SEC Media Days: Tuesday July 27, 2004

Coaches and players from Auburn, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Florida met with the media Tuesday to discuss on the field expectations for each of their teams and many off-the-field activities currently going on.


NCAA rule violation policy.
"Coach Broyles has always had the policy that if we suspect someone of a violation, we were told to always turn them in."

His opinion about Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer not coming to SEC Media Days.
"I don't know what all is involved in it. I don't know all the details. I'm just finding out about them. Before I can comment on it, I would have to know all the details."

Biggest concern about his team.
"My biggest concern is the secondary. We lost six seniors and two juniors, so that left a big hole. The second concern is our offensive line. We lost our entire offensive line and our tight end. Those will be big, big shoes to fill."

Optimistic about.
"I'm optimistic about Matt Jones returning as our quarterback. He has really done a great job with leadership. We will have a very, very good group of tailbacks. I think our receivers are going to be faster. I'm optimistic that we will have nine seniors who have done an unbelievable job leading our team. We know we will be a good team."

What will your team have to do to exceed the low expectations?
"We will have to stay healthy. That is number one. We also have to continue winning the turnover margin. We've done a great job of taking care of the football and creating turnovers."

New recruiting rules.
"I like some of them, but I don't like some of them. I understand feeding someone lobster, caviar or something extreme like that. That is so ridiculous. But, don't take away our plane that we use to go get guys on Friday night in east Texas, Louisiana, southern Alabama so that we'll have a decent 48 hours with the kids. Those planes are so valuable to get them to our school campus. If they do take away our planes, you will see more guys missing school because they'll have to arrive on Saturday and won't leave until sometime Monday. Our Razorback Belles, who host the kids, are good ambassadors. Rules like that really bother me because they gain so much and we gain so much."

Motivation from USA troops.
"Sometimes I don't think our seventeen and eighteen year old kids know how fortunate they really are. I had a couple of guys who complained about their hard mattresses and it really upset me because I had just seen an internet picture of our troops sleeping in a hole with goggles on. Their mattress was a dirt hole. I really tried to make a point that while they are complaining about their mattresses, the troops are protecting our country so that they could be free and all they had for a mattress was a dirt hole."

Texas and Arkansas rivalry.
"That is one thing our fans will never let go. Coach Broyles and Coach Royal started that tradition. When Arkansas plays Texas it's an unbelievable week. It will be a packed house when they come to Arkansas this year."


This year's expectations.
"With one more year of experience, we definitely have a chance to improve this year. This year, we want to establish the run better and have a better passing efficiency."

Playing at Tennessee.
"That place is huge. It's almost like a mountain. You have 110,000 screaming fans and it's orange everywhere. It is definitely intimidating but it's going to be fun. There's something about being hated that brings the best out of you."

Best memory from last season.
"Beating Georgia with that field goal was definitely up there. Everybody counted us out against LSU and we beat them. But I guess, if I had to choose my best memory, it was after the Ole Miss game when the seniors called a meeting and everybody showed up and we had a heart to heart talk. Sometimes you lose focus about football. It's not about the NFL or anything else like that. It's about your teammate next to you."

Why do you do so much volunteer work in the community?
"It's about helping people and taking advantage of who you are. I enjoy it because you can give back to the community. The kids' eyes light up when they see a football player. They don't care if you won or lost. All they see is a big football player who comes to see them. I did something called Learning to Read, or something like that for a radio station and received 120 letters from all the kids that were there. It's fun to do something like that."


Are you concern about the criminal charges that have recently occurred with student/athletes across the conference?
"We are all concerned about it. The question is what do we do about it? I think one of the things we need to do is when our students are brought to our campuses they are treated like student/athletes and not celebrities. It is sometimes difficult at a young age, when you are treated like a celebrity, to believe that all the rules apply to you. We have an obligation to turn that around. There is no easy answer to that problem."

Freshman financial aid prior to their initial enrollment to be allowed next summer.
"A very important part of the academic reform program will permit our institutions to provide athletic financial aid to our student/athletes during the summer prior to their initial enrollment. Up until now, that has only been available to our basketball players. Now it will be available to all of our athletes from all the sports beginning in May of next year."

