Media Days: Nutt, Richt, Saban & Holtz

Houston Nutt of Arkansas led off for the SEC coaches at Media Days in Birmingham, followed in turn by Georgia's Mark Richt, LSU's Nick Saban and the venerable Lou Holtz of South Carolina. Not much exciting was said--even the famously funny Holtz only got off a few good lines--but the kickoff at the annual media event was a clear sign that college football, SEC style, has officially begun.

Notes and Quotes: HOUSTON NUTT, Arkansas

Last season we started out 3-0 and had just beat Alabama in front of 72 million people on TV. Then the next day my trainer told me I needed to sit down. We had lost five difference makers in the ball game. Then we were beaten by a terrible score in Knoxville and the team faced a losing season. We had to convince those 19-20 year olds to put their helmets back on. Then we finished and ended up back in a bowl.

It's bot a good feeling to go to an intramural field in middle of the season looking for a quarterback. We were reduced to asking our players ‘Did you play quarterback in high school?'

(Starting quarterback) Robby Hampton is still mending from off-season rotator cuff surgery. He won't likely be 100 percent by two-a-days. (The backup) Zac Clark improved. We just want to keep our quarterbacks on the field.

Concerns? We want to have not near as many injuries. If we can stay on the field, we feel we've got a chance. The SEC is the toughest conference in America. The middle of D-Line is inexperienced. We need to keep our O-Line healthy. There are no stars in the receiving corp. We've got numbers, but no stars.

Arkansas' newly renovated stadium will debut when Tennessee comes to town. Nutt expects it to really help in recruiting.

I don't think you can just hand off the football100 times---despite our talent at TB. You've got to have balance. If we can keep our QBs healthy, then have chance. Last year we felt like we had one hand tied behind our back. We had to keep games close. Snap the ball right at 24 seconds and get to fourth quarter.

We've gotten used to the darkhouse role. That's not most important poll.

Cedric Cobb (starting tailback) is not protecting his shoulder. It's 100 percent. And he's getting competition at tailback from Fred Talley & Brandon Holmes.

The SEC is absolutely at a disadvantage in the BCS. It's the toughest league in America. Yes, all the coaches in the other conferences say the same thing. But till you go to Baton Rouge & Tuscaloosa & Knoxville. These are real schools; this is a real football league.

We're not going to ever cheat. We're not going to ever buy a 17-18 year old. Sometimes you may have secondary violations. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about outright cheating to gain an advantage to win. We're not going to do that.

Talking to Fulmer & Tuberville at the coaches convention, if anyone sees my assistant, pick up the phone to call me. I'll talk to the assistant and investigate. Maybe it's been a lack of communication. If I feel like something is not being done the right way, I'll call that coach. Coach, we heard or we saw something and we don't think it's right. Can you help us?

Probation tears down school. It hurts recruiting. Depending on how severe, it can be terrible to a program. It ruins you; you get a bad reputation. It's not fun trying to explain to parents. We want to do it the right way.

Notes and Quotes: NICK SABAN, Louisiana State University

We're being picked high, but last year we were picked last and we wound up second. So picks aren't so important.

Last year we had five wins where we didn't put the team away until the very end. The really good teams have the ability to dominate games. We proved we can play 60 minutes, but we need to be able to put teams away. This year people are more aware of LSU. We certainly didn't dominate Tennessee, Mississippi State or Alabama.

Skill players on offense and defense are the strength of our team. Concerns? The offensive line and improving our kicking.

Rohan Davey (starting QB) has tremendous respect from teammates. The team identifies him as a great leader. He needs to improve his durability and consistency. Last season coming off knee injury, he couldn't condition.

Do the SEC teams have difficulty getting into the BCS? In the NFL a team wins its division going 10-6. You're not going to get into the BCS with that winning percentage. But the opposite is also true. If you make it through a season undefeated, then you certainly deserve to be included.

Saban thinks two-a-days in the fall are the most dangerous thing college teams do. It's an antiquated system of practice. LSU cannot practice twice a day in Louisiana in pads. Any type exertion done when it's this hot, you're at risk to have a problem.

Regarding the outsized expectations of fans, he doesn't know that fans are that patient anywhere. How many staffs got fired after winning seasons and going to a bowl game? Georgia, Ohio State, Arizona State--all went to bowls and got fired. Even Alabama to an extent. Alabama won the championship the previous year.

Saban doesn't think that football is nearly as big in the Midwest as in the South. The South definitely has more skill players and better speed, which affects the style of play to some degree. Football is just really important in this part of the country--less important in the Midwest. Kids get reinforced at an early age for playing football. The passion for high school football in this part of the country has a positive effect at college.

(What about programs being investigated by the NCAA?) Anytime you have people investigated, it brings embarrassment. But there is greater scrutiny based on what I do, at LSU than there was at Michigan State. Many things we did all the time up there weren't considered NCAA violations, yet they're checked on here. (The compliance people at LSU and the conference office are the ones he was talking about) I respect that. We don't want to do anything illegal or wrong. The Big 10 is held in high esteem relative to academics, etc. But the South is careful as well. I don't think that our league is doing anything to allow these things to happen.

