Monday's round of SEC MD speakers were a bit on the dull side, but yesterday's SECMD16 affair was perhaps an even duller one. If coach-speak and platitudes are your thing, Kevin Sumlin, Kirby Smart and Butch Jones provided enough stultifying tropes to tranquilize a herd of rhinoceroses.
Here's what we learned, or, most often, didn't learn:
Steve Shaw, SEC Coordinator of Officials
The first rule change involves starting the clock when the ball is snapped late in the half. Shaw said that within the last two minutes of either half, if the team that is winning fouls, and the clock is then stopped, the clock will restart once the ball is snapped. In this case, the officials will no longer start the clock at the "ready for play." Shaw said the rule takes judgment away from the officials in the game.
The second change involves replay. Shaw said three instant replay officials will be at the conference’s video center in Birmingham, Alabama for all league games. Whenever there is a stoppage of play for a video review during a game, those three officials will collaborate with the replay official who is at that game to make sure the call is correct. He said the goals of the experimental operation are consistency and eliminating incorrect outcomes.
When asked about the SEC possibly using replay to review judgement calls like pass interference, holding or block in the back, Shaw said he does not believe it is being strongly considered. However, he said there is discussion every year.
League foil and director of officiating Steve Shaw passed on the two rule changes most likely to impact play this year. The first, is a rule that somewhat prevents teams that are losing from getting favorable "ready to play" starts on the clock in the waning moments. In these cases, the clock will start upon the snap. This will certainly change the dynamics of the end of games, as officials no longer have an arbitrary "hey, we're ready to play" signal. When the 25-second clock starts, teams that are losing only have 24 seconds before game play starts.
The second is a rule we've discussed several times here: the shadow official in the league office. Sadly, Shaw did not elaborate on the mechanics of it, which will likely only fuel conspiracy calls when a conference favorite gets an overturned call in their favor that comes from Birmingham.
As Shaw alluded to, there are no plans now, but there 'are discussions' regarding collaborative replays for otherwise non-reviewable penalties. Good, I say: I would like to see more shadow calls from the SEC offices regarding judgment calls that are not ordinarily reviewable.
It may seem like nannyism from the league, but as we saw with the NHL, on-ice/field/court snap decisions are often wrong. In the NHL's case, the officials and replay booth correctly reversed a pivotal no-call (that was previously unreviewable) in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals -- a call that ultimately led to a game seven, and a series was partially determined because of proper review of a judgment call. (Cough, looking at you downfield linemen, offense being set before the snap, cough.)
"We got to be able to run it a bit more when we need to run it," Sumlin said. "Whether that means we have to have a 200-yard rusher to do it. I don't think that's the case. I know we have enough talent to maybe rotate some guys and get to substantial numbers there."
Knight added he feels confident that fellow Oklahoma-transfer, redshirt junior Keith Ford, who is the presumed starter at running back, will have a productive season for the Aggies. "Keith is going to be big for us this year just because he is a great player," Knight said. "I got to start several games with Keith right there by my side [at Oklahoma], so it is interesting how that came full circle. Keith is a dynamic player and we have already been through the whole process of getting our mesh down."
Another question mark on the offensive-side for A&M is the offensive line, which lost three starters, despite the skeptics, Sumlin has high hopes for this fall. "Although we lack experience from a starting stand point on the offensive line, if you look between the numbers, we have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football before," Sumlin said.
The SEC's swag runner-up (hat tip to the OG, Lane Kiffin,) Kevin Sumlin sure does spew every bland coaching statement in the book when he gets on the podium. Sumlin largely addressed the offseason upheaval at A&M, where players bolted like Sea Biscuit and coaches dropped dead like a goldfish in the Sahara. But, even then, Coach was boring as hell: "we did this for team chemistry," "it was in the program's best interests," rah rah.
All we really learned from the Aggies' media day regarding its on-field product is that the Aggies want to run more behind a somewhat unproven line, that there are playmakers all over the field, and that (like most of the conference) quarterback is up in the air. Everyone assumes OU-transfer Trevor Knight will win the job, but Jake Hubenak won the bowl game start over much more talented players because (and stop me if you've heard this before) he did a better job of winning the team over and winning the intangibles contest between the would-be starters.
If Alabama's QBs aren't listening to the Tide coaching staff, they should heed Sumlin, who sounded eerily similar to Saban when stating what he believes is demanded to be a starting quarterback: First, make the guys around you better by making them believe that you can get the job done.
The funniest moment of the day came when Sumlin, acknowledging he is on the hot seat, spoke of the upcoming meeting vs. Tennessee (his first vs. the Vawls):
"As luck would have it, it's his best team he's ever had," Sumlin said. "That's kind of the way my life is going right now."
