SEC Media Days are underway and, yeah, it’s starting to feel a lot more like college football season. The first day in Hoover, Ala., brought familiar faces and new storylines. Starting the day off, as usual, was SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who gave his state of the conference speech on everything from COVID-19 to name, image and likeness, and NCAA
Sankey was then followed by three coaches: Florida’s Dan Mullen, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer. The Gators and Tigers are coming off of very different seasons. Florida won the SEC East and made its third straight New Year’s Six bowl under Mullen. Meanwhile, LSU regressed badly after its 2019 national championship run, particularly on defense, but could be a trendy pick to win the SEC West in 2021.
The first day of SEC Media Days was packed with quotes and newsy items, so let’s recap the most notable of everything that went down on a busy Monday in Hoover.
Dan Mullen confident in Emory Jones
No Kyle Trask? No problem for Florida’s offense — or so said Mullen about new starter Emory Jones. The former four-star recruit in the 2018 class now has three seasons of development under his belt, and his time as a change-of-pace option to Trask over the past two seasons should make his transition to full-time starter more seamless. Jones, after all, has 24 career game appearances and 11 total touchdowns to just one interception. The key, Mullen said, will be focusing on the things Jones does well. That means utilizing his mobility while taking shots down the field with his arm strength. It’s a skill set that differs from Trask’s more traditional pocket-passer style.
Adapting to each quarterback’s skill set is nothing new for Mullen, who cited the different big-name players he’s coached at Florida, Mississippi State and Utah. “If you go back, even being a coordinator, you go back to the Alex Smiths and the Chris Leaks, through the Tebows to Tyler Russell and Dak Prescott. There’s been so many different variations,” Mullen said. “I think the key to it is, and one of the reasons we’ve been successful is, never trying to take a square peg and put into a round hole. It’s identifying what our guys do really well and build around the strengths of not just the quarterback, but the offense as a whole.”
Coach O reflects on hiring Bo Pelini
Just as Orgeron deserves a lot of credit for hiring Joe Brady as LSU’s passing game coordinator in 2019 as part of the team’s national championship run, he deserves blame for hiring Bo Pelini to lead the defense in 2020. The partnership with Pelini was short-lived with Orgeron firing the former Nebraska coach after just one historically bad season. But what stood out was Orgeron admitting this offseason that he didn’t formally interview Pelini before hiring him. (Pelini received a three-year deal worth $2.3 million a year.)
Looking back on it now, Orgeron admitted he’ll never hire another assistant coach without interviewing him face to face. However, that process wouldn’t have deterred him from hiring Pelini either way.
“When I hired Bo, it was not a formal interview,” Orgeron said. “I believed in him and it just didn’t work. I said I would never do that again. Every one of these [new hires], I interviewed them in person. I had a long interview with them, specific questions that I asked, things that I maybe should have asked or shouldn’t have.
“If I’d have interviewed Bo Pelini face to face, I would have still hired him. There would have been no question about that because of his reputation and because of the guy I knew. There’s no question about that.”
Shane Beamer makes Media Days MVP case
Every coach is undefeated at the press conference, but it’s hard not to be impressed with South Carolina’s new coach after he closed out Day 1 of SEC Media Days. Beamer was already in midseason form with his opening remarks filibuster, but it’s clear he has the “CEO” part of being a first-time head coach down — certainly a trait he learned from his dad, longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. Beamer’s high energy has transferred over into roster building. The Gamecocks’ 2021 class ranked as the SEC’s worst (and 80th overall), but Beamer arrived right before the early signing period. He’s since added in a lot of names through the transfer portal, and South Carolina’s 2022 class currently ranks in the top 20. Beamer has the energy and charisma to make him a press conference winner. The question is whether the on-field success will follow.
Sankey implores teams to fully vaccinate
With the season roughly six weeks away, time is running out for teams to fully vaccinate their players and coaches against COVID-19. The risk of widespread infection and contact tracing was a prevalent issue across every conference in 2020. But with the availability of vaccines this time around, the SEC is looking to get their numbers up to avoid any potential issues. Sankey said that there will not be extra space built into each team’s schedule to allow for make-up games, and the term “forfeit” is being thrown around. In short, teams will be expected to play each week. If a team cannot put together enough players because of an outbreak, that’s on them. Expect other conferences to adopt a similar policy.
As of Monday, six of the league’s 14 teams have reached 80% vaccination rates. “That number needs to grow, and grow rapidly,” Sankey said. “We have learned how to manage through a COVID environment, but we do not yet have control of a COVID environment, and that finds us preparing to return toward normal this fall, but we see realities around us.”
No, the Power Five is not breaking from the NCAA
As much as some may want this to happen, it doesn’t appear that power conferences have any interest in breaking away from the NCAA, even in this new era of name, image and likeness laws. “It’s not the focus,” Sankey said on Monday.
However, that doesn’t mean that college football power brokers don’t see obvious flaws in the system, particularly related to the NCAA’s heavily bureaucratic methods related to rules and punishments. Shots across the bow in the NCAA’s direction are piling up as college athletics navigates a seismic shift. “450 pages seems less relevant today than it ever has before,” Sankey said of the NCAA’s rulebook. “We need outcomes, particularly from those high profile matters.”