HOOVER, Ala. - We've always joked around the Spirit office that July 5 is the start of football season. The day after the fourth and it's all downhill to football.
Another sign that it's only days away is the annual Southeastern Conference Media Days. That starts here on Wednesday and ends Friday. I am sure there will be more media than ever for this year's gathering. With so many new coaches and headliners involved, and with so many more media outlets and radio shows than ever, no doubt the place will be full.
Day one at the Wynfrey Hotel and Galleria finds Coach O in his first SEC battles, going up against the likes of heavy-hitters Phil Fulmer, Steve Spurrier, and Urban Meyer, all with previous head coaching experience and only Meyer never having faced the SEC media folks before.
But don't sell Ed Orgeron short in this fight. The national and regional media, although they will most likely focus more on the other guys, know who Coach O is. And they want to know more. They are eager to see and hear him as well.
The way the SEC sets this thing up is that there is one large room for print media, able to accommodate what appears to be 250 to 300 folks. All the large papers of the south and the nation will be here as will pubs like Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News and websites like College Football News and CBS Sportsline.
The networks will be represented. Todd Blackledge is usually here with CBS along with Dave Neal of Jefferson-Pilot and others. There are rooms for each of the networks to do their spots and to get the info they need from individual players and coaches. There are three or four rooms for TV stations from across the region to do the same. There is one large room seating 100 or more for all the radio stations and networks from around the south, nation, and college campuses.
There won't be a larger gathering of media in this part of the country for any event, and that includes things like the SEC Championship football game and the SEC men's basketball tournament. Not all media cover those events, but any media outlet that covers any of the 12 SEC schools will be in Hoover this week.
The first year I covered this event, Billy Brewer was in his ninth season at Ole Miss. He and wife Kay were living in the athletic dorm as they awaited the completion of their new home.
Jackie Sherrill was in his first year at State, and his presence made headlines. You could tell he loved the limelight and attention as reporters followed him around like he was royalty. State got some good pub for a few years with him there, but certainly MSU won't be in the forefront this week.
Sylvester Croom will have some of the same questions from last year concerning being a trailblazer among SEC head coaches. They'll even ask him a question or two about his team.
It may be a circus atmosphere on day one with Meyer of Florida, Spurrier of South Carolina, and Fulmer of Tennessee. The Vol coach didn't even appear here last year at the advice of his attorneys and got fined 10 grand for not showing. Throw in Orgeron and it's quite a mix for starters.
There probably won't be a lot of attention paid to the words of Vandy's Bobby Johnson (fourth year). Kentucky's Rich Brooks (third year) won't get much of a listen either. Both have been here before, and neither brings a whole lot to the media savvy world of college sports these days, especially as head coaches of two programs off the radar screen. This could be either one's last go-round if he doesn't win a few more games.
LSU's Les Miles – because he's new, because he is taking over a program that's a contender for titles, and because he replaced Nick Saban – will be in the spotlight here. Mike Shula will too, and of course he's been on the hot seat from day one in his job. Anytime the Crimson Tide head football coach appears in the state of Alabama, the cameras and questions increase.
Tommy Tuberville will make his 11th straight visit to the summer sessions. Coming off his best season as a head coach, his seat isn't quite as hot as it's been at times. So he may have as easy a time of it as he's had at this event since he left Oxford.
Houston Nutt will tell a few jokes and preach on about life in Hogland. He may even remind us, like he did a couple of years ago, that they talk Razorback football at every Sonic and Burger King and Hardees in that state all year long. Little hotter in his seat these days since the Razorbacks suffered their first losing season under him in 2004.
Mark Richt and Georgia are lodged somewhere between the glamour boys of Spurrier, Fulmer, even Meyer, etc., and guys like Johnson, Brooks, etc. Solid program but are they really in with the big ones or still looking up at ‘em?
Gone from the lineup this year will be recent veterans Lou Holtz, Ron Zook, and Saban. And David Cutcliffe. The former Ole Miss head coach always seemed to feel at ease and to enjoy his time back in his old hometown of Birmingham. I have to admit there was always a little something special about listening and watching Cutcliffe at this event, knowing he was indeed back to his roots, a veteran of years and years in the SEC, and a favorite of so many in the media – from the states of Alabama and Tennessee and of course Mississippi.
But that was then and this is now. On Wednesday we'll witness the confidence exude from the ole ball coach as he tells us why he believes South Carolina in time can win it all like he did with the Gators and, among other topics, why he's there and not at Florida again.
We'll hear Fulmer talk about why he wasn't here last year (you know he will be asked about it), and he'll be quizzed about just how good this 2005 team from Rocky Top really is. With so many media here, he might even be asked a time or two how he felt about Cutcliffe's departure at Ole Miss and his return to Knoxville. Head coaches have more than two hours to answer questions in all the rooms. And then there are the many live radio shows they all do from the lobby of the hotel. So that particular subject will probably come up somewhere, and most likely more than once.
Meyer has moved from Utah to Florida. From the Mountain West to the SEC. From a small taste of the national spotlight to the challenge of being the next Spurrier in the same division of the same league as the former Gator coach himself.
And then – Coach O. Just like everywhere he's been so far as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels the last seven months, he will open a lot of eyes here, wake some folks up and make them pay attention concerning Ole Miss football. I know that. You know that.
We'll also hear from a couple of players from each school. Rebels Micheal Spurlock and Patrick Willis will be here to talk about their team and represent Ole Miss.
It's day one in Hoover. Football season is here.
SEC media gathers for kickoff
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