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SEC Media Days 2011: Sweltering Promise In Birmingham

Approximately 900 reporters, radio hosts, and bloggers will question coaches and players from all twelve SEC football programs at the powerhouse conference's 2011 Media Days.

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19 Total Updates since July 19, 2011
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SEC Media Days 2011: Kentrell Lockett Elevates The Room

Kentrell Lockett, the vocal and emotional leader of the Ole Miss defense before getting sidelined for most of 2010 with a knee injury, has a clean bill of health, a sixth year of awarded eligibility, and a pocket square that looks like a tulip. He is hands-down the best interview in the conference, and on Friday afternoon shortly before SEC Media Days wound down for 2011, he held court for pack of college football reporters.

Lockett's oft-referenced bowtie doesn't make an appearance at today's interview sessions, so the first thing we had to do was press him on its absence and what message he's sending by wearing a normal (if flashy and elegant) suit and tie. "Mom picked this one out." Lockett didn't want to call attention to himself with neckwear, not when his personality can carry a room: "It's like, look at me, I got a bowtie." Does this fashion shift harken to his role, in his sixth year of college football, as the elder statesman of the Ole Miss Rebels? "I wouldn't say elder. Senior." Sage? "So seasoned I'm salty." Lockett's back, and he hasn't changed a bit. "Maybe it's just me. Maybe I make people feel happy."

About that ACL tear that knocked him out of the 2010 campaign: "My leg got cold, then it got hot, then I heard a pop." On crutches for interminable weeks, what did he miss about the game? Without missing a beat: "Everything." He tried hanging around practices and the weight room, but would end up at home crying to his wife, who finally told him he had to get some separation. But all that's at an end: When fall camp kicks off, he'll be back in full-contact ball, with "the freshest legs in the SEC. I don't know too many guys excited for camp to start." He's also resumed his unofficial duties as a role model to incoming freshmen, whose nerves are beginning to show around the edges. "I just tell 'em, football's football. That's all you can tell 'em."

We're winding down, and there's time for a couple whimsical Friday questions. What does he think of Mississippi State's "We own this state" billboards? "That's real interesting." Does State own the state? A calculated pause, stifled laughter. "That's a real interesting billboard." What does Houston Nutt say to his players the most? "So many things." Shakes his head. "Just so many things." When the coaches say these are the best days of players' lives, do they believe him? "It truly is. Cause after this it's the real world. The real real world."

Ole Miss opens 2011 play Saturday, Spetember 3, at home against BYU. Are the Rebels ready to run? "You don't know how excited I am to just tackle somebody not enrolled in the University of Mississippi."

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SEC Media Days 2011: Les Miles Without End, Amen

Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

Les Miles, the last coach to address the gargantuan throng of reporters in the main media room of SEC Media Days, mounts the dais and takes a comfortable seat ... in the moderator's chair. When told he should stand at the podium, he looks mildly bemused, as though he's never been here before. It's Les Miles, so it's entirely possible he doesn't know he has. This won't stop him from winning ten games this year. 

"Summer is over. the youth baseball and basketball and walks on the beach with my wife have passed." Miles will break Gene Chizik's Thursday record for longest opening statement, clocking in just shy of eight minutes, which turns out to be a good way to fill the time, because with the ongoing NCAA investigation nobody can ask him about Will Lyles, and interesting questions trail off short of the appointed quitting time. What he does say, in brief, is remarkable:

• "We lost Patrick Peterson, but frankly I think we'll be fine."

• On what it might be like to sample the grass at the Georgia Dome: "I don't know if sweet's actually the adjective you'll wanna use there." Thoughtfully, as though he would characterize the plastic turf as more of an umami taste.

• "The addition of Steve Kragthorpe has helped Jordan Jefferson." We've checked this sentence for typos.

• On message boards and message boarders: "Those people that sign their name Slick Willie don't necessarily have good opinions."

• On the video of him dunking over his seven-year-old daughher: "We took an afternoon and displayed my basketball ability very honestly. [...] I didn't think this was gonna be as big a deal." A smile. "Kinda like eating grass."