Well played, Coach. Well played.
It’s what you’d expect: football! Tennessee! Butch loves saying, "I think..." and loves things that are great. We hope the Vols are among them this season. Individual and individuals combined for eight appearances in Jones’ time today.
Things that did not appear: Florida, other than in the context of saying Josh Dobbs didn’t even make the travel squad to Gainesville as a freshman in September 2013 and was starting by November.
Also Jones mostly stayed away from championship talk other than to say the media is generally bad at picking them and, "The teams that end up competing for championships in November are the teams that can handle the natural adversities that a long football season brings about."
As with last season, the reigning king of SEC coachspeak, Butch Jones, lulled everyone into a coma with his soporific address that said almost nothing regarding the team we can expect to see this year. Seriously, not even the normally-prolix RTT had much to say for Coach's effort (other than to post a word cloud so boring that it would wake Sleeping Beauty up.)
Then again, if you're the Vols, with all the pressure in the world finally (and probably welcomed) on your shoulders, staying the course, keeping mum, and avoiding gaffes is in your best interest.
The highlight of Jones' speech regarded the TIX suit that was just settled in Knoxville. Rather than poo-pooing it, Jones did say that the university and program will look to it as a learning experience and never really put it behind them. Sure, it was administrator-speak, but at the same time, it's a damned sight better than FSU or Baylor have done in the wake/course of their Title IX investigations and suits.
Watch out, Butch Jones, there is a serious competitor for Coach Oration in the East: Saban disciple, and UGA head man, Kirby Smart.
"The biggest thing for me is recognizing the difference, and I got great value from the nine years I spent at University of Alabama and 11 years I worked for Coach Saban, learning the difference between a team and a program," Smart said Tuesday at SEC Media Days.
"That’s where I want to put my stamp on the University of Georgia, is the difference between a team and program. "A team is a group of young men playing together. The program is the entirety of that, what goes into that, how do we support these student-athletes off the field, what things can we give them from a nutrition standpoint, strength and development, their wellness, psychological development, everything we can do for the team and for the entire program is the stamp that I’d like to put on it."
Aside from talking about his philosophy of coaching (big, fast, physical -- but he doesn't want to be Alabama...right) Smart mainly spoke on (a recurring theme in the SEC) the lack of a starter at QB. Most figure incoming all-everything Jacob Eason will win the start. Given Grayson Lambert's effort versus competent SEC competition, that's not necessarily a bad thing either.
The question here for Dawgs' fans is whether Saban's probabilistic, old school approach (minimize turnovers, play the percentages, go with veterans if possible) rubbed off enough to overcome Smart's naturally aggressive tendencies sufficient to start a freshman in the SEC. I say Eason gets the start. This is a honeymoon season in any event for Kirby: why not make the future the present, especially when everyone is going to get a long leash?
By far the fireworks of the day belonged to Dan Mullen's despicable "we all accept responsibility, but no one accepts responsibility" answers regarding Jeffrey Simmons.
Clearly, admitting him was a football decision. But, Mullen has not had the courage of his convictions to say that he's a great player and that's why Simmons is on campus. The AD has said that, and been excoriated for his honesty to boot.
Mullen framed it particularly oddly (if not preemptorily defensively,) stating that if something happens at State with Simmons, they're all in this together.
It was a process dialogue, not a substantive one from the Mittened One.
"I wasn't involved as much," Mullen said. "It was a university decision, but I was just thrilled that we're having Jeffery as part of our family coming in. As I said, I take a lot of pride as a coach on developing young men to be champions, not just on the field, off the field, and every part of their life to be successful in whatever it is they do, and that's not an easy process."
Okay. This is what you have: Mullen says that he didn't make the call to admit Simmons (despite the fact that he can rescind scholarship offers, back-channel that he's not comfortable with the risk, or a whole host of ways to subvert the process.) Mullen places it squarely on the back of the University.
University president, Dr. Mark Keenum, has said that the decision to admit Simmons is one that has to be discussed by admissions with input from the program and the AD. The AD, Scott Stricklin, has gone on record saying that he didn't have conversations with the program; that he spoke with EOE, Title IX officials, the school leadership, and university lawyers...And, that a driving force for Simmons' admission was that the 5-star could wind up at another school (cough, Ole Miss.)
What a mess of finger-pointing and unaccountability this disaster has been, one Mullen did not at all defuse.
It was a helluva' risk by all involved, that's for certain. But, Dan Mullen made it very clear yesterday, that if the Simmons' situation blows up, he'll definitely call upon Benjamin Franklin's reasoning upon signing the Declaration of Independence -- it's better to stand together than hang separately.
Of course, in this case, it could also be that they all hang together.
The Dark Lord speaks at 9:00 central. Roll Tide.