Kirby Lee/USA Today

Highlights of Day One of Pac-12 Football Media Day

Day One of Pac-12 Media Day saw a major thread unifying the six coaches who participated: uncertainty at the most important position.

There are two very reliable highlights at Pac-12 Media Day:  The food and Mike Leach.  Last year, RichRod made a great early push only to have Leach close out the first day talking about Sturgeon fishing, dating, and Pullman’s best sandwich discounts.  Victory to the Pirate.

Flash forward a year, and unofficial interview championship belt is staying on the Palouse.  RichRod again started with some decent flurries, but in the end the day belonged to Leach.  Also Larry Scott and four other coaches talked.  To the highlights:


Larry Scott


Scott’s best material came after he left the podium.  He had two comments on Stanford and McCaffrey’s campaign captured on Twitter:

For those who live in the DirecTV universe, the news was not encouraging:

“...we continue to be disappointed and frustrated that our fans have gone for four seasons, and those that are with DirecTV have been deprived of all the content that’s on it.  So while our team will continue to knock on the door adn push and offer them teh dsame opportunity that over 75 different distributors havae said yes to, we are also focusing our efforts with our current partners in trying to get more better distribution, as evidenced by the Comcast and Cox announcements this morning.”


Essentially Scott announced deals with every media platform in existence (including Twitter, Facebook, Comcast, The Artists Formerly Known as Verizon Fios), except DirecTV.


Rich Rodriguez


“Do I want to be here?  No.”


“I had no idea what the hell Pokemon Go was until the other day, and I think my son was telling me, he’s an 18 year-old.  But I know there’s a lot of people that are walking around like this and bumping into each other, so it’s kind of dangerous.”


“...we have in my opinion two returning starters….But Solomon, Dawkins will go into camp splitting first-team reps, and we’ll see who wins the job….I’m not typical where I think you’ve got to name a starter.  We treat the quarterback position pretty much like the rest of them.  Just compete and play the best guy at the time.”


There seems to be a different approach for handling the quarterback position for each of the seven coaches who will be choosing first-time starters this season.  Rodriguez clearly leans toward a willingness to play both and have the competition extend into the season.  Many of his peers, are far more anxious to settle on a starter sooner rather than later. This is a Stanford opponent, so it’ll be interesting to see who’s under center in Tucson when the Cardinal come calling.


Sonny Dykes


On embattled strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington:

“I think anybody that knows anything about our program sees the positive impact he’s had in our program.  The people that are around our program understand how important he is and the contributions he’s made to getting us where we want to go.”


Surprisingly, this was the extent to which the assembled media asked Coach Dykes about the turmoil going on in Berkeley and the apparent rift between the faculty and the athletic department. Dykes pivoted to Cal’s league best APR of 997 this past year, as well as the Bears’ rise from a one-win team in 2013 to last year’s 8-win campaign.


“So between those four guys, I”m confident that we’ll have a good quarterback.  I mean, our quarterbacks have always performed well, and I don’t expect anything different this year.”


Cal has a whopping four candidates for the starting quarterback job, including returners Chase Forrest and Ross Bowers, true freshman Victor Viramontes, and graduate transfer Davis Webb.  Insiders are confident that it’ll be Webb, but there will be a competition at least at the onset of summer camp.


Clay Helton


“That’s what I expect as a head coach is to be at a championship level, and to be able to do that, we needed to progress as a football team.  I learned that after the Pac-12 Championship game last season.”


“....leaving that game I thought there was changes that we had to make to be able to be where we want to be and be a Pac-12 Champion, and it starts with being a more fundamentally technique-sound physical football team, because at the end of the day, you may wind up and play Stanford again in that game, and we have to play better than we did.  We lost twice.  The fact of the matter is we lost twice to Stanford last year.  So we’ve either got to stay the same and get beat or change.”


Clearly, the Cardinal has had a big impact on the Cardinal and Gold.


“The plan is to go for about 18 practices and see where all our positions are at, and then two weeks out prior to playing that opening game versus Alabama, we’ll go ahead and release our two deep and let every young man know what his role is going into that first game.”


Coach Helton was the first coach to talk about a very firm timetable for naming a starting quarterback, and though it’s a fairly conventional approach, it’s interesting how willing he was to put a stop date on it relative to his peers’ approach.