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SEC Media Days 2011: Derek Dooley And The Children's Crusade

Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

Derek Dooley bounds up the steps to the dais and thanks a roomful of journalists for their work promoting college football, with his trademark deprecatory wit: "We've certainly done our part in giving you material to write about over the last year, but that's what a good relationship is all about." More from Precious at the podium:

• On Tyler Bray's ever-entertaining tendency to improvise his more spectacular throws: "It's a little bit like parenting. They don't do what you want, but then it works out, and you go 'Well, that wasn't so bad after all.'" On Bray in 2011: "I think we're all gonna be impressed with what his production is."

• On interim AD Joan Cronan, Pat Summitt's boss and now his: "Joan has been phenomenal." On finding Mike Hamilton's permanent replacement: "I am not involved in the hiring process, nor should I be, because that's gonna be my boss."

• On injured and essential linebacker Herman Lathers: "I don't know when he's gonna be back, and I can tell you this: It's not any time soon."

• On Tennessee's depth issues: "We can't complain about our numbers anymore. We got enough bodies to go out there and put a football team together. The only thing we have right now is youth." He estimates Tennessee's roster to be composed of 70% freshmen and sophomores.

• On Commissioner Slive's proposal to make athletic scholarships multi-year awards, Dooley points out that academic scholarships can be revoked for poor performance, so he doesn't see why athletic scholarships should come with differing standards. 

• On recruiting services: Dooley says he cut $50,000 from Tennessee's budget for video scouting his first year, and $25,000 his second year, because of his impoverished coaching background at Louisiana Tech: "My instinct was to cut money, and then I realized we had a hundred million dollars, and I was like, 'Why did I do that?'" Still, "We spend a lot of money on it. I dont apologize for that. We recruit all over the country."

• Asked about recruiting regulations, Dooley gets on a bit of a tear: "Things aren't level. Things aren't equal. That's just the way it is." Off on one of his patented elocution safaris, he snaps back to earth: "I don't even know if I answered your question."

• Reminded that Steve Spurrier claimed yesterday to have the best back in the country in Marcus Lattimore, Dooley says he relayed the quote to Tauren Poole, and told him he agreed with Spurrier. "He just smiled, and said, 'I heard that, Coach." Poole will tell us later that he watches every guy he competes against ("Every. Guy."), and thinks he's more of a Trent Richardson-type back.

• Last question: "Coach, you had a couple games that ended peculiarly ... " Dooley throws up his hands. "I almost got outta here."

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SEC Media Days 2011: Mark Richt Preaches Reason

Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

Just as reliable as the perennial rumors that Mark Richt sits astride a wobbly saddle of molten lava in Athens is the certainty that you'll never see him crack in front of a bank of microphones. Tanned, relaxed, and jocular, he holds hundreds of reporters in thrall to his pastoral charm so well that it's almost impossible to remember his team was last seen losing the Liberty Bowl to UCF. Highlights from charm school follow:

• On that pesky Liberty Bowl loss, without missing a beat: "Coach O'Leary outcoached me. Their team played harder than we did, and they deserved to win that game."

• On the depth issues beleaguering his team on offensive line and at tailback: "I think our depth is fine up front as long as we don't get hurt." There are no plans to move Orson Charles to the backfield. 

• Richt pushed to schedule Georgia for this year's Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against Boise State because he felt the program had grown stagnant and could use some early-season excitement. He's not unaware of the challenge it poses, however: "The interesting thing about playing a team that might whip your tail is they might whip your tail." 

• On Bronco Mendenhall's comments that spiraling SEC coaching salaries are the root of corruption in college football: "The love of money and the misuse of money is the root of all evil," but money itself is neutral, and he hasn't seen SEC coaches taking their cash reserves and doing bad works. (Nick Saban raises one eyebrow in his hotel suite, but says nothing.)

• On the surging prominence of the SEC West: "Well, the SEC East was down last year because we didn't win."

• On Aaron Murray: "Aaron is a coach's dream. When you have a guy like that, it just makes your job a whole lot easier."

• On the infamous black jersey adventures and this year's Nike Pro Combat unis, which the team has already seen: "I think the jersey change is a good idea when you win, and a bad idea when you lose. I can promise you they won't win the game for us." Nike takes offense to this, sirrah. 

