SEC Media Days: Spread vs. Pro-Style

HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC Media Days signals the start of the football season to many, and it finally felt that way Wednesday at the Wynfrey Hotel. Talks of off the field incidents and players in trouble finally came to an end.

Spread Offense and Pro Style Offense Debates: Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen wouldn't let his press conference go quietly. He has heard the questions about whether or not his offense produces players for the NFL since he roamed the sidelines as an assistant coach under Urban Meyer at Utah.

Wednesday was no different.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban raised some questions about the spread offense translating to the NFL. The main concern Saban sees from NFL teams is the lack of ability to evaluate players in the spread offense.

"I do think it's more difficult for the people in the NFL, which is really not our issue as college coaches, to sometimes evaluate players," Saban said. "A left tackle that never gets in a three-point stance, a quarterback who never takes a snap from under center, a runner that never gets the ball with his shoulders pointed down parallel to the line of scrimmage. Some of those things are evaluation issues, which it's the player's choice when he chooses that, where he wants to go to college, the style of offense or defense he wants to play."

Mullen wasn't pleased with Saban's analysis. He provided a few facts that prove the spread offense, whether at Florida, Mississippi State or anywhere else that uses it, is producing players to the next level.

"I don't know his personal record," Mullen said. "I've coached the spread offense, and I have a lot more first-round quarterbacks drafted than he has in his career as a head coach. Develop them for the NFL, I don't know. In the last six years, I've had two of mine get drafted in the first round."

Besides Alex Smith and Tim Tebow at the quarterback position, Mullen made sure to point out he coached the NFL Rookie of the Year in Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. Regardless of the position, the offense has produced successful NFL players.

"I think it does develop those players pretty well to get there," Mullen said. "Amazing, one was a five star recruit and one was a one star recruit. When you develop players as a coach, you develop players. One came to me, I guess, somebody in here probably rated him a five star, a superstar player. Somebody rated him as a one star. When I got him, I must have done a great job of coaching him to be a first pick in the draft."

No Depression Over Kiffin's Departure: Wednesday afternoon got off to an entertaining start when SEC commissioner Mike Slive came out with a few jabs. Former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin caused Slive multiple headaches in only his one season. The sigh of relief from Slive's office when Kiffin decided to take the head-coaching job at USC may have been audible all over the Southeast, but it was noticeable on the stage Wednesday afternoon when Slive was welcoming the new head coaches to the conference.

"The other head coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley's predecessor left to return to his western roots," Slive said with a smirk that drew laughter from the media. "I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC. And when I say 'welcome,' I mean welcome."

Meyer was asked his reaction to USC and Lane Kiffin being put on probation, and he smiled and said "no comment." It would have been pretty difficult to miss the joy on his face though.

Alabama Focused on Future: When Nick Saban took the podium at the Wynfrey Hotel Wednesday afternoon, he wanted to make one thing clear. His focus, and the focus of his football team, is on what begins August 5 when the Crimson Tide start practice. The national championship Alabama won last season has been put to rest.

"Is it 2010?" Saban said soon after stepping to the podium. "Am I right about that? Because everything I hear is about last year. I want to make sure that we're going to talk about this year. Last year was a great year of Alabama tradition and an indelible part of Alabama history."

Despite everything last year gave the Alabama program, it's also over. Saban has harped all offseason about it being impossible to defend a championship. The logic is sound. There is nothing that can happen in 2010 to take last season's national championship away, and it is cemented in history.

"Everyone asked the Yankees if it would be more difficult to repeat this year in the World Series than a year ago, and all 25 guys said ‘yes, absolutely,'" Saban said. "No one really can answer ‘why?' It's more difficult to focus on the process of what it takes to be successful than coming off and having success. That's going to be the challenge for our team."

Saban likes the focus and energy of his team through the offseason, but there is only so much he can take from it. Alabama lost eleven starters, their punter and kicker, as well as their All-SEC return specialist.

"We had a good offseason, good spring practice and good summer conditioning program, but I think a lot is going to be answered about this team in this fall camp," Saban said.

Even though the NFL and graduation ravaged the Alabama defense, they have recruited well enough to overcome the losses. Inexperience will be the issue they face. Along with that comes a level of chemistry that is difficult to match from a national championship team.

"I watched a cooking show the other day," Saban said. "I put all the same ingredients in my pot as he put in his, and what came out of the oven wasn't the same as what came out of his oven. Even if we had all the same ingredients back, it would be difficult to manufacture the same kind of team chemistry. That's one of the great things about college football. There's always a lot of new opportunity for new people."

Reflections of a Mentor: What came out of Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen's mouth Wednesday sounded an awful lot like Florida head coach Urban Meyer. There were references to Ole Miss as "the school up north," just as Meyer donned Florida State as "the school out west." The goals for the program were even the same. Meyer always proclaims the goal for every season as winning the SEC East because that is all his players can control. For Mullen, the goal is to win the SEC West.

Mullen is also creating the family environment Meyer strives to create. It's this philosophy that allows Mullen to sell parents on the idea of their child being taken care of in college.

"I know as a parent right now, you see your son out there doing something, you want to be a good parent," Mullen said. "You hope that you do a good job of keeping your son safe. I've promised these parents that I'm going to look after their sons while they're in our football program. Maybe that is the one thing that is overwhelming, that feeling of obligations for all 85 of your children. You go to bed at night, a lot of people go to bed at night saying, I hope my son is safe. I go to bed, I have 85 of them that are not at home that I hope are out there safe."

Social Media Implications on Football: The emergence of Twitter and Facebook in society now has them seeping into college football. Head and assistant coaches are beginning to use it as a means to communicate with players and recruits, while also keeping fans in the loop of the program.

For Mississippi State, it's being used for something different. Mullen confirmed that his staff looks at the Facebook profiles for as many recruits as possible to analyze what they are writing on their pages. If it is something that they don't want in their program, Mississppi State stops recruiting them, as Mullen said they have done before.

"You can learn a lot about a person when you get on their Facebook page," Mullen said. "I can tell you this. We certainly have crossed a recruit off our board because of the different things I've seen them post on Facebook. That's not the type of character player, the type of person we're looking for with what they're doing in their social life and what we're looking for in our program."

SEC Media Days will continue on Thursday when Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt attend.
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