HOOVER, Ala. — We, the assembled horde here at The Wynfrey Hotel, had to all be thinking the same thing Monday as commissioner Greg Sankey stepped to the podium and introduced the first of 14 football coaches at SEC Media Days 2017: It’s all downhill from here.
Bret Bielema might’ve been kicking off this four-day extravaganza, but he was likely the last coach who will hold everyone’s attention. Now that Steve Spurrier and Les Miles are gone, Arkansas’ big whistle is the undisputed Mouth of the South — the only guy left in this league who is both funny enough and comfortable enough in his own (considerable) skin to make us laugh.
Nick Saban is a robot. Gus Malzahn is a bore. Dan Mullen is a goober. Hugh Freeze is a gasbag. Jim McElwain, Kirby Smart, Butch Jones, Mark Stoops, Barry Odom and Derek Mason seem to have formed some kind of Eastern Division pact to speak only in phrases you might find on an inspirational poster.
And then there is Ed Orgeron, who sounds fun — with that warbling, mouthful-of-gumbo way of speaking he has — but says nothing. Take, for instance, his nearly 17-minute opening filibuster at the podium here on Monday.
Miles, his LSU predecessor, was often similarly long-winded to start, but it was usually a hilarious recounting of his summer vacation and various other entertaining asides. Miles would at least do us the courtesy of butchering the language in a way that seemed almost intentional, kind of brilliant in its absurdity.
Not Orgeron, who talked longer in his preamble at SEC Media Days than it takes the average person to run a 5K race. In that 2,629-word monologue, he managed to give a mind-numbing breakdown of his entire depth chart, including more than anyone outside of Baton Rouge wanted to know about his special teams.
That nobody snored audibly showed remarkable restraint from the audience, whose only laugh for Orgeron arrived when he finally stopped talking and asked, “Any questions?”
Yes, here are two: Where has this conference’s personality gone? And why can’t Bielema stick around all four days?
As Sankey introduced him Monday, the commissioner told a story from last week, when he text-messaged Bielema congratulations on the birth of his daughter. Suddenly, Sankey received a FaceTime video call from the Razorbacks’ coach.
“He said, ‘Why are you calling me?’ I said, ‘Why are you calling me?’ I thought he was going to share this moment with his wife and his daughter with the conference commissioner,” Sankey said. “He said, ‘I was just leaving Chipotle. I didn’t mean to call you.’ ”
Upon taking the stage, Bielema explained that he’d “butt-dialed” the boss while ordering a double-veggie bowl from Chipotle that his wife had been craving.
“Trying to get an endorsement right there,” he joked.
There were not a lot of other jokes after he left the dais. Tennessee’s Jones was all furrowed brow and BS as he explained how going 4-4 in SEC play with the most talented team in the East last season was somehow not a disappointment. OK, sure, but your oratory skills were, Butch.
Bielema, who clowned a reporter — “Can I ask you a question? Where did you get that shirt?” — did fail us once on Monday. Having previously called a win over Texas “borderline erotic,” which now happens to be the name of SEC Country’s Arkansas podcast, he was asked how he’d describe it if the Hogs beat Texas A&M.
“I know you guys are all looking for quotes,” he said, grinning. “I don’t think I can go much further than that one.”
He recovered later on a question about whether this might be The Year of the Quarterback in the SEC.
“It’s always going to be the year of the quarterback — that’s why those guys get a lot of money at the next level,” Bielema said. “At our level, they get more attention. Mine aren’t getting any money. I don’t know about anybody else’s.”
Ouch. Somewhere, Freeze is preparing which scripture to quote at the podium this week and his ears are burning.
In a world where SEC Media Days were still truly Talkin’ Season, as Spurrier called them, instead of the exercise in risk avoidance that they’ve become, Freeze might take a thinly veiled shot at Bielema when it’s his turn Thursday. Or say anything that feels authentic.
But he won’t. None of the remaining coaches will. Just look at the list of players coming to Hoover this week — a veritable who’s who of guys hand-picked to make no waves. Yawn.
This event needs more Bret and less blah.