staff.
“with Will Levis, the success we had with him, we were able to attract a guy like Rich Scangarello, from the 49ers”.
“Could not be more thrilled to add Rich to our staff. Two fronts: it keeps the continuity, even though it’s a different coordinator, understands the terminology, the scheme, can keep a lot of the things we did well a year ago, keep that consistency, keep that continuity as well as anybody I could have hired.
The second front is a guy that is a true quarterback guy, that has been an offensive play-caller in the NFL, quarterback coach in the NFL, highly regarded quarterback coach to help a young man like Will take it to the next level.
Certainly when you look at a guy like Will, could have certainly came out a year ago, but like any player that wants to be the very best, is highly motivated to take his game to the next level. We’re blessed to have a guy like Rich to work with him”.
Things are about to get very exciting for the Wildcats this year.
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.