New SEC Commissioner Mike Slive:
"I've known Mike Slive for a long time. He is a very intelligent person and is a very good person. He is a tireless worker and he will be successful leading this conference. The toughest thing about Commissioner Slive's job is dealing with issues in-house and the league's image."
Concerning the NCAA:
"I'm not going to jump off a 50' cliff because somebody is coming in to talk to our players. I know what I've done and how I have conducted myself and how we operate. I cannot speak for everybody else. If there are any issues, we will correct them, deal with them, and put checks and balances in and move on.
"I remember when I spoke at the Selma Quarterback Club when Auburn was going through some of their issues. I said to the Alabama fans, 'do not put your chest out because when you throw mud some of that mud is going to stay with you'. That is probably the biggest thing going on in this league. We have a lot of people throwing a lot of mud. And it is going to stay on (those who throw it). I have always believed the people who point the fingers the most are the ones who have the most to hide.
"They are going to play football at Alabama, Kentucky, LSU, Arkansas and Tennessee this fall in front of packed houses." [All of these teams are on probation or are having one problem or another at the moment.-Gene]
The demise of the Southwest Conference:
"What happened to the Southwest Conference wasn't necessarily the financial side. It was when the fans themselves started going after each other. I'm talking about hiring private eyes.
"That is one thing Commissioner Kramer and Jim McCullough have done a great job at over the years; to make sure the people inside (the SEC Conference) understand that they will be punished, they will be dealt with. But also that the institutions and coaches that go public will be reprimanded."
"If you look at our academics in this league and compare them to the PAC-10 and Big Ten, we are probably a lot better. Michigan is a minus 40% below their graduation rate. When people talk about graduation rates, that doesn't mean anything. What really means something is where you are compared to your student body. If our student body is graduating at 84% and our football team is only graduating at 70%, that means we are 14% below the student body. If your football team is graduating higher than your student body, then you are doing a good job."
"I tell our coaches when they came back in and say we lost this kid for this reason. I said no, you got outworked."
"You guys can get into any internet (webpage) today. There is an awful lot on the internet where you are not held accountable. It will not be long before there are statues and laws where you are held liable just like you would be if you said it in the press or public."
"The pressure they face is ungodly. There are 24 hours in a day. Let's say you take 8 to sleep. Now, you have 16 left. You are going to be in class 4 or 5 hours. You should study the same. Then you are going to be moving around, eating, going to meeting. Then you have four hours dealing with football. There is no time left. The average student has 35 to 55 more hours per week to study than football players.
"Then it is the same thing in the summer. It is a job 12 months a year. The good thing is they want to do it, they don't have to do it."
The cowbell issue:
"I have been egging the cowbell issue for a long time. The point with the cowbell is you treat everbody the same. The cowbells have not won or lost a game. Just like Lou Holtz said, they didn't win or lose a game. The issue was treating everybody the same."
Our football team:
"Everytime we have been here and been picked low, we've finished high. Everytime we have been here and been picked high, we have finished low.
"Everybody asked about last year's football team. We were supposed to be good. Yes, that is true. I did a poor job with our seniors, getting them prepared and understanding the role as a senior on the football team and senior leadership, especially in the face of adversity. If we had done a better job, I really feel we would have won 5 more games. We had 1 game that we would have not won regardless of what happens no matter how many times that we had played. Two years ago, playing in Starkville, when we beat Florida 45 to 37, Steve (Spurrier) remembered that very, very well. He went back and put the score in the locker room, on the field, around the field. When we played last year, his players remembered that a lot better than we did. They played very, very well.
"The best thing about our football team last year is they did not quit. They kept on fighting. At the end of the year, we were a good, competitive football team. At the end of the year, Kevin (Fant) averaged over 300 yards a game passing. We averaged 37 points a game. We averaged 481 yards per game. Kevin was 34-49 for 69%. 70% of our production in the last half of the season is back. Justin Jenkins, just in the last two games, had 14 catches for 249 yards. 30 of our 34 receptions are by players that are coming back. Defensively, every position that we had on the stat board at the end of the year is back.
"I wish we could take back some things. We moved Mario (Haggan) to defensive end. That was probably a mistake. After we moved him back, he was averaging over 10 tackles per game and was a very good player.
"The question a lot of people are asking is why are we playing Oregon. There are a lot of reasons. Number one is the exposure. Two: We are going to be on national tv. Three: We are going to play Oregon at home next year on national tv again. And probably (because) I'm crazy, but that's another story.
