1. If Nick Saban enters the room with three police escorts, you ask questions--terrifying, disturbing questions. Does a man that small really require three police escorts? One school of thinking would be to say that a person that small requires less protection: they are small, and can easily hide in places normal people would find inaccessible. Suck it, ninja kidnappers of the world! Nick Saban has just plunged into that air vent, where he will heal, acquire new weapons, and then don a pair of night-vision goggles like Max Fisher and knock you out under cover of darkness.
The other school of thinking is that he is small, and thus easily picked up and thrown into a giant sack. There is a mob of people downstairs who might do this. They wear crimson t-shirts, and hold up paintings, posters, footballs, pieces of their homes, stray children of dubious relation, and whatever else is not nailed down in the Wynfrey Hotel lobby. They would kidnap Nick Saban out of love, and feed him their best crackers as they threw the cursing, wriggling bag of Nick Saban-ness in the truck bed and took him home to sit in a gilded cage, a profanity-spewing $4 million-dollar-a-year parrot for a lucky and daring Crimson Tide couple.
This seems fanciful until you have come down the escalator and spied THEM. Then, and only after you've seen THEM and heard about them knocking stuff around in the lobby, just trying to get a quick scrawl of the coach's autograph on whatever they can grab... then you consider three policemen a start, and perhaps suggest a fourth just to be sure.
2. The awkwardness is everywhere when you have this many people focused on a single subject. Nick Saban clearly would rather be doing literally anything else, even as he thanks the media for doing our job with the implicit whatever that is tacked to the end. It is in invisible ink, written at the end of his sentence, and it hangs in the air next to his head whenever he says it. Nick Saban clearly hates every second of this, and always has. He would rather be back in the film room eating oatmeal creme pies or walking down the hallways of the Alabama football conference just waiting for someone to look him directly in the eye. Every year, the Nick Saban Press Conference Experience is like putting a sweater on an ornery cat, draggin it along the floor on a leash, and then making it pose for festive holiday pictures with bright flashes and no treats to coax it along.
We just used "it" as the personal pronoun for the best football coach in the country, and my goodness it felt completely right.
3. Derek Dooley may have quietly executed the best hump-year appearance of any coach in the history of SEC Media Days: 14 minutes, constant, confident patter, and somehow almost zero speculation about his uncertain future. Either the collected media felt terrible about hassling someone clearly on the chopping block, or everyone got tired all at once, lost interest, and went into a blood-sugar crash simultaneously. I'd bet on the latter.*
*Via Golden Flake waves.
4. Hugh Freeze is bland, but it's an honest bland. He admits a huge talent gap between Ole Miss and the rest of the conference. He also admits that it's going to be a rough year, ominously citing "the time when we will have to rely on our core values" like a stranded, starving crash survivor looking at a weaker fellow castaway and thinking, "If I eat him, I've just lost the last line between me and the animals." Freeze came up to a reporter afterwards and said "Hey, how'd I do?" The reporter: "Eh, a little subdued, man." Freeze looked dismayed. It will not be the first time he looks dismayed this year, and if Ole Miss gets its hungover skull kicked in as many times as they should in the SEC this year, it will be not be the last.
5. Freeze really does come off like a pastor. So did his predecessor, so let's clarify. Houston Nutt was the possibly insane pastor bent on hitting the collection plate hard and often. If he found you had not accepted Jesus in your heart, Nutt would attempt to spellbind you into conversion with his eyes, hand flourishes, and pure animal intensity coupled with some powerful winks.
Freeze would politely ask you to write a check, find you were a nonbeliever, and then ask "But, aw, dang, well, that's... we'll work on that buddy. We'll go to Ryan's Family Steakhouse, and then after some steak fingers we'll work on that a bit." Hugh Freeze cannot wink, and probably would just flinch his entire face if he tried.
6. Mark Richt kept control of Mark Richt. He spoke for three minutes about Malcolm Mitchell's versatility, looked a bit grayer than in previous years, and left without much incident and without disappointing too many people. This happens to be what his football team has done for years in the SEC, entering the room, racking up eight to ten wins played out like so many pleasantries, and then exited without making too much fuss.
7. So in summary, everyone's appearance at the podium at SEC Media Days represents exactly how this coach's team will play in 2012.
a. Kevin Sumlin's A&M team admitted no surrender, and was fine but not spectacular in being slightly better than everyone thought and completely unawed by the experience.
b. Steve Spurrier kicked ass, took names, and made two mistakes he can't take back. (For Spurrier: saying journalists can't get fired, and also saying he'd rather play an Ole Miss team he will one day lose to inexplicably. For the team: two weird losses no one will see coming.)
c. Gary Pinkel was low-key, fine, and gave Nick Saban more trouble than he thought he'd get.
d. James Franklin came in fourth on his day, but did so really confidently and that's what counts at Vandy.
e. Will Muschamp was loud, fast, and no one was sure where he was going at any given moment.
f. Dan Mullen gave no ground whatsoever, and was still asked about when he was going to beat someone in his division not named "Ole Miss."
g. John L. Smith is going up at any point, and will do so loudly and in someone's direction.
h. Joker Phillips walked out the door quietly without anyone noticing.
i. No one remembered anything Gene Chizik did or said.
j. Les Miles breezed in and made everything look easier than it actually was.
k. Nick Saban went first, hated it, and then vowed to be first again in the most miserable manner possible.
l. Derek Dooley whistled past the graveyard, and seemed happy just to have the chance to do so.
m. Hugh Freeze smiled and prepared for a beating.
n. Mark Richt (see above)
8. On his way out, Saban did one last interview and growled at Chris McKendry for even asking a question about Joe Paterno's statue. A muzzle was then placed on him, and he was sequestered for the remaining 42 days of the offseason. If there's a run on muzzles and absenteeism at Alabama workplaces, it's only in imitation of the state's true ruler, and is done out of love for the departed and soon to return true business of the Yellowhammer Empire: ditching real life for the gory fantasies of college football.