Grading performances from each coach at SEC Media Days
HOOVER, Ala. — Talking season is over. Grading season is here.
OK, not really, but it is interesting to evaluate the way that coaches come across at SEC Media Days. Some seem built for the moment.
Let me correct myself. Most seem built for the moment. It really is amazing that so many of them can speak about such a wide variety of topics with ease and not really get rattled by any questions. They all came off extremely prepared for anything that was going to be thrown their way.
No coach failed their press conferences. Nobody put their foot in their mouth so badly that they needed to just be absolutely roasted.
But there was at least some variance. That’s why we have grades:
Nick Saban, Alabama: C-
The reason Saban got the knock was that, as I’ve said all week, I didn’t like that he seemed to point to distractions as the reason for why his team got beat like a drum. The unwillingness to admit that Clemson was simply the better team in 2019 wasn’t something he wanted to come out and admit. It was unfamiliar territory for Saban to talk about such a lopsided postseason loss, and in my opinion, blaming coaches and players who are no longer with the program (not by name) is a tough look.
Chad Morris, Arkansas: B
Nothing was move-the-needle news, though you could tell Morris was a bit humbled by his slow start in Fayetteville. Morris comes off well publicly, though I disagree with his hard stance against beards. He acknowledged that this year’s goal is simply the postseason, which needed to be said. He did a solid job of addressing the quarterback battle, which is ongoing. Not a bad showing from the second-year Hogs coach.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn: A
Malzahn absolutely aced his time in Hoover. Not only did he address the hot seat stuff, he explained how he welcomed that. He said that’s basically been the case in 4 of the 6 seasons that he’s been there. He said that he likes that fact that Auburn has such high expectations of its head coach. He was totally unfazed by questions about his job. I suppose that’s a little easier to stomach when either way, you’re going to receive tens of millions of dollars.
Dan Mullen, Florida: B+
Mullen’s grade stems strictly from his ability to avoid the Georgia land mine. He didn’t poke the bear and did a good job avoiding the topic of trolling the Dawgs. That was a key area that Mullen needed to avoid. He wasn’t quite as engaging as others who spoke in Hoover, but I do always enjoy hearing about his relationship with Feleipe Franks and how that’s developed. Mullen isn’t about to stand in the batter’s box with Franks because apparently, the right-handed flame thrower is still working on his control (Franks disagrees).
Kirby Smart, Georgia: A
Smart’s “do more” mantra was my favorite of all the mantras we heard in Hoover. I also give Smart credit for acknowledging the Alabama elephant in the room and saying that’s the only thing left for them to get past. He’s right. It was laugh out loud funny hearing Smart make the joke about taking out Alabama’s backup quarterbacks as the key to getting over the hump. I also loved the “I’m well aware” comment he made when Bob Holt began to ask him about Nick Saban’s unblemished record against assistants. Also, Smart avoided any Florida jabs.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky: A-
I mean, he casually dropped in a line about playing golf with John Daly. That’s an aced press conference 10 times out of 10. I expected Stoops to spend a bit more time talking about the offseason disrespect, but he’s said what needed to be said on that front. Had we been able to talk to Stoops after the media voted on his team to finish sixth in the East, I can’t help but wonder if we would have had an even better version of the Kentucky coach.
Ed Orgeron, LSU: B
Orgeron doesn’t really say inflammatory things, and his press conferences are always worth listening to because of his voice, but they usually don’t make major waves. I did find it interesting that Orgeron said in his opening statement that Myles Brennan was up to 212 pounds and that he was healthy and ready to take on a role in meaningful snaps this year. That’s good presence of mind from the LSU head coach to recognize how important it is to keep Brennan around, especially with Joe Brady instituting the run-pass option system that’ll have Joe Burrow running more. And according to Orgeron, Burrow would “run through a wall if we let him.”
Joe Moorhead, Mississippi State: A
It isn’t easy to admit when you did something wrong. Moorhead admitted that he got too ahead of himself by coming out firing with the comments last year about learning ring sizes and making sure Nick Fitzgerald had a spot on his mantel for his Heisman Trophy ready. Moorhead was extremely transparent about expectations. He also provided some laughs when talking about his love of Dan Marino and how badly he wants the Hall of Fame quarterback to follow him on Twitter. Entertaining and transparent are a good combination at a press conference.
Barry Odom, Mizzou: A-
Odom brought up a stat that I didn’t even realize. Zero players on his team have even entered the transfer portal. That’s amazing considering the postseason ban the program is facing and how he came out earlier and said Tennessee was calling his players. That’s the type of thing that makes an impact in a press conference. That speaks to the culture that he developed. He’s not the most entertaining SEC coach, but Odom handled himself extremely well.
Matt Luke, Ole Miss: B+
I feel like I just keep praising coaches at non-power programs, but I really did feel like that was the case. I like how Luke spoke of his unconventional move to bring Rich Rodriguez on board and how he discussed the need to make significant defensive improvements with new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre. I was also impressed with how highly he spoke of Matt Corral, who was at SEC Media Days after running away with the starting job in the spring.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina: A
When someone asks you “do you think you’re Clemson’s little brother?” this is how you respond.
— Mike Gillespie (@MikeABCColumbia) July 17, 2019
That’s acing a press conference.
Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee: C-
No offense to Pruitt, but he put me to sleep. I didn’t need a 22-minute opening statement detailing every position. I get from his perspective of why that would be advantageous because it serves as a filibuster, but goodness. I’m not questioning what Pruitt is building or how he’s building it. I expect a significant Year 2 jump, and dare I say, unlike others, I won’t rule out the idea of Tennessee getting back to national powerhouse status. But man, Pruitt clearly doesn’t care about how boring he comes off in these things.
Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: B
I liked the fact that Fisher didn’t shy from the daunting schedule element, and that he was willing to talk about some old stories of playing basketball with Nick Saban and Will Muschamp at LSU. It was even nice to hear him do what Smart did when asked a question about Saban’s perfect record against assistants. A sarcastic “I’ve never heard that before” was met with laughter. Fisher laughs at his own jokes a little too much for my liking — I think he just dislikes the idea of silence — and he doesn’t say a lot of meaningful stuff for how many words per minute he spits out. But a coach who starts with a “daggum” and a “howdy” in his first sentence is usually good in my book.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: A-
If you don’t come away more and more impressed with Mason after every time he speaks, I can’t help you. The Vandy coach comes off as genuine as anyone in the conference. I loved him talking about Nashville as a “hot city” and how the goal is to grow in the same way it’s growing. Mason had one of my favorite quotes of the week, too.
“I’m a blue collar guy. I know you look at the suit, look at the shoes, and say ‘Coach got swag.’ I do. Believe that.”
I believe that, as well. My only frustration with Mason was that he didn’t throw a little shade at Tennessee for dominating that rivalry the past 3 years. But that’s not who he is. Mason is the coach with swag who aced another Media Days showing.