• On Will Muschamp, Georgia scion, coaching the Gators: "He'll tell you he's a Florida guy through and through, but I guarantee there's a little red and black in his veins." For Richt, this qualifies as a broadside, so enjoy that.

• UGA center Ben "Cooter" Jones crashes the press conference: "Coach, do you trust the Georgia O-line?"

• And one more time for the cheap seats, on the relative warmth of his posterior: "Keeping your job isn't difficult if you win."

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SEC Media Days 2011: Joker Phillips Has What It Takes

Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

Sophomore Kentucky coach Joker Phillips has a hard road in Lexington. Kentucky's occasional successes in football will always be overshadowed there by whatever the basketball team's done lately. But if the face he's presenting to the assembled media in Birmingham is any indication, Phillips has all the tools he needs to succeed as a big-time college football coach. Observe: 

• He gladhands the media. This used to be the terrain of Saban alone, who annually lowers his cold robot mask for this one day a year and applauds present reporters for covering America's beautiful game. But Phillips is canny enough to know when to emulate his competitors as it suits him, and endears himself to the room right away. 

• He's not funny. Think back to the great coaches in this league. Chances are they're crusty old bastards, right? Phillips breezes through his opening remarks with a grim determination, then asks the room, "So what do you guys want to talk about?" as if we are here by his will alone. He drops the most positive public comment we've ever heard any NCAA professional make about the BBVA Compass Bowl -- "I like the late date" -- and keeps a straight face while doing so. 

• He claims not to understand social media. This one's easy.

• He says few things with many words. Entering just his second season as an SEC skipper, Phillips is already eerily adept at giving two-minute answers you don't realize weren't really answers until they're over and he's onto the next question. The importance of this skill cannot be overstated, and between his adeptness here and Kentucky's schedule in the fall, expect great things from the Wildcats in 2011. 

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SEC Media Days 2011, Day 2 Schedule: Mark Richt, Gene Chizik Highlight Thursday

2011 SEC Media Days roll on in Birmingham, with Kentucky, Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee coaches and players running a gauntlet of print, broadcast, and online media outlets. Today's schedule of appearances is as follows (all times Central):

• 8:30 a.m. - 11:20 a.m. Kentucky (Joker Phillips, Stuart Hines, Morgan Newton, Danny Trevathan), Georgia (Mark Richt, Brandon Boykin, Ben Jones, Aaron Murray)
• 10:50 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Auburn (Gene Chizik, Emory Blake, Nosa Equae, Phillip Lutzenkirche), Tennessee (Derek Dooley, Malik Jackson, Tauren Poole, Dallas Thomas)

The conference has provided an overwhelming number of options for following along with today's action:

  • Live Video Stream - Every coach and every player will be shown live on camera when they take the microphone in Hoover.
  • Live Audio - The SEC mobile and tablet apps will feature live audio of each coach and player throughout the week of events.
  • Live Chat - SEC Insider Eric SanInocencio will be chatting live each day with fans - send your questions as he will be asking fan questions of the players and coaches in attendance from inside the event.
  • Archived Video - Get video highlights of each day, and re-watch each coach and player as they preview the 2011 season.
  • Player and Coach Quotes - Read every word spoken in Hoover.
  • Facebook Giveaways - Join the SEC's official Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/Southeastern-Conference/64758072831), and keep an eye out for special giveaways from SEC Media Days.
  • Exclusive On-site Written Reports - Follow the daily journal of events as the SEC Nation covers all the action.
  • Twitter Updates - Follow the SEC's various twitter feeds throughout the week to gain inside access during the player and coach rotations.
  • Stay tuned to this StoryStream for more updates from SEC Media Days 2011. 

