As my perceptive colleague Jeff Roberson pointed out in a recent column, the Ed Orgeron who addressed over 800 reporters at SEC Media Days on Friday was not the same Coach O who did the same three media events ago.
This Coach O was more relaxed, more at ease with the surroundings, himself and his program. This O handled every question without a hint of dodging the issue, with a relaxed sense of humor and with an openess not all that common to these proceedings.
You want to know about Brent Schaeffer? O told it like it is. Brent has to change his "lifestyle" to be the Rebel QB. He's not doing anything legally wrong, he was quick to point out, but O wants more leadership, intensity and drive from the talented signal-caller, on and off the field, or someone else will be under center.
In O's words, Ole Miss' coaches have taken Brent as far as they can and pushed for change as much as they can. It's now all in Brent's hands. Brent will decide his own fate in the next few weeks.
You want to know about him taking off his shirt in a team meeting over two years ago? I didn't think so, but some in the media dredged that old story up again, ad nauseum. No problem for Orgeron. "When Bruce Pearl takes his shirt off at a basketball game, he's a national hero. When I do it, in front of nobody but my team, I'm criticized. Go figure. Admittedly, I have toned down some in the past couple of years. I guess you have to as a head coach. I have made mistakes and have corrected them, but it's hard for me to figure out how that was one of them." And that it still keeps popping up.
Orgeron talked about his image, in his words, of being the "crazy Cajun." He smiled while doing it. "When people talk about Ole Miss football, I want them to think of a class operation. I am what I am, but I'm not what some outside of the Ole Miss fmaily perceive me to be."
He also spoke of his vision of the Rebel football program. "We are pounding the rock every day, chipping away at the obstacles. I'm proud of what we have accomplished but I am the first to realize and understand we have a long way to go. I have been in national championship programs and know what it takes. Our goal is to get there and stay there. That has not changed and it will never change. Our goals are high and our expectaions are high. The goal every year is the Sugar Bowl (BCS), but realistically a winning season and to win a bowl would be a good start toward that this year. I see those qualities in terms of our attitudes, toughness and work ethic. Do we have that kind of talent? Not yet, but we are getting there."
Orgeron addressed the subject of his coaching staff and let the kudos flow. "We work hard, we are on the same page and we are going in the right direction. I'll put this staff against any, anywhere. The addition of John Thompson is a great marriage for us. I feel I can finally be a head coach and (exclusively) do what head coaches do - lead the team."
He was asked about having to play defending NC Florida. The reporter was expecting a shudder from O, it seemed, with the way the question was delivered. O said "I love it. It's great. It's what playing in the SEC is all about. Who wouldn't love that challenge?" The reporter did not ask a followup. There was nothing more to say, or ask, on the matter.
The bottom line is that SEC Media Days can be an intimidating venue. The reporters there do not have to look 11 of the coaches in the eye day-in and day-out. It's a one-shot deal, once a year, so they are more loose, and offensive, with their line of questions. Most are there looking for a story and if riling a coach up to get one is necessary, there are no holds barred.
A few made a run at O. He didn't bite. He was candid, but never defensive. Honest, but told them only what he wanted them to know.
In short, he was in control of the situation, even in a "hostile" environment.
I don't know squat about coaching football, but I do know about interviews and media and such.
Our coach did as well, if not better, than any coach there. To me, that's a sign of the maturation of a head coach.
Mark one up for O.
Coach O refreshing at Media Days
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