Your opinion of the new recruiting rules.
"There are some parts that we don't like. We have a lot of our institutions that are concerned about the use of private airplane used in certain instances. We would have liked to have seen waivers allowed in certain instances, but they are not there. One piece of legislation that I think is very important - and I hope it will pass - is the right of our institutions to provide expenses for a parent or guardian to come to our campuses with the prospect."

Do you understand why Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer has decided not to come to the SEC Media Days?
"I understand that Coach Fulmer had to weigh all the advice and make a decision. I can't put myself in his shoes."

Did you try to encourage him to come to the media days? And is there any dialog currently going on?
"We wanted all of our coaches here. We indicated to him that we wanted him here. Clearly we are disappointed that Coach Fulmer won't be here. But at this point, I think we just need to move on."

When you mentioned last year at the SEC Media Days that you wanted to have an African-American as a head football coach at an SEC school, did you expect it to happen so fast?
"I had an ESPN reporter interview me about that. I told him that it would happen during my tenure. He asked me how I knew that. And I said it will. He asked me again and I said it will. And he asked me again and I said that it will. I really believed that it would. And I'm very happy that it did for a lot of reasons."

Talk about your initial impressions of Coach Croom.
"He was in our new coaches orientation yesterday with his entire staff. I also spent a little time with him in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. It was a long day. He is everything that you have read about him. He is a distinguished, thoughtful and soft spoken individual. We are delighted that he is in the league."

SEC athletes in the 2004 Olympics.
"120 former and current SEC athletes will be competing in Greece next month."


Players on campus this summer.
"We've had all of our players on campus this year. For the first time, we had almost all of our true freshmen on campus working out for at least a month while going to school. That will help us get a few of these young guys on the field instead of redshirting them. Next year's rule of being able to pay freshmen's way during the summer will really help a lot of the freshmen play their first year."

What did you learn this offseason about an administration that basically tried to stab you in the back? (Former Auburn president William Walker and former Auburn athletic director David Housel talked to Louisville football coach about taking over as head football coach at Auburn without telling the Louisville administration of their intent.-Gene)
"This was not the voice of the Auburn people. It was a tough situation but I've learned from the people that stood behind us. I had 1,000's of phone calls, emails and letters. They believe in what we were doing. You never want to be somewhere where you aren't wanted. It showed by the amount of support that we had that the people want us to be at Auburn. I have been honest with the people as we've been building this program. We did it solid from the ground up. We didn't take any shortcuts but did it the right way."

Does Nick Saban winning the national championship put more pressure on the other coaches in the SEC?
"When you win a national championship and you play in the SEC, you have earned it because of how tough the league is. LSU earned the national championship. Nobody gave it to them. They won it after losing a home game. I've been on three national championship teams and I know it is difficult to play in the national championship game after losing a home game. But because of their strength of schedule, how they won games and the improvement they showed through the year showed how good they were. Tennessee, Florida and LSU have won it. It's safe to say that most of the people in our league would have an opportunity given the right circumstances and the right schedule to win the championship."

What has been the most impressive thing about LSU since Nick Saban has gotten there?
"Recruiting. We have followed Nick and he has followed us. He has done a good job of keeping his in-state players home. He has done a good job with the high school players in his state of keeping their players home and having them play for their state school. Nick is a good coach and he places everything around his defense. They were probably better offensively when he first got there, but as you have watched his teams grow, he has caught his defense up with his offense. The front four that they had last year was about as good as you will see anywhere."

Address the SEC decision to have schools report NCAA violations to the league office.
"That has basically been the rule all along. We've just never had those guidelines set down and given to us by the presidents. But it's not going to work unless we all do it. You can put in all the reforms you want but you have to follow them and believe in each other. This is kind of a big family in the SEC. I can remember years ago when the coaches were so close from team to team. Auburn and Alabama coaches used to go play golf together. But there's not that camaraderie now. Hopefully, this will bring back some of those relationships."

Why do you think the camaraderie is not like it used to be?
"Recruiting is so important. There is even more pressure on the assistant coaches in recruiting. Head coaches used to do more of the recruiting but you have to be more widespread in recruiting. The pool of players is not as big because of academics, so you have to be more spread out. That causes you to not have those relationships that you used to have."

