SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey
Unlike last year's maiden voyage run for SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, his kickoff to 2016's SEC Media Days featured little in the way of vociferous SEC defense, shots at other conferences or NCAA rules, or largely anything in the way of "locker room material" for journalistic types.
Rather, Sankey began by giving a special word to the officers murdered in Dallas, as well as to the ongoing civil rights catastrophes in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis -- deftly, he did so without actually mentioning cities or situations. Sankey then gave a brief memoriam to one of the best that ever blew a whistle, recently-deceased Volunteers legend, Pat Summit.
There were four main themes of Sankey's central address: 1. the progress the SEC has made academically and the centrality of the SEC's academic mission, 2. NCAA inquiries at two institutions, 3. in keeping with the SEC's academic mission, how more care must be paid to address the demands on student athletes' time, and 4. the transfer rules the SEC enacted and how much more attention the conference pays to actions that occur while in school (the Jonathan Taylor rule) versus actions taken as a juvenile (i.e., the ugly Jeffrey Simmons situation in Starkville.) Judging from his remarks, the latter will likely not change, while the SEC will look to strengthen or tweak the Taylor rule as circumstances evolve.
College Football Playoff Chairman, Bill Hancock
Next, CFB Playoff Chair Bill Hancock spoke, largely relaying two points. First, the CFB is not going to expand beyond four teams, and, second, there is no anticipated change to the awful scheduling of the playoff semis that resulted in hideous ratings for the second-year Power Five cash grab.
"I was surprised," Hancock said on Friday. "We thought they might be down a little bit, but they were down more than I anticipated. But we have to remember that we had those noncompetitive games. We know what the factors were. ... We got a little unlucky with the noncompetitive nature of the games. We're just going to have to look at it over the months ahead, but we just don't anticipate any changes."
That's well and good, Bill. But, the fact remains, Clemson and OU was competitive until the half. Alabama-Sparty was scoreless after one, and was actually a tight game late into the second. Those games may have ended non-competitive, but they didn't start out of the gate as a rout. Post-hoc reasoning to justify a preexisting decision is so much fun, you guys!
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Mason finally looked like a head coach yesterday. He was passionate, enthusiastic, addressed recruiting (always the bugbear at Vandy,) and also echoed former Mizzou head man, Gary Pinkel's belief that student athletes can and should take up social causes that inspire them: players are not one-trick automatons, rather developing adults with complex thoughts in a complicated world.
As Anchor of Gold said of Mason's very good performance:
July 11, 2016, marked the day when Derek Mason officially looked like the coach that at the very least I would like to see Vanderbilt employ. While I don't get too hung up on how a coach interacts with the media, we have to admit that Mason seems to be much more comfortable in his own skin now than he was a year or two ago.
AoG was hardly alone in their praise of Mason. The national media was particularly impressed that Mason's PR game has finally seemed to catch up with his ability to coach defenses.
McElwain was a bit feisty yesterday. It seems like the media wanted to hear Coach Mac talk about anything other than the Gators. Several questions were posed to the Florida coach regarding Nick Saban, about the Gators' late season swoon which saw them drop three in a row, the fact that the Dawgs and Vawls are both projected to finish ahead of Florida.
In response to the predicted order of finish: "What were we (picked to finish) last year, fifth?" he said. "We’re making progress."
In response to the Tennessee and Georgia as allegedly the class of the East: ""I’ll have a meeting with our guys and see if they want to play those games or just forfeit," he said. "I guess we’re not very good is what that’s telling me."
When substantive questions were finally asked of McElwain, we didn't get very much from him. Namely, there is no front-runner in the quarterback race, despite Will Grier's transfer and the return of Treon Harris to Gainesville. This tells us one thing, which we basically already knew: Luke Del Rio is your starter, despite the sandbagging here.
Of the three coaches speaking yesterday, Malzahn faced the toughest questioning, particularly in response to the tanking offense, the hot mess at QB, the tackle-optional defense, an emerging pattern of close losses; hell, even players were asked about Gus' job security.
"Of course everybody (is speculating) on social media, but the thing that I think is, back in 2013 we were able to win those close games," said Auburn receiver Marcus Davis. "Last year we had a bad season where we lost four close home games. We lost four games in the SEC by one possession. If we win those games, maybe these questions aren't even brought up.
Auburn went 3-4 in one-possession games last season, beating Louisville, Jacksonville State and Kentucky but falling to Mississippi State, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Georgia.
Malzahn alleges he still doesn't know who the QB is (cough, James Franklin III,) and praises the defense, particularly the defensive line under Rodney Garner (okay, the defensive line as a strength I can believe.) He also promises tweaks to the offense based on who wins the job (which means we'll see Franklin run about ninteylebenty times this season a la 2013-2014.)
Still, the local beat guys aren't buying the fiction that all is right on the Plains, particularly given the slide in discipline that Malzahn is allowing for competitive reasons alone:
Gus Malzahn choosing not to suspend Carlton Davis, Byron Cowart, Ryan Davis and Jeremiah Dinson after their April 30 arrest for marijuana possession shouldn’t surprise me. Malzahn said he’s already punished the players, whatever that means.
The manner in which Malzahn explained it to a handful of media members Monday afternoon at SEC media days is what’s alarming.
Malzahn said they’re fine men who made a mistake and is confident they won’t do it again. When asked why he didn’t suspend them as he did Nick Marshall and Jonathon Mincy for the first half of the 2014 opener against Arkansas after they got in trouble, Malzahn said because "it’s the right thing to do."
I.e., Clemson is already going to beat our brains in, we need all the talent on the field we can get.
But, this was as vicious a take-down by a friendly paper as you'll see in the offseason, and one that doesn't bode well for Gus going forward.
Had that been all Malzahn had said Monday, I’d stop typing right now, but he gave me plenty of material to vent about during his main news conference.
At the end of the day, Malzahn can say what he wants, but if the Tigers are 6-5 or 5-6 going into Tuscaloosa, I don’t want to hear any excuses.
Malzahn said he was glad to go first at SEC media days. Agreed because now I don’t have to wait another day to hear all that mess he spouted. Malzahn said he’s "extremely motivated" after last season.
Shouldn’t that be the case every year regardless of whether you finish 7-6 or 12-2? Was he not extremely motivated before?