Mark Helfrich


“Quarterback position is up for grabs.  We had a three-man race early in the spring, and that will continue into fall camp….”


I asked Coach Helfrich how willing he’d be to let the quarterback competition go into the regular season:


“It’s got to happen.  It can’t be something where you’re 52.7 percent of the vote and somebody else is-you don’t want those little tiny nuances.  You want it to be obvious and glaring and everybody kind of looks at each other and goes yeah.  Like last year was a unanimous vote….It can’t be fake. It can’t be aritificial, staged, any of those type of descriptors.”


My reading of this is that Coach Helfrich is anxious for somebody to step up and make the decision a no brainer (what coach wouldn’t be?) but that he was willing to let the quarterback competition play out as long as necessary to come to a consensus.  With an opener against UC Davis at home, this is an understandable notion.  In act, aside from a trip to Lincoln in Game 3, Oregon could probably afford to wait most of the season’s first month before making a decision.  That seems like an unlikely outcome, especially if the Ducks are to be contenders once more in the Pac-12 North.


On the Duck defense under Brady Hoke:


“From a fan’s perspective, hopefully they’re playing with total confidence, passion, speed, commitment to our scheme.  Just for whatever reason, that never totally 100 percent clicked last year.”


Coach Helfrich is very excited about the arrival of Brady Hoke to run the defense, and wa actually equally enthused that Don Pellum remained after the demotion and even played an active role in recruiting Hoke to Eugene.  Oregon’s got one of the most heavily tenured staffs in the nation, with numerous coaches having been working for the Ducks for over two decades.  It’s pretty impressive that they were able to make a move like getting Hoke without losing Pellum, or at the very least it’s impressive that that’s the outcome Coach Helfrich wanted.


Mike Leach


“I’ve kind of lost track of what the Heisman is.  There was a time when the Heisman went to the guy who had the biggest impact and effect on their team… the emphasis has kind of shifted from that….now they try to finesse it to whoever is the MVP on the National Championship team gets it.”


“So your offseason work tends to accelerate a little bit because you’ve got a guy that’s been in the role that’s kind of leading the others, and they follow his lead.”


Leach has the luxury of not only returning his QB, but returning a very good one in Luke Falk.  He spoke glowingly of Falk’s positive impact as well as that of receiver Gabe Marks.


“Well, I’ve seen them doing that for the last ten years, but nobody talks to people anymore….I think the days before cell phones, when it was dirt clod wars at construction sites, was a lot more wholesome and productive to be perfectly honest.”


This started as a response to Pokemon, then flew off the rails into an entirely other direction.  If you are wondering, this is where Leach clinched a repeat of his title.


Coach Leach on satellite camps:


“I guess the thing that I found most reprehensible was just the dubious motives to eliminate it.  I mean, self-serving, selfish disguised in a lie of-I mean, the whole thing was false….I mean, it was sneakier than hell and it was pitiful, I thought.  So I’m glad the NCAA came to their senses and did what was best for the game.”


He didn’t name names, but this seemed like a thinly veiled rebuttal targeted at the head coach of a school I will not name, but just say that it rhymes with “Schmalabama.”


Kyle Whittingham


“Biggest thing we’ve got going on heading into the season, we’ve got to get our quarterback situation solved…Troy Williams, Brandon Cox, and Tyler Huntley.  They’ll have an open competition, starts as soon as the first day of fall camp begins….We did not see much separation, and so that competition will continue this fall.”


“There’s two things:  Who’s going to give us the best chance to win immediately, and who’s going to give us the best chance to win ultimately….Because who gives you the best chance to win game 1 may not be the same guy that gives you the best chance to have the best season you can possibly have.”


“We’re not putting a timeline on it other than certainly the drop dead week would be the week leading into the season opener.”


So here we have another Coach, like Coach Helton of USC, essentially putting a timetable on the process in terms of the long end but not prescribing a defined and guaranteed length. Like Oregon, Coach Whittingham has three guys to parse.  Stanford fans weary about the two-man competition should be at least relieved that it’s not any more than that.

So there it is.  Six coaches, six quarterback competitions, with five of the six set to be first-time starters.  The league-wide uncertainty at the most crucial position only further underscores the point that here in July, Mike Leach’s wit and the ice cream buffet are the only sure bets.

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