Do you think the NCAA's new recruiting changes will be approved next week?
"After talking to Sapp and Foley, who are on the committee, most of these are going to be approved. Normally, it takes 2 or 3 years to pass NCAA legislation but this only took 4 or 5 months. I'm all for it if it is for the good of the player. But since 9-11, the airports are more congestive and that is not a good situation to put a 17 or 18 year old in, especially since you can't have a coach there to meet him."


What did Eli Manning mean to the Ole Miss offense last year and what do you expect from them with an untested quarterback?
"I don't know what to expect from them this year, but Eli meant a lot to them. He was the number 1 choice in the NFL draft. I really don't know what to expect from Ole Miss this year. Truthfully, I'm not too concerned because all I want to do is go play football."

Who is the best offensive tackle that you have gone up against in this league?
"There are a lot of good guys in this league. I wouldn't want to say one is better than the others."

Was helping Vanderbilt turn their program around the main reason you chose them?
"That was one of the reasons that I came to Vanderbilt. One of my biggest goals is to help this program win. I could have gone anywhere else but I chose Vanderbilt."

Who did you say no to?
"Miami, Michigan State, Marshall and Auburn."

Do you have any regrets?
"No, no regrets at all. The reason I came here is because I thought it would be a bigger story to win at Vanderbilt than anywhere else."


Is there anything that makes you nervous on the field?
"Not really. It's just a game. There's nothing to get nervous about."

What about off the field?
"The thing that makes me the most nervous is if I have to go speak. I don't usually do much speaking. That's probably my least favorite thing to do."

Did you get any sleep last night?
"I slept like a baby."

What do you expect from this year's Arkansas team?
"I don't see us doing anything less than making it to a bowl game. Every year that I have been here we have made it to a bowl game."

Does the media make too much out of so few players returning?
"I really think you do but you have to find something to make a deal out of. I guess that's what it is this year."

There was a rumor going around Arkansas that you injured your knee playing FCA basketball this summer. Was there anything to that?
"I don't know where people get that stuff. It wasn't true."

Are you a football player or a basketball player?
"I like basketball better but I believe God blessed me with more athletic ability to play football."


Jovan Haye
"His story is one of those great stories. He started playing football in the 11th grade. Then, he redshirted his first year at Vanderbilt. He has made tremendous strides while in our system. It is fun to see a player like that mature."

What is the biggest difference in D-IAA and D-IA football? (Coach Johnson coached at Furman, a D-IAA school prior to coming to Vanderbilt.-Gene)
"Number one is you have 85 scholarships in 1A and 63 in IAA. When you have an opportunity to bring in that many more quality players that is a tremendous advantage. As far as the quality of players, probably the number of big, fast linemen that you have is the biggest difference in 1A and 1AA football."


Your expectations for the upcoming season.
"We are excited. We want to go to a bowl game. We have a lot of guys coming back. We have a lot of depth and experience."


How would you rank Wisconsin, the team you played in the bowl game, to the typical SEC team?
"You really can't compare them. The SEC teams are fun and gun sometimes and sometimes they pound the football. Wisconsin was a finesse team. They tried to do trick plays because we had a lot of speed. They were trying to get us out of position."

How did you finally convince Coach Tuberville to bring you over to media day?
"I like talking to the media and having fun with y'all. I like to kick it with y'all."

How long did it take for you to get your outfit ready to come over here?
"This is not anything. This is just a little something. Coach Tuberville said y'all weren't ready for the suit I was going to wear, so I didn't wear it."

Besides Alabama, who has become Alabama's biggest rival?
"I would say Georgia, then LSU."

Which of last year's two national championship team was better, LSU or Southern Cal?
"To me, both of them were good teams. I would say USC because they don't make that many mistakes on defense. LSU's defense kind of makes a few mistakes, but they have so much speed that make up for their mistakes."


Which team is better, this year's or last year's Florida team?
"I don't think there is any question that we are a better football team now than we were a year ago. It was exciting to go through the spring. For the first time, we had a quarterback go through our season and the spring."

Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by ( website, the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders sports network. You can contact him by email at

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