"Our football team has a great mixture of young guys and older guys that are very good leaders. You are going to have an opportunity to talk to two of those guys, Kevin Fant and Mario Haggan.
"How do you describe quarterbacks? There are athletes that play quarterbacks. There are quarterbacks playing quarterbacks. And there are quarterbacks that are playing quarterback who are athletes. The best athlete that I have ever been around was Joe Namath. Joe Namath could outrun anybody on our team. We had kids who ran 4.4 back then. He could also play basketball, baseball, golf or whatever. I have never seen another athlete like Joe Namath. Kevin is a tough kid. This summer, I saw Kevin and I asked him how he got that farmer's tan? 'Were you on the golf course?' He said, 'no sir, I'm on a tractor'. That was his summer job, driving a tractor for the Experimental Station Department. That kind of tells you what he is made of and the toughness that he has.
"You will also talk to Mario. We moved him back to linebacker. Mario is a great, great leader. Two years ago when he played in the Independence Bowl, I asked if he minded me talking about his brother. He told me 'no, I can handle it'. Mark, his brother, started running with the wrong crowd and did some things, one in particular, that put him in Parchman (A Mississippi prison.-Gene). Mario didn't see him for two years because he didn't want to see him. He was mad at him. The first time he saw him, he looked at him and said, 'why did you embarrass and hurt our mother'. Mario will be one of the better players in this league.
"I like this football team. We are a faster team and have more skilled players. I'm talking depth at running backs, receivers, linebackers, defensive backs, and for the first time quarterbacks. The attitude of this team is very good. We had the best spring in the off-season. The senior leadership is very good.
"The concerns about this football team is certainly the depth at the defensive line. That was our problem last year. It is hard for a defensive lineman, especially in this league, to play 60 to 70 snaps a game. You have to give them some rest. We have five guys coming back. Three were in our leaders last year. But we have to develop some depth there. We made a mistake last year. We redshirted some players last year that could have helped us (in special teams). They were better athletes. That is one thing that we will not do that this year. Any player that can help us will be on the field, especially on our special teams. That gets first priority with all of our young guys, especially if they can play there.
"Our schedule is not easy, but everybody can get up here and say that. In this league, it is never very easy. Everybody has picked LSU and that is probably true because they have the most coming back. But you can't disregard Alabama. They have a lot of players. They also have a rallying point (of probation). You can also go back to Auburn when they had the rallying point (of probation) and they went 11 and 0. I look for Alabama to be very, very good."
QUESTIONS BY THE MEDIA AND ANSWERS BY COACH SHERRILL:
(Coach Sherrill) can you explain why it is so difficult for coaches to be long-tenured and coach for 20 to 25 years like they did not too long ago?
"It has changed. Same thing in this room. You are not going to see writers doing that either. Every profession the word is survival. We are in a survival world."
Are you going to post the Troy State score from last year before this year's game?
"No, I think it is embedded pretty deep. One thing that I have always remembered are the knots you put on my head."
Jackie, could you talk about your recruiting last year. Normally, you have between a half a dozen to a dozen junior college players, but I noticed this class only had one.
"It comes back to needs. That goes back to the class we recruited with JJ (Johnson), Randy Thomas, Kevin Prentiss and Kelvin Love. That was our need. Last year, we brought some (junior college) players in because we needed defensive backs and defensive line.
"I try to keep our football team equal all the way across; approximately 20 in every class. Right now, we have 22 seniors and 20 juniors. We have very few sophomores because we redshirted some players. We will have 37 freshman. And that includes the redshirt freshmen as well."
Joe Lee (Dunn) said that he will have (TJ) Mawhinny and Mario (Haggan) in the game at the same time. Does that mean you will have two inside linebackers?
"Yes, they will be in the game at the same time."
You have lasted three years longer than any other (football) coach at Mississippi State. Given that school's history over the years, did you ever imagine that when you took the job?
"I don't think any of us can look down the road in this profession. I made the decision that that was my last rodeo and it is. The pasture is not greener on the other side. I look back on my career and if I had stayed at a couple of places, could I have said that we could have won the national championship, yes. Is coaching at Mississippi State tougher than Florida? Yes. Is it tougher than Tennessee? Yes. It is tougher than Alabama? Yes. But that is ok. No one made me take the job. No one is making me stay. That is (also) the good thing about the players who come (to MSU). They want to come."
