When I ask a question of a head coach, whether it’s a conference call or a postgame presser, I always call him “Coach.”
It’s a sign of respect, that’s all. And, frankly, I think it sounds a little awkward when a reporter hollers “Kirby …” before asking yet another one of those ridiculous “talk about …” questions that have taken over this profession like a plague.
“Kirby, talk about your special teams and how you can improve in the kicking game.” I’m sorry, do you have a question? Because that’s not a question.
Media Days starts Monday, with commissioner Greg Sankey scheduled to take the podium in Hoover at 11:35 a.m. for his opening remarks. Last year’s slogan was “It just means more,” which led to those commercials of that blonde girl — dressed in head-to-toe Belk, naturally — repeating the catchphrase in pure humblebrag fashion.
“Our part of the country may be first in childhood obesity and last in reading comprehension. But in the SEC, it just means more. And by ‘it,’ of course, we mean football. Not that other stuff.”
I’ll be front and center at the Wynfrey Hotel again with a few others from the Saturday Down South news team. We’ll have round-the-clock coverage of all the notables and quotables from coaches, players and fellow members of the media.
In particular, here’s one question I’m really looking forward to asking each head coach once the microphone comes my direction.
Nick Saban, Alabama
How do you plan to keep all of those running backs happy, and is there ever a such thing as too much talent at one position?
Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons, who were the top four tailbacks in 2016, all return. On National Signing Day, 5-star Najee Harris and 4-star Brian Robinson were added to the mix. That doesn’t even include quarterback Jalen Hurts, who’s a devastating runner himself. There’s only one ball, you know.
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
How much is on your offensive line to better protect Austin Allen, and how much is on Austin Allen to better protect himself?
Last year was the first time during the Bielema era in Fayetteville that the Hogs allowed more sacks on offense than they recorded on defense. Allen took a pounding like no other signal caller in the conference. True, his protection up front left a lot to be desired. That being said, Allen has to throw it away more often, too.
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Has John Franklin III finally accepted that he isn’t a QB, or is he still convinced he should be throwing passes instead of catching them?
If you watched “Last Chance U” on Netflix, even Franklin’s coaches at East Mississippi Community College knew his arm was too erratic for any type of passing offense. But he’s gifted in the open field, plus the arrival of Jarrett Stidham should be the end of Franklin taking snaps. Be a hybrid runner/receiver and move on already.
Jim McElwain, Florida
What exactly needs to happen for your team to be given the respect it deserves as the division’s defending champion?
The Gators were only picked fifth in the East for McElwain’s first season in 2015, which was understandable. But after winning the division, they were behind Tennessee at Media Days the following summer. They won again. Still, rival Georgia is being given all the love now. McElwain has gotten used to playing the disrespect card, I guess.
Kirby Smart, Georgia
Why has the favorite in the East performed so poorly the last four years, and does that worry you being everyone’s pick this season?
Not since 2012 have print, radio and television types picked the winner of the division correctly at SEC Media Days. Twice during that stretch, in 2013 and again in 2015, the Bulldogs were the ones who came up short in the end. Fortunately for Smart and Co., the last time guys like me were right, we went with UGA, as well.
Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Do you need more talent for your defense to finally take the next step, or do the players you have simply need to perform better?
As the defensive coordinator at Florida State, Stoops operated the No. 4 defense nationally in 2011 and No. 2 in 2012. However, since becoming UK’s head coach in 2013, the Wildcats have finished 13th, 11th, 12th, and ninth among the 14 teams in the league. The ‘Cats will never match FSU for athletes, so Stoops must scheme his way to the top.
Ed Orgeron, LSU
Do you expect to be given a little more slack from Tigers fans since you’re one of them and they rallied around you so furiously?
Despite the fact that he’s largely been known as a defensive line coach, coupled with his complete and utter failure at the controls for Ole Miss, Orgeron was the people’s choice down on the bayou to take over for Les Miles on a full-time basis. But a familiar accent can only take him so far. He needs to win, and he needs to win big.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
If you could take your pick between harsher punishment sooner or lighter punishment later, which would you choose?
With potential NCAA sanctions hovering over the program like a dark cloud, the Rebels have been having a tough time on the recruiting trail. Freeze has all but admitted that the uncertainty is what’s been most difficult about this process. An actual decision, no matter what it is, would finally allow everyone to get on with their lives.
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
While asking Nick Fitzgerald to be Dak Prescott is unfair, how can you coach Fitzgerald up to be more like Prescott was?
The single most intriguing player in the SEC for 2017, Fitzgerald has bounced back and forth between ineffective and unstoppable. If Mullen can refine Fitzgerald’s dual-threat abilities, the Bulldogs could have a juggernaut on their hands. Prescott clearly improved on Mullen’s watch. A second such awakening might be too much to ask, though.
Barry Odom, Missouri
Are SEC fans ever going to fully accept Mizzou as a member like they have A&M, and is that important to you at all?
The Tigers won the East back to back just a year after moving over from the Big 12. The Aggies, conversely, haven’t made it to the conference title game yet and are long shots to get anywhere near it in 2017. But Mizzou still feels like an outsider at this point, while A&M seems to be part of the family already.
Will Muschamp, South Carolina
Are you comfortable coaching a team that seems to be so heavily slanted toward offense since you’re a defensive guy?
There’s a lot to like about the Gamecocks offensively this year. Jake Bentley at quarterback. Rico Dowdle at running back. Deebo Samuel at receiver. Hayden Hurst at tight end. If their protection holds up, the ‘Cocks could be downright explosive. What a change that would be for Muschamp. Just ask your run-of-the-mill Florida fan.
Butch Jones, Tennessee
Does it bother you that the internet has so much fun at your expense, or do you laugh right along with the masses?
First there was the “championship of life” quote. Then there was the “five-star hearts” comment. One of the league’s most notorious cliché machines, I’m yet to figure out if Jones actually believes all of his after-school-special drivel or just delivers these lines with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. He has quite the poker face.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
Did you know your own AD was going to put you on the hot seat like that, or were you just as surprised as the rest of us?
It’s one thing for your boss to call you into his office and say your job is on the line. It’s another to go on the Paul Finebaum Show and announce it to a live radio and television audience. But that’s what Aggies athletic director Scott Woodward did when he said Sumlin “has to win this year.” Good luck with that, Coach.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Is there a harder guy to replace in the SEC on D than Zach Cunningham, and how exactly do you plan on doing it?
While he may not have been voted Defensive Player of the Year in 2016, Cunningham was arguably more valuable than any defender in the SEC. Not only did he lead the Commodores in tackles, but he paced the entire league by a wide margin. Guys like that don’t grow on trees, especially at academics-first institutions like Vandy.