First and 10, Week 5: Dear (pick a coach), you are the problem
1. I don’t want to get on a soapbox, but …
These are the defining moments of a coaching tenure, when the fire hose of frustration is aimed directly at those with absolutely zero impact on what happens between the lines.
It took all of four games this season for Tennessee coach Butch Jones to find that road in a three-minute rant of the mean media. It was, in a word, comical.
And it might just be the beginning of the end for Jones in Knoxville.
“We have to understand what do we want out of our media; this place, with the drama,” Jones said Monday during his weekly press conference. “Are we focused on Tennessee football … or are we in the reality world of TV? All of us as human beings have to self-check ourselves.”
You want to self-check? Great, let’s get to it.
This isn’t the “fake news” you claim it is, Butch. This is the real world where fans pay a crap-ton of money for season tickets and six or seven three-day weekends a year, where they can get away from the pressure of their daily grind and find some solace in seeing friends and having a nice meal and screaming like lunatics for the university they love.
They don’t want to be bored to bits against an FCS school (Indiana State), and don’t want to watch their big, bad SEC program have to stave off the worst FBS program in the nation (UMass) with a last-minute defensive stop.
They don’t want to lose to a bitter rival (Florida) on the last play of the game – with overtime and all the momentum in their favor – because their defensive coordinator put players in bad (wait, awful) position to defend a Hail Mary heave.
They don’t want to give up 12,000 yards rushing in the season opener to a team (Georgia Tech) that runs triple option 90 percent of the time – an offense Tennessee had nine months to prepare for yet still looked like it just stumbled onto the game plan that week, and it had to be translated from Mandarin Chinese.
They don’t want to lose a two-game lead in the SEC East Division race – a division they haven’t won since 2007 – and hear their coach blame injuries.
They don’t want to hear about losing to a “strong” Vanderbilt team or a South Carolina team that “played a great game,” and then be forced to sit through a bowl game in their own damn state against a stale former power (Nebraska).
They don’t want to hear about back-to-back 9-win seasons because frankly – in your very words from Monday’s press conference – “enough is enough.”
They don’t want to hear about “Champions of Life” or “5-star recruits” or the nonsensical idea of buying rings for winning a meaningless non-conference game. You’re at Tennessee, that’s what you’re supposed to do.
They sure as heck don’t want to turn on the television for the most anticipated season in years, and see a Tennessee staffer running around on the sidelines with a 60-gallon trash can (trash can = garbage) over his head. A trash can with the beloved checkerboard emblazoned on top of some lame acronym that only the team understands.
They don’t want to hear about the philosophy of building a program brick by brick when your facilities are among the best in the nation and there’s nothing to want, the athletic and university support is unrivaled and everyone in the state lives and dies Big Orange. They want to win and they don’t want excuses.
They want a coach who knows what a Cover 6 is when there’s 9 seconds left in regulation and you need to defend the goal line. They want a coach who gives the ball to the best player on the field when it’s 1st-and-goal from the 1-foot line.
The last thing they want is their coach to declare he’s the “caretaker” of the program, and the negativity surrounding the program is the mean media’s fault – not the fault of the aforementioned “self-check.”
“Sometimes,” Jones says, “the negativity is overwhelming.”
And sometimes you have no one to blame but yourself.
2. It’s not my fault
Before we go further, and one last wrap on Butch Jones and blaming the mean media:
Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott last week finally addressed what happened when Tennessee had the ball on the Florida 1-foot line, with all the momentum and the best player on the field (tailback John Kelly), and didn’t run the ball.
Quarterback Quinten Dormady, it seems, changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Three plays later, he threw an interception.
Just a quick question: Why in the world does a quarterback, with all of two career starts, have the ability to change a play in one of the nation’s toughest environments, in the first SEC road game of his career?
That’s coaching, everyone.
3. It’s not my fault, Part II
This much is clear after Barry Odom’s passionate defense of his program following an ugly loss to Auburn: There’s only one person to blame — and it’s not Odom.
It’s Gary Pinkel.
Odom mentioned numerous times that arrived to a rebuild at Missouri. Want to know why the Tigers are 5-11 in 16 games under Odom, can’t stop anyone on defense (not even an FCS school) and might not win another game this year?
Because this is what he walked into when Pinkel retired. Or at least, that’s what he wants you to believe after unleashing his “real life” explanation of the state of the program.
“This is a turnaround. Any way you slice it or dice it or want to look at it, this is a turnaround,” Odom said. “I don’t like it. I want to win right now, but that’s not the hand I’m given. There’s not anybody left standing after 2015.”
Pinkel’s last season was 2015, when Missouri lost six of its last seven games and finished 5-7 – after back-to-back SEC East Division championships in 2013-14. In the last seven games of 2015, Missouri lost three games by a combined 21 points.
It’s not like Pinkel left Odom with a ragtag group. The Tigers returned 13 starters in 2016 (8 on defense), and the most talented throwing quarterback in the SEC (Drew Lock). This fall: 15 returning starters (10 offense).
More defense of Pinkel: After the Tigers won the SEC East, Pinkel had two of his best recruiting classes with Missouri in the SEC: No. 37 in the 2014 247Sports.com rankings and No. 25 in 2015 (his second-best was No. 33 in 2012).
Odom’s recruiting rankings: 43rd (2016), 43rd (2017) and 43rd in the 2018 rankings.
This is your rebuild, Missouri. Embrace it.
4. Strength in numbers
This was the year of the quarterback in the SEC, the season when the most important position on the field became a strength once again.
And here’s the sweet irony: the league’s two best teams (Alabama and Georgia) could each win with either of two quarterbacks on the depth chart. In other words, it’s the year of the quarterback where it matters most.
