SEC Media Notebook - Day Two

HOOVER, Ala. – Bobby Johnson said Vandy's closer than ever to breaking through. Sly Croom said State's not too far off either. Urban Meyer said last year was great but it's past now, so they move on from here.

Day two produced the near circus atmosphere surrounding the re-appearance at SEC Media Days 2007 of Nick Saban, the former LSU head coach now the new Alabama coach. But for the other three head coaches on stage this day, it was business as usual before the media.

In five seasons Johnson has won just 15 games in Nashville, but Vandy is as competitive as it's been in a while. Still, an elusive winning season – there hasn't been one there since 1982 – is the goal for VU football again this time around.

"We've got a little buzz going around Vanderbilt as far as our chances for improvement this year," said Johnson, the Division I-AA National Coach of the Year at Furman in 2001. "We're anxious to get started."

Johnson, whose team was a competitive 4-8 last season, said he and his staff have enjoyed building a program at Vandy. Now they want to win.

"When you play in this league, you've got to scratch and claw for victories," he said. "You try to come in and work up the ladder. Kentucky did a fantastic job of that last year. We've got some quality wins the past couple of years. We've won some road games. We've been close. We feel like we're making progress. We're working as hard as we can. Our guys are having fun doing it. Our coaches work extremely hard, and our confidence is pretty high. So we're looking forward to getting started."

Vandy has eight home games with its first four – Richmond, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Eastern Michigan – all at Dudley Field/ Vanderbilt Stadium.

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Meanwhile in Starkville, Croom enters his fourth year with some pressure and he admits it.

"A great deal of pressure," he said.

Then, perhaps not appreciating the question all that much, said, "Same pressure I felt in the ninth grade when Tuscaloosa Junior high played Eastwood Junior High."

But he clarified, "If you're asking me whether I'm worried about getting fired, no. I've coached for 30 years. I've never had to go look for a job. I've always had one. The good Lord has blessed me with one. I know we're doing things the right way. I know our plan is on track."

That plan this year includes winning more than three games for the first time in his tenure. Croom says he knew it would take a while to rebuild a State program that has fallen to the depths of the SEC with the rise of some other programs like Kentucky and Vanderbilt the past two or three years.

"Basically we started all over," he said of his arrival in 2004. "We made significant improvement last year. I know the fans say they want wins. But you have to understand something. We were still a young team last year. I asked our players to do one thing: Get us to the fourth quarter where we've got a chance to win. We lost four games by a field goal, and two of them, Georgia and Ole Miss, on the last play of the game.

"We've got a bunch of starters coming back. Building a program takes time. Building anything that has a chance to succeed, whether it's your family, your business, anything, it takes time. Quite often in our society today, patience is not a virtue anymore."

For MSU fans, that patience is running a bit thin. But Croom still has some time. This season, his fourth, is a key. More than three wins would likely help him be around for at least a fifth.

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Florida won the national title last season. Meyer said his program is focused on this year, not last year.

Meyer, whose Gators play in Oxford on Sept. 22, says he's learned a lot in his two years in the league, but one things stands out beyond all others.

"Road games," he said. "You'd better be ready to play on the road. The crowd noise in every stadium is unbelievable. It's not that way in every conference. That's what separates the SEC from other conferences."

In searching for just the right things to say to his team as the defense of their national title begins, Meyer was asked that since Billy Donovan said he talked to some people about how to defend his title last year, had he followed suit and talked to anyone.

"Billy Donovan," he quipped. "He knows the way to where we are and I don't have to pay him much."

Meyer said he is not a big fan of getting recruits to commit early as some programs are.

"We don't encourage early commitments," he said. "We don't want to back a kid into a corner. We try not to push it too much."

As for a possible early signing period like the SEC had years ago with a December signing of letters of intent, Meyer is not a fan of any such proposal.

"I think an early signing period would be tragic," he said.

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