Until everyone sees the outcome of the present investigations, no one knows what has occurred. So it's premature to criticize anyone.

Saban finished with this gem of a question (obviously asked by a Birmingham reporter) With Coach Brown continuing to build his program, would you schedule him again? Certainly. Do you think we're scared? I mean we lost a game, but…

Notes and Quotes: MARK RICHT, Georgia

It's been a long-time dream to be head coach at a place like Georgia. A lot has happened good and bad, but my expectations have been exceeded. I believe we've got the resources to get it done. And the talent base to get it done. Georgia has all those things.

On a scale of 1-10 with Florida State being a ten, our talent level is about a six or seven, because of depth mainly. (Georgia athletics director and former coach Vince Dooley) advised me to say four.

We'll expect to win every game. But I can only predict that we'll play hard and be disciplined. You can't go faster than QB can go. (Richt wouldn't say who his starting QB would be) Maybe true freshman, D.J. Shockley.

I know there is a difference between the ACC and the SEC. But to say more I'd like to go through a season before speaking definitively. I do know that a difference in the size of stadiums and the number of people in them makes a difference.

Concerns? Depth on the offensive and defensive line. Can we stay healthy? (Richt worries about injuries during two-a-days) You can't improve on fundamentals without blocking and tackling.

(When asked about previous chances to become a head coach) I had opportunities in past, but I won't name schools. Every time before I knew in my heart I wouldn't want to go. I didn't want to talk unless I was serious about going. The Georgia job was the first time I ever asked Coach (Bobby) Bowden to make a call. And I had other coaching friends call Coach Dooley. This was the first job I have gone after.

(Richt declined to criticize previous head coach Jim Donnan) I will say that I didn't think Georgia had reached it's full potential. Georgia fans are passionate about their team. When you're not successful, you get criticized. (Richt had heard of the rumors of bad feelings between the UGA president and Dooley) I know President Adams and Coach Dooley want to win right away. I heard those rumors, but I didn't feel they were worth not taking the opportunity.

Dave Van hallinger, our strength coach, worked the scheduling so that players can work out together. I think we've created as much momentum as we can without playing a game.

(As a new head coach) I'm a little in awe of how many people wanted ten minutes of my time. Administration, players, booster clubs. You have to get schedule and say ‘I'm booked.'

All our fans have got just one team they want us to beat. In Savannah, it's South Carolina When we're in Columbus, we hear Auburn. In Atlanta it's Georgia Tech. And in Valdosta they talk about Florida.

Rodney Garner (Georgia's recruiting coordinator and a holdover from the previous staff) single-handedly held our class together. He organized where assistants went even before we had recruiting areas.

(Would his experience at Florida State and having beaten Florida give him an advantage?) Being familiar is an advantage, but we've got to get it done. Spurrier is outstanding. Audacious. He has the confidence to do about anything or try anything. If he's in trouble, he'll come out swinging real hard. Success versus Florida might have played role (in his getting the job at Georgia).

Notes and Quotes: LOU HOLTZ, South Carolina

Derek Watson (starting tailback suspended from the team) has done everything we asked. He's done all of it---one more thing to do. After he finishes, university officials will make the final decision later. Then I'll make the decision. But right now he's done all we asked.

This year we won't sneak up on anybody, but neither will other teams with as much confidence against us either. They'll be pointing towards us, but they won't be as loose and relaxed either.

Last year we put the ball on the ground more than during a soccer match.

(Coach, your third year at Notre Dame you won a national title. This is your third year at South Carolina. Can history repeat?) Yeah, I definitely think Notre Dame can win a national championship.

Last season we were ahead 21-3 versus Florida, and our players looked around and said ‘This isn't supposed to be happening.' And they then quickly rectified the situation.

Phil Petty is the most underrated QB in the SEC.

My first two years nobody took notes when I spoke. To get to a championship, we've got to learn to be competitive. Learn how to win. Learn handle winning. Can we handle success? That last step will take us to championship level.

I'm scared to death of Boise State (SC's first game). They're a really good team.

Shaun Alexander has worked with Derek Watson, and I'm very impressed. I can see why Alabama won when he was there. The two were roommates at camp together for a week.

No. I don't want to play Notre Dame. I really have tried to get Central Connecticut on our schedule. You like to play schools with tradition, but in this conference our schedule is tough enough. I don't want any part of Notre Dame. Good Lord , no.

I've had dogs named after me--and cats. But this year was the first time I've ever had a baby named after me. ‘Holtz.' Good looking baby, too.

(On South Carolina's field goal problems last season) What we should have done is when they tore the goal post down, just not put them back up. Just tell the official ‘I remember where it was, and I'll let you know when it goes through.'

At one time the SEC didn't have good reputation for honesty, but now with the league office they are. When a team goes on probation, they always have good players. You never go on probation with bad players. You try and make sure you're doing it right, and that's difficult to do with alums. We self-reported a couple of violations from alums (last year) that we didn't know anything about.

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