“All four of those quarterbacks could win a lot of games at any program,” an NFL scout told me earlier this week. “I don’t know if all four will be with the same team this time next year, but until then, you’re talking about winning a (SEC) championship with any of the four.”
Defending champion Alabama has no controversy; Jalen Hurts is the starter and has one loss in 18 career games – on the last play of last year’s national championship game. But as good as Hurts has played, freshman backup Tua Tagovailoa has been flawless in mop up work – and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“The ball just jumps out of his hand, it’s a fluid, quick motion and it looks effortless,” the scout said. “I’m not second guessing (Alabama coach) Nick (Saban) or (Tide QBs coach/offensive coordinator) Brian (Daboll), but at some point – it might not be this year — it’s going to be hard keeping that guy off the field.”
Then there’s Georgia and its unique metamorphosis at the position. The Dawgs have gone from significant concern in Week 1 with Jacob Eason’s knee injury, to the only team in the SEC that can beat Alabama and a legitimate College Football Playoff contender behind true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm.
If you didn’t think Fromm was the Georgia quarterback moving forward after impressive games against Notre Dame and Mississippi State, all you had to do is listen to Georgia coach Kirby Smart Monday during his weekly press conference.
When asked about the position, Smart made it clear he works on a meritocracy, and used injured defensive back Malkom Parrish as an example.
“I look at it like Malkom Parrish,” Smart said. “Malkom Parrish was coming off an injury. He didn’t play the whole time, but you could argue he’s a starter. Why didn’t he go out there and start? He’s 100 percent. I view every position the same, where competition creates and breeds success.”
Fromm has practiced and played well since he stepped on campus, and hasn’t been intimidated by the enormity of the position or the pressure of road games. His game – and his moxie and leadership – have drawn comparisons to former UGA star Aaron Murray.
“He’s a really smart guy out there,” a Notre Dame assistant coach told me earlier this week. “We could not rattle him. You just don’t see that from a guy in his second start.”
5. The Weekly Five
Five picks against the spread
- South Carolina (+9.5) at Texas A&M
- Vanderbilt (+7.5) at Florida
- Georgia (-7.5) at Tennessee
- Mississippi State (+10) at Auburn
- Ole Miss (+28.5) at Alabama
Last week: 1-4
Season: 10-10 (.500)
6. The return of Callaway
Don’t be surprised if star Florida wideout Antonio Callaway finds his way back to the field in Gainesville.
The troubled junior and the team’s best player is one of nine Florida players charged with felony credit card fraud. But those felony charges for a majority of the players could qualify for a diversion program, where they would eventually be expunged from their records.
The lack of a felony charge and conviction would then allow the players to return to the team.
If Callaway is among that group – and two Florida staffers I spoke with earlier this week on the condition of anonymity believe he will be – he will play again at Florida despite his previous troubles away from the field.
This is Callaway’s third off-field problem. He was found “not responsible” for a sexual assault claim during a student code of conduct hearing (where he admitted under oath to smoking marijuana in violation of team rules), and cited for marijuana possession earlier this spring.
Callaway’s cases, though, are seen individually, one Florida staffer told me. He was cleared of the alleged sexual assault, and he can only be held accountable for one of the two marijuana incidents (the other came to light only because of the student conduct code hearing). In other words, if he is offered deferred prosecution (the diversion program) by the state attorney in Gainesville, he will likely play again this season.
7. Man up
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops says there will now be two assistant coaches dedicated to making sure there are 11 on the field on defense and every receiver is covered.
Check me if I’m wrong here, but I would think the first job of every position coach on defense is to make sure his guys are on the field. Job No. 2: Make sure everyone has a man.
That’s basic sandlot stuff.
8. Ask and you shall receive
Hey Matt: How much longer will Arkansas put up with Bret Bielema? I’m tired of losing games in the fourth in the quarter when we have the better team.
— Steven Foster, Little Rock, Ark.
Steven: My go-to response for anyone wanting change is this: Will the next change be better than what you have?
Forget about the $15.5 million buyout. If Arkansas wants Bielema out, they’ll find the money (hello, Jerry Jones).
It’s just not as simple as firing someone and hiring another coach. The transition from one coach to another will set back the program another two or three (or more) years. Bielema walked into a mess – academically, player behavior/accountability, roster talent – and it took three years to get the locker room where he wanted it.
The problem for Bielema now is gut-wrenching losses in winnable games can no longer be ignored. The Hogs would likely have to lose out this fall – and that’s not happening – for Arkansas to make a move.
I still believe Bielema can win consistently at Arkansas. Can he win an SEC title? Doubtful as long as Nick Saban is coaching in the West Division.
Then again, that puts Bielema in line with five other coaches in the division.
9. Numbers game
17: The average number of points scored by Texas A&M against a Will Muschamp defense.
Want a sure bet this weekend? The under (54.5) in the South Carolina-Texas A&M game. The Aggies haven’t been able to figure out Muschamp’s defenses in three games, getting 17 points in 2012 against Florida (Mushcmap was head coach) in College Station; 10 points in 2015 against Auburn (Muschamp was defensive coordinator) in College Station, and 24 points against South Carolina last year in Columbia.
In each of those games, the Aggies were held under 80 plays. South Carolina, meanwhile, has scored 24 points in six quarters since star wideout Deebo Samuel broke his leg two weeks ago against Kentucky.
10. Quote to note
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, on the Bulldogs’ offense in a 31-3 loss to Georgia:
“If we go catch some of those one-on-one balls down the field, (the Georgia game) might be a little bit different. When you’re going to go throw up the 50-50 ball, you’ve got to come down with it.”