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    SEC Media Days 2011: Dan Mullen Stars In The Dan Mullen Show, Presented By Dan Mullen

    Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

    Dan Mullen is poised in a relaxed runner's stance as he's introduced to the assembled media, like a talk show host caught accidentally on live air pumping himself up in the wings. He bounds up the stairs like it's not after 5:00 already, like this whole pony show isn't already running behind, and like he's genuinely happy to be under hot lights in an itchy suit talking football with 800 strangers. This last part is probably true. Such is the charm of Mississippi State's bullish, manic skipper. Highlights from the last interview session of Day 1:

    • Mississippi State's goal for 2011 is simple: "To relentlessly pursue an SEC Championship." It is hard to imagine Dan Mullen doing anything less than relentlessly. He takes the hell out of that eye exam for his university physical every year. You can just tell.

    • On Mike Slive's proposition this morning to increase academic standards: "One of our goals is to educate young people. That's why we coach in college." He's all for raising the bar, "I just want to make sure there's a plan."

    • On his notoriously prolific offenses, and adapting those to his current talent level: State's offense will be built around the personnel they have, not the other way around. They'll use 60-70% of his plays in a given year. "I don't need Chris Relf to be an Alex Smith, or a Tim Tebow. I need Chris Relf to be Chris Relf, and to do it the best he can, and as a coach I need to put him in the position to do these things."

    • On Steve Spurrier's pokes at Mississippi State's booster coffers: "Well, I've never played Augusta National, so that can't be right."

    • On State's recent campaign of open aggression as the state's flagship football school, Mullen lands just this shy of openly gleeful. One reporter tells him he spotted a billboard with Mullen's face on the way in. Mullen visibly brightens: "Yeah, did you enjoy your time there?" He demurs for a second, pointing out that Southern Miss is on the scheduling horizon, but not for long: "We are the State University of Mississippi. We are the people's university. [...] If you come to Starkville on Saturday, it's an event. It's the place to be in Mississippi."

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    SEC Media Days 2011: Steve Spurrier, We Adore Thee

    Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

    Steve Spurrier mounts the dais, fit and preening in a pink tie nobody else on earth with that ruddy a complexion could pull off, and sporting hair that will not look so magnificently chestnut come November. He's noticeably more jocular than the Spurrier the White we saw last July, with the sheen of a recent division championship still apparent, despite everything that happened on a scoreboard in December. Highlights from a rollicking Q&A session follow:

    •  Spurrier thinks this is the best group of players he's ever had at South Carolina, and that there's still "plenty more out there for us to go after. Time will tell." In typical Spurrier fashion, he dispenses with his opening marks in perfunctory fashion, and with a twinkle in his eye, asks, "Any questions?" like there's a chance every hand in the room isn't about to bolt up.

    • Spurrier thinks he has the best running back and wide receiver in the country in Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore will shortly become the toast of the day for refusing to entertain stupid questions about Stephen Garcia. 

    • And speaking of Stephen Garcia, here comes the "I don't openly loathe my starting quarterback ... much" song and dance we all know so well. Spurrier's tone of voice is impossible to replicate here, but the closest comparison would be a consistently misbehaving pet he can't get rid of because his wife loves the damn thing. "Stephen has some guidelines he must follow to be reinstated in August," but he's been doing everything asked of him and going to his workouts. Oh, and he might not be the starter, of course. Sure, Coach. "He and Connor Shaw will battle it out a little bit. He may be our best quarterback, but we're gonna have a little competition this year." A reporter: Can you talk about your unlimited patience with Garcia?" Spurrier: "Well, I guess we don't wanna kick him out for stupidity." Another reporter: "How sure are you Stephen Garcia will--" Spurrier interrupts this sentence with what is either a cough, a snarl, or a harrumph. I'm going with all three. "--keep his nose clean this time?" Spurrier fires right back, "Well first of all, he may get beat out by Connor Shaw." Coach, are you sorry you don't have a clear and undeniable leader on this team? "Yeah, that would be nice," like he's ordering fish.

    • On the ever-expanding coffers of the SEC: "Dan Mullen's got a jet airplaine out there." I have to assume Dan Mullen piloted this in himself, parachuted out over the convention center, and allowed the plane to smash unmanned into a nearby hillside. 

    • Were there any factors besides the threat of Lattimore that led to last year's division title? The conventional wisdom is also Spurrier's opinion: Down years for Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee. 

