HOOVER, Ala. — You can’t spell “Citrus” without the “UT,” so said Steve Spurrier in his heyday as the Florida Gators coach in the mid-1990s.
Sure, Spurrier annoyed other coaches and fan bases with his needling. But he always made things interesting, and that’s why the Head Ball Coach is particularly missed at SEC Media Days.
Monday was case in point, when second-year Florida coach Jim McElwain was holding court with his beat corps.
“Do you have any eligibility left?” McElwain said to a senior citizen reporter who asked about the Gators’ quarterback situation.
The forced laughter from the Florida reporters was polite but also awkward.
McElwain was not funny, and the most interesting facet of his presentation was that he was not wearing socks with his dress shoes.
As far as SEC Media Days go, Monday’s edition was bland and disappointing.
To put things into perspective, Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was viewed in media circles as the big winner. With all due respect to Mason, that was more of an indictment of McElwain and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, the other two coaches appearing on opening day.
The SEC fans eager for Monday’s festivities — the unofficial start of football season in the South — had to be asking themselves, “This is what I’ve been waiting for?”
The SEC might still be the best conference in college football, but the Big Ten has become more interesting in its coaching ranks with Jim Harbaugh.
On Monday, the best the SEC could offer up was third-year coach Mason. He said “the winds of change are coming,” and that “this football team reflects the city of Nashville.”
The Commodores bring back 15 starters, but they are 15 returning Vanderbilt football players, and that says enough.
The big revelation for Auburn on Monday, meanwhile, was that the team’s theme is to “earn it.”
That would be opposed to the 2013 season, when the Tigers were granted enough miracle finishes to find themselves in the BCS championship game.
Remember when Gus Malzahn was viewed as a genius?
The good news moving forward is that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema will bring some humor and unpredictability to the SEC Media Days.
The bad news is that Bielema doesn’t take his turn at the front of the Wynfrey ballroom until Wednesday.
Bielema, it seems, is the only coach in Spurrier’s league when it comes to making an entertaining presentation.
“I’m a laid-back dude,” Bielema said at a June camp in Tampa. “I’m a flip-flop wearing reggae-loving guy that just kinda loves my job. I think I should get arrested every day when they tell me what I make.
“My name’s been confused with every eating disorder out there.”
Spurrier’s not the only familiar voice missing at SEC Media Days. Mark Richt’s straightforward, honest approach will no longer be a part of SEC Media Days now that he’s moved on to Miami (Fla.) after being fired from his long-term post at Georgia. Richt is as genuine as they come, and few SEC coaches have been as universally well-liked by media.
There’s a new coach at Missouri, too, with Gary Pinkel retiring after last season as the winningest coach in the Tigers’ modest football history.
New Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart will make his SEC Media Days debut this morning, while Missouri’s Barry Odom goes on Wednesday.
It’s doubtful either can match the presentation of their predecessors, and certainly, neither are in Spurrier’s league.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone ever filling that void.
Spurrier’s background was what powered his swagger and made it legit.
How many other coaches can say they’ve won a Heisman Trophy, much less a national title as Spurrier did when he revolutionized the SEC with his “Fun ’N Gun” offense of the 1990s?
True, the SEC moved on without Spurrier, winning a national championship three months after his sudden retirement from a mediocre South Carolina program last October.
But even Alabama coach Nick Saban has bemoaned the loss, perhaps realizing that even more of the attention will be focused on him with Spurrier out to pasture.
“The guy’s been one of the best coaches for a long, long time,” Saban told ESPN, “and a great personality of the game.”
Looking back, Spurrier was a bit of a visionary, too, saying at last year’s SEC Media Days, “I wish Danny Sheridan would do odds on how long every SEC coach would be at school next four years. It would be fun to bet on.”
No doubt, Spurrier always left you something to chew on.