The first half of the SEC Media Days 2017 didn’t produce many waves. But on the third day, Alabama coach Nick Saban arrived, and there was much rejoicing among the people.
Yes, the living college football legend drew just a little attention at the Wynfrey Hotel, and with Saban’s turn at the podium done, most national focus will shift away from the conference’s yearly media smorgasbord. But please, stay tuned on Thursday, when Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze gets to field questions about Houston Nutt! (More on that in a minute.)
In the meantime, here are SEC Country’s winners and losers from Day 3 in Hoover, Ala.
Winner: Nick Saban
Saban cleans up on the field and on the recruiting trail, so it’s only fitting that the Crimson Tide boss kept his streak going on the media circuit. What set Saban’s 16th SEC Media Days appearance apart from the first 15, however, has more to do with what was unsaid than anything else.
Usually, the coach has an agenda item he wants to push in public — a rule change proposal, scheduling matters, hurry-up offenses and so on. He has run the gamut. But the media heard none of that this year.
Instead, Saban talked about the Clemson game (“we don’t want to waste the loss”). He talked about a summer dinner with 12 neurosurgeons, at which he discussed concussions and football’s risks. One reporter asked Saban the secret to his coaching longevity. The answer? “Win.”
Saban’s message was succinct and effective, and it should scare the bejeezus out of everyone else in the SEC, too.
Loser: Hugh Freeze
Contrary to Saban, the embattled Ole Miss coach has grown accustomed to taking L’s when it comes to public relations … and everything else, for that matter.
A 5-7 season followed by a sub-par signing day haul and more NCAA allegations have made the last 12 months pretty miserable for Freeze, who takes his turn at the podium on Thursday.
That’s what makes the timing of Houston Nutt’s defamation lawsuit against the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation so brutal (or great, depending on your feelings toward the Rebels). One day before Freeze has to face the Media Days music, Nutt filed a suit alleging that his coaching successor used off-the-record conversations with sports journalists to spin a false narrative about the NCAA’s degree of focus on Nutt in the Ole Miss investigation.
That’s ole’ Houston Nutt going hard in the paint, right there.
Winner: Eric Beisel
Not everyone is familiar with Missouri’s red-headed linebacker, but Eric Beisel did his best to change that with a downright raucous performance at the mic on Wednesday.
- “Some people ask if we belong in the SEC. Dang right we belong in the SEC.”
- “I step into the arena every Saturday,” he said. “There’s tons of crazy fans who just want to see bloodshed. And I’m happy to give it to them.”
- “I don’t think anyone likes Kansas. It’s a shame that they’re afraid to play us, both basketball and football. It’s just personal, you know what I mean? It’s personal.”
- “I probably — I guess you would call it — poked the bear,” Beisel said of Arkansas. “I’d say it’s more like poking a cute little kitten.”
When an Arkansas player calls you a “straight clown” on Twitter, you know you’ve hit a nerve — or several. Good for Beisel for bringing the WWE smack-talk into a room full of players afraid to rock the boat.
Loser: The University of Missouri
Beisel’s school, unfortunately, hasn’t fared well in the headlines for quite some time. Since protests rocked Missouri’s campus in the fall of 2015, freshman enrollment has fallen like a rock and university leadership has undergone a significant shakeup.
The issues have such deep roots that the New York Times authored an article about Missouri’s lingering enrollment challenges. The piece apparently rustled some feathers at Mizzou, as the school felt compelled to respond with a statement that highlighted irrelevant facts like “safe campus” rankings and being a “best buy.”
That really misses the point. Instead of acknowledging the problems at hand and emphasizing that Missouri is working to address them, the university leaders would rather lob a bunch of nice stats in your direction and have you believe that everything is fine, we’re all fine here, thank you. How are you?
Tigers coach Barry Odom’s comments on the matter were pretty mild. In fairness, this isn’t a mess he made, nor one he alone can fix. But one has to wonder: does Odom have the energy and the personality to turn this program around? He’ll have to prove he can hold the student body’s attention in year two.
Winner: Tua Tagovailoa
Jalen Hurts will be Alabama’s starting quarterback in 2017. This is not news, even though Hurts drew headlines when Saban shot down a reporter’s insinuation that “people want to keep saying there’s a quarterback controversy.”
However, that doesn’t mean Hurts will be the only quarterback playing for the Crimson Tide on Saturdays. Saban confirmed on Wednesday what many have suspected since the A-Day spring scrimmage: Tua Tagovailoa, Hurts’ true freshman backup, should see the field in some capacity this fall.
Whether Tagovailoa leads the offense for a few drives per game or lines up in packaged plays remains unclear. Saban did nothing to slow the Hawaiian quarterback’s hype train though.
Loser: Mike Edwards
Kentucky’s star junior safety got the nod to represent his team at SEC Media Days, and he made headlines by … ripping his pants. He wound up at a place called “Dang Alterations” about 20 minutes later to get them fixed up, as chronicled by the UK Twitter account.
Mike Edwards, this one’s for you: