SEC Media Days headlined by No-Show

For years the annual SEC Media Days were highlighted by one coach, usually Steve Spurrier stealing center stage with his personality or outspoken comments. This year, the SEC set a new record - a record LOW that is - when it comes to major stories. The biggest story for almost 1,000 assembled media types was the absence of Tennessee Coach Phil Fulmer.

The dean of SEC coaches apparently does not believe in the credo "don't do the crime if you can't do the time." No, I'm not suggesting Fulmer did anything illegal, but when he injected himself into allegations against the Alabama program he asked for the repercussions that have followed. The Vols decided to spend $10,000 bucks rather than subject Fulmer to a possible subpoena in one of the four court cases he is now mentioned in. So instead, virtually every newspaper and television station in the southeast shows a visual image of a speakerphone to symbolize Fulmer's non-appearance in Birmingham.

Ironically in the midst of all this, the SEC releases a report regarding the proper process for reporting/handling alleged rules violations. Curiously, none of the recommendations included Fulmer's preferred method of bringing recruiting analysts into your office and quizzing them about rumors involving other schools, recording the conversation without that individual's knowledge and turning the tapes over directly to NCAA investigators.

Fulmer might be able to dodge the subpoenas by staying out of the state of Alabama this fall since both Auburn and ‘Bama visit Knoxville, but how does he avoid entering the state for recruiting? Tennessee has traditionally signed players from the state regularly, including probable starters this year Jason Swain (WR) and Jason Allen (CB). Some coaches might be able to sneak in and out of a state for a visit, but Fulmer is not a stealth candidate.


THE MOST IMPORTANT STORY IN B'HAM

Of course the most important real story was that this was the "coming out" party of sorts for Mississippi State Coach Sylvester Croom. The first black Head Football Coach in SEC history downplays that status every chance he gets, but that's absurd. The league has an embarrassing record of minority hiring and to wait until 2004 to hire a black football coach is a disgrace.

The good news is they have a very good man. Croom is all about discipline, class attendance and integrity. It is why so many were dismayed when Croom lost out to Mike Shula for the ‘Bama job the previous year. He will open some doors recruiting-wise and I suspect his teams will play very hard.

The bad news? He has to try and succeed at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have gone 8-and-27 the past three years. They have had just four seasons of nine-plus wins in their 104 seasons of competition. And they have one SEC title to their credit, a title they clinched eight days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Still, I'll be rooting for Croom to succeed, except on October 23rd that is. And many coaches waiting for their chance will be rooting for him too.


Nationwide attention is always paid to the media's predicted order of finish, which is amusing. About 10 percent of those who attend bother to take part in the voting. This year, someone actually picked South Carolina to win it all (Ricky William had a vote?). Another "media" type picked Ole Miss. I'm guessing it was the same guy wandering the area passing out "Save Colonel Reb" bumper stickers.


The Gators did not get a lot of love from the media or coaches All-Conference teams. The coaches had no Gators on the first-team offense. Mike Degory was a second teamer while Chris Leak, O.J. Small and Ciatrick Fason got third team nods. Defensively it wasn't any better with Channing Crowder on the first team and Earl Everett a third-teamer.

Frankly, I don't dispute any of those predictions, but I have one Gator on each side of the ball who I believe will, if healthy, earn at least one significant All-SEC first-team honor at the end of the year.

On offense, it's Dallas Baker who simply must be a force for this offense to break out. He has the tools and desire, and with the absence of Ben Troupe the opportunity to become target # 1 in the Florida passing game.

Defensively, I'm going with Marcus Thomas. True freshmen don't produce the way Thomas did last year. He was # 2 among Gator DT in tackles and was in on 25 tackles the last four games. He is going to be a star, and sooner than most expect.


Most Gainesville media guys flew to Birmingham, which I don't understand. Driving (425 miles or so each way) gives you more control, saves money and lets you see the sights. Among the interesting observations between Montgomery, Alabama and Marianna Florida:

In Dothan, a peanut statue, decked out in black-and-white "cow pattern" pants and a cowboy hat. Between Dothan and Montgomery at least five miles away from any other establishment was a BBQ restaurant proudly proclaiming to beat "the best in town." No kidding?

But my favorite was actually a business in Florida between I-10 and Alabama that read as follows:

EMMA'S BBQ
Beauty Supplies &
Car Wash

All in one business!

That's why I like to drive.
See you next week



After nearly two years off the radio, Larry Vettel is back with a new show, Sunday evenings from 6-8 p.m. on WSKY-FM, 97.3. The show is not available on-line, but you can call-in toll free 877/975-9825. Larry's columns appear on Gator Country twice a week.

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