There's a question in my mind about the upcoming football season. Which will get the most ink in your daily sports section, the players and the games or the coaches?
Never have four more colorful new coaches joined the SEC ranks in one season. But which is most likely to be the headline maker with his comments and observations as the season goes on — good or bad? The two front runners are our own Ed Orgeron and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier.
But don't give up on Florida's Urban Meyer, whose head coaching experience includes just Bowling Green and Utah. Those are schools which are grateful for a little success, or in the case of Utah, a lot of success. But neither are capable of laying on the pressure that Florida fans have learned how to generate. They can say booo in several different languages and each one means "Why are we losing, you bum?" Ask Ron Zook. who won 23 games and lost 15 and was fired in midseason last year after losing to Mississippi State. At Florida coaches totter between living in the penthouse or the outhouse, depending on what happens against Tennessee, Georgia, etc.
Then there's Les Miles who moves from coaching the second best team in Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, to coaching the best team in Louisiana and possibly the entire SEC. The Tigers' mystical Tiger Stadium is considered one of the hardest places for a visiting team to win in the league and the record proves it. Last season the Tigers were 7-0 at home and 2-3 on the road. Believe me, there's nothing like being down on the field on a Saturday night and smelling the odor of George Dickel or Jack Daniels floating down from the grandstand. As the game goes on the spectators get more and more rowdy. The place seats 91,600 and all, except the few visitors who are allowed tickets, turn from fans to coaches in the later stages of the game. The day will come when Miles will tire of being second-guessed and will want to strike back.
But, of course, neither Orgeron nor Spurrier even bothered to wait until the first game was played. Orgeron fired an opening salvo against Memphis with his remark that Ole Miss was going to build a fence around that city in order that the good football players there didn't get away from the Rebels. That didn't sit well with Memphis fans or coaches who are probably taking crash courses on how to say 'boooo' in Cajun.
The Rebels have never had a coach like the former USC assistant. At the Meridian alumni meeting he did his cheerleading thing and had the crowd standing and waving their arms in wild enthusiasm. I read where he did the same thing in Jackson with equal results. The contrast between Orgeron and the quiet, reserved David Cutcliffe is day and night. David was extremely likeable but no one ever left one of his meetings feeling high from what he had heard. Thoughtful, maybe, but not high.
Orgeron is a natural perennial optimist. Reading his preseason statements he says things like "I feel like everyone in Oxford has been fantastic." "To build a championship football team we have to play great at home and win all our games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium." "We need to sell out every game." "I think, first of all, that we have one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation in George DeLeone." "I am really excited about our secondary." "Obviously, with most of our staff being in the SEC for the first time, we won't know our opponents as well as we would have had we been in the league for four or five years, but we'll catch up on that very quickly." (On playing Memphis on TV in the opening game) "I think it's awesome. It's exactly where we want to be since we're recruiting on a national level right now."
That thinking is 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the previous coaching staff, or at least, from the way they analyzed their team's preseason.
But it also gives the indication that there will be times this season when the fiery Cajun will say and do things to raise an eyebrow or two. That's O.K. I'd rather have a coach you have to cool down than one you have to fire up.
As for Spurrier, South Carolina fans really believe, or believed, he would walk across any lake on his bare feet until he pulled scholarships from players he didn't think could help the Gamecocks this year. Scholarships are year to year things and must be renewed each season but it is very rare that that renewal is not automatic. Spurrier dropped some of the borderline players, the recruiting mistakes of the Lou Holtz years, and has been getting a lot of flack for doing it. My feeling is if you're going to be a hard-nose do it at the front end before you've lost a bunch of games and fans start calling your action a blame game. Do it when you can tell them it was a building block to better years ahead—which is what Spurrier did.
He also is taking another step to putting USC's house in order. He's taken a look at the talent as fall practice has gotten underway and decided it is not up to SEC standards. At least, that's the appearance as he talks about having an inexperienced starter at QB, three freshmen to play tailback and question marks at wide receiver. The so called "Cock-n-Fire" offense may have to wait until another day.
"If we're a bad offensive team and we're a super defensive team," Spurrier said recently, "we can run the ball and play defense and special teams."
That ,of course, is not what South Carolina fans expect, but you have to do with what you've got or what you inherited. What Spurrier inherited was a group of untalented/undisciplined football players, at least judged by last year's record and the many dismissals since that season ended.
But Spurrier has never hesitated to speak his mind and he won't change. Between he and Orgeron, with Meyer and Miles in the background representing potential, this could be a season to read about — and remember.
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