How do you feel about the 12th game?
"We are going to have it and we are going to keep it. We are going to keep it for one reason; to try and generate revenue."
How much will losing Derrick Thompson hurt the depth on the offensive line?
"We felt very good after spring practice. I also think we have two young guys (James Redmond and Richard Burch) coming in who will give us some depth. There are some other players like Michael Allen who came in last year (at) 360+. He is now down to 335 to 340. Our kids have done a great job in losing a lot of weight."
What is the advantage to having so many former head coaches on your staff?
"They have been to war more. They understand better. When you explain things in a staff meeting, they know what you are trying to do. But the key is are they good coaches."
You had four losses by 3 points or less last year. Can you explain how that happened?
"The biggest thing is we didn't have the leadership to get us over that. We also wore down defensively. We didn't have the rotation in the defensive line that you need."
If you had it to do over, when would you have started Kevin Fant last season?
"I told Kevin this. We would have probably played him earlier if he had practiced better. All of a sudden, when he knew he had to play, the whole thing changed. Wayne had been there before. It wasn't really Wayne's fault. It wasn't his fault in the South Carolina game that we dropped 7 passes, any of which could have won the game. It wasn't his fault that the protection failed. It wasn't his fault when they ran 55-something yards against the defense."
How is (Kevin's) arm?
"Good. What Kevin had was a bone chip from years ago. The bone chip would cause inflammation in it, especially during two-a-days. They removed the bone chip and he can now straighten out his arm."
How concerned were you about the possibility of Mario (Haggan) going pro after last season?
"We had one ace in the hole and that was his mother. He also wanted to get his degree. Mario will graduate this December. That was probably the biggest reason he stayed. It was the same reason (defensive tackle) Dorsett Davis stayed (last season)."
You mentioned mudslinging basically led to the demise of the Southwest Conference. What do you see as the long-term effect of it for the SEC?
"I really think that is going to get under control. I think the people we have in the conference office in Commissioner Slive and Jim McCullough will get it under control. There will be a proper procedure that the people in this conference will follow. The people who have an issue will be dealt with. They will be punished. But the ones who go across the line and not by the procedures will (also be dealt) with. This conference is a great, great conference. It will not be like the Southwest Conference."
Are you concerned about the players losing their focus due to the NCAA investigation?
"What is the best way to put it? Player are not concerned about it. Y'all are more concerned about it than the players. I guess that is the best way you could put it."
(Same reporter asked this followup question) Are you concerned with it?
"How do you define concerned? 5%, 10%. Like I said earlier, I'm not jumping off a cliff. If there are any issues out there, we will deal with them. There is no way you would not be concerned. If you let (the NCAA) spend six weeks with any university in the country, then I will give you some issues. It is impossible. Now, do you have checks and balances in place? That is why we probably have more (self-reported violations) in this conference than any other conference. I tell our (coaches) all the time, 'guys, if you go to a high school to see a kid and they are having a basketball and you are not supposed to be there, that is ok. Report it. If you make a phone call and you don't know somebody else has made a phone call to that kid, that is ok. Report it.' There are some issues with head coaches going eyeball to eyeball with some recruits, but I don't do that. I go right to the principal's office and guidance counselor because seeing a kid in the spring is not going to get you that player. We think an awful lot of ourselves if we think that just because we show up that kid is coming to our school. These kids have been groomed since they were little kids. They pretty much know where they are going. If you ask the top 100 kids in the country where they are going, they may list five or six schools, but they know where they are going. Well, over 80% know where they are going."
Talk about the earlier part of the schedule? You play Oregon, then have an open date.
"We will find out a lot about our football team when we play Oregon. Oregon is a great, skilled team. They play very hard defensively. It is the toughest place to play in the PAC-10. So we will find a lot about our football team. When you have a young group, it helps to have some time in there because you can come right back and devote that time to getting them ready to play."
SEC Moderator told the media only one more question could be asked.-Gene
A lot has been said about Dontae's (Walker) weight problem. How do you feel about it?
"Dontae's body structure is not going to allow him to play at 218 to 220. He has played between 225 and 235. He weighed probably 238 when we played in the Independence Bowl and no one could catch him. Did (his weight) go up? Yes. Will he be back down? Yes, he will be back down in the 230's before we start two-a-days. He is working hard. He is working out two or three times a day."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at email@example.com.