HOOVER, Ala. — All eyes were on the Hyatt Regency ballroom Monday as the 2016 SEC Media Days got underway. After a long offseason, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey welcomed in the semi-official start to college football season.
The event is now spread out over four days, with Florida, Auburn and Vanderbilt appearing on Monday. Here are the winners and losers from the first day of action:
Winner: Football fans
Take heart – SEC football is almost back for real. After an offseason’s worth of speculation and talk, coaches and players have begun dishing on the state of their teams and programs heading into the fall.
In only a few short weeks, camps will open and teams will begin to prepare for the opening of the SEC football season on Sept. 1. With national title contenders across the board, this should be another compelling season for the conference.
Loser: Steve Spurrier fans
He’s been a part of 22 media days, but this year’s edition is noticeably lacking in former South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier. The Head Ball Coach was one of the most entertaining attractions at SEC Media Days every year with his candid attitude and amusing quips.
His replacement, Will Muschamp, won’t take the stand for a few more days, but Muschamp is much more straightforward a personality than Spurrier, who did join the fun on Twitter by announcing the Aug. 30 release of his new book.
Gonna miss ya! pic.twitter.com/8pt70d52Pv
— Coach Steve Spurrier (@SC_HBC) July 11, 2016
Winner: Derek Mason
Though his Vanderbilt squad finished in the SEC East basement last season, Mason was one of the most impressive coaches on Monday. During an action-packed session, Mason set lofty expectations for his linebackers, answered a question from a child reporter and even dropped in a reference to John F. Kennedy.
The Kennedy quote, after being asked to elaborate this tweet, was:
“It goes back to John F. Kennedy when he was asked to fall for the lesser role than running for president. For me, that’s been a statement that really speaks to where we are. I think, obviously, if there’s an opportunity to be better, then let’s be better. Let’s reach, you know, for the highest thing out there. Let’s reach for the sky. Let’s reach for the brass ring. Let’s not reach for, you know, what is sitting there at eye level.”
The Commodores improved markedly on defense when Mason took over as coach .With 15 starters returning this fall, now is the time for Vanderbilt to continue on its upward trend.
Derek Mason impressive on the podium. Vandy could legitimately surprise this year. Defense should be outstanding.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) July 11, 2016
Loser: Player discipline
What was already expected to be a tough day for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn became a little tougher. Malzahn announced the Tigers would not suspend any of the four sophomore players who were arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana on April 30. The group includes All-SEC Freshman cornerback Carlton Davis and former 5-star DE Byron Cowart. For comparison, Malzahn suspended two other players in 2014 (cornerback Jonathon Mincy and quarterback Nick Marshall) who found themselves in a similar situation.
Auburn’s particular situation comes amid several other discipline issues involving top SEC players. Mississippi State was heavily criticized after only suspending 5-star recruit Jeffery Simmons one game despite a pending misdemeanor assault charge against a woman. Star Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson also has not been suspended after an arrest stemming from drug and firearm possession. The charges were later dropped after the prosecutor cited “insufficient evidence.” This will likely continue to be a hot-button issue as SEC Media Days roll on, especially with Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen taking the stand on Tuesday.
Loser: Jim McElwain’s socks
It’s relatively well-known that McElwain is not a fan of socks, but he doubled down in Hoover on Monday. As expected, McElwain rolled into the Hyatt Regency with a suit and tie, but no socks with his dress shoes.
When pressed on the matter, McElwain said he not only does not like to wear socks, but added that he will not even wear socks at his daughter’s wedding this upcoming Saturday. That is some dedication to foot comfort.