    • On Mike Slive's earlier proposition that college scholarships for NCAA athletes be expanded into multi-year awards: "No, it's a terrible idea, Commissioner. You sportswriters get a two-year deal? You go bad, you don't show up for work, your butt's gonna be out on the street." A pause. "Luckily, coaches have four- or five-year contracts."

    • On how much longer he intends to keep at this before retiring to Augusta National: It may be time to reduce his standard answer from four or five more years to three or four, but "If it was going bad and we were getting beat, I'd be gone." 

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    SEC Media Days 2011: Bobby Petrino's Special Day

    Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

    Say what you will about Bobby Petrino (and in this part of the country, plenty of people could say plenty), but he's more personable and -- dare I say -- lifelike at this year's Media Days than he's ever been as Arkansas' skipper. Petrino opens his remarks by openly admitting he has trouble saying it's great to be here with a straight face and wishes a happy 26th wedding anniversary to his wife, Becky, and the tone is set for an unusually genial interview session. Highlights follow:

    • Tyler Wilson, though he served ably as Ryan Mallett's backup as the Hogs' second-stringer, still doesn't have the official lock on the starting gig. (So quit asking, is the implied followup.)

    • Petrino wasn't happy Mallett gave away several of Arkansas' hand signals during his appearance on Jon Gruden's pre-draft TV special, but says Mallett gave him some ideas for new ones. (What exactly those signals involve goes wisely unsaid.)

    • Knile Davis is the toast of the weight room this season, hyping up other position groups and generally serving as resident live-in gym rat. Davis will later tell our own Spencer Hall he benched a personal-best 430 pounds last Monday when his strength coach put an Alabama sign in front of him and said, "What're you gonna do when you're on the field with Alabama?" He also characterizes Mississippi State as the hardest-hitting team he played last year. 

    • Petrino recalls his shock at adjusting his teams to SEC defensive front sevens following his time in the Big East, and still can't quite believe how hard it is to be an offensive lineman in this conference. 

    • The question we've all been waiting for actually takes a while to get asked, but here you go, Arkansans: Does Petrino count January's Sugar Bowl loss to Ohio State as a victory now? From the man himself: "We're 10-2. We had every chance in the world to win that game. We got beat on the field." There you go. 

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    SEC Media Days 2011: Mike Slive Outlines 'National Agenda For Change'

    Live coverage from Birmingham, where SB Nation is taking in the spectacle of SEC Media Days.

    SEC Commissioner Mike Slive's annual address to kick off his conference's three-ring Media Days circus was billed as a must-see by official sources, leading to rampant speculation among the assembled media members that he was planning on stepping down. Slive puts those rumors to rest straightaway with a quick Mark Twain quote and gets to the meat of his agenda: A four-part master plan to enact sweeping-ish change in the conference and around the sport. Slive says "intercollegiate athletics has lost the benefit of the doubt," and here's what he wants to do about it:

    • Redefine available benefits. It's clear Slive wants a national conversation on cost of attendance (COA) scholarships. He acknowledges in about five words that this would cause financial hardships at other schools, and dismisses the notion of caring about that just as quickly by hedging that the SEC has to do what's best for its own student athletes. Other items of import Slive would like to see on the table: Multi-year scholarships, a process by which players beyond the current six-year window could return to school and earn their degrees, and (here's the big one) a "refocusing of efforts to develop a regulatory approach" on student-athlete contact with agents. 

    • Strengthen academic requirements. Slive would like to see an increase in required GPA for freshmen athletes from 2.0 to 2.5 in core curriculum work, along with an annual satisfactory progress bar prospective SAs must clear at the high school level. 

    • Modernize recruiting rules. Slive says it's time to "push the reset button" on the regulatory approach to college football recruiting. In his opinion, the idea of a completely level playing field in recruiting is unrealistic, thanks to existing and unavoidable disparities in physical resources at different programs. Rules on phone calls and texting don't make any tangible headway as far as making up that ground, to hear him tell it. 

    • Support NCAA efforts to continue improving the enforcement process. Slive (and other conference commissioners headed to the upcoming NCAA President's retreat) would like to see a streamlined NCAA manual focusing on core issues. Having had to page through that thing more than once, I can certainly sympathize. 

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