Destin, Fla.—Mike Slive is, by his own admission, “a recovering attorney.” He is also a former district court judge. So he’s no stranger to being in a room full of powerful people who don’t necessarily love each other.
The SEC Commissioner will draw upon that experience today as the league’s 2009 Spring Meetings begin here on the Florida panhandle. Slive will meet with the SEC’s football coaches as he always does. His language will be measured. He will be calm, but firm. He will remind them of the SEC’s basic rules of sportsmanship to which every coach in the league in every sport is expected to adhere.
But the message, while dressed up befitting a man of Slive’s stature, will be very simple and very blunt:
Knock it off.
Knock off public pronouncements that other coaches are breaking the rules. Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin said that about Florida’s Urban Meyer in February. Kiffin was wrong and was reprimanded by the SEC.
Knock off shots about somebody else’s recruiting techniques. Meyer was quoted as wondering if the NCAA would look into Auburn’s use of limos in recruiting. Meyer made the comment when he was led to believe recruits were riding in the limos. That was wrong, but Meyer was wrong to comment on it. He also made reference to coaches tearing off their shirts (Tennessee) in the recruiting process.
Even Dan Mullen, the mild-mannered new head coach at Mississippi State, got in a shot at Auburn’s limos, suggesting the money at his place went to stuff for the players and not fancy cars for the coaches.
Knock off the talk of rumors that another coach might be moving on. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier told Paul Finebaum that he had heard the Meyer to Notre Dame rumors like everybody else. Ten years ago that was probably a harmless remark. Not now.
Here’s the issue, and it’s a simple one: The price of playing poker in this league has really gone up in this decade. The SEC has won three straight national championships. The SEC has four coaches (Meyer, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Steve Spurrier) who have won national titles. Three of those, Miles ($3.751 million), Saban ($3.75 million), and Meyer ($3.5 million) are among the highest paid coaches in the sport. Into that high-energy, high-ego mix add Kiffin, the young Tennessee coach who was hired to bring the swagger back to the Vols and Auburn’s Gene Chizik, who is literally trying to stem the Tide of the powerhouse Saban is building in Tuscaloosa.
Now to be fair, it should be noted that the vast majority of the coaches in this league have not said a negative word this offseason. If you’re Mark Richt, Saban, Miles, Bobby Johnson, etc., will you be amused when Slive begins his talk? Or will you be mad because you’re having to sit through it?
Bottom line: From the commissioner’s perspective, there is too much at stake for too many people to have coaches back biting each other in public. Did we mention that the SEC is about to begin unprecedented TV contracts with CBS and ESPN that will pump a little less than $3 billion into the league over the next 15 years? No pressure there.
Yes, the fans and the media are immensely entertained by it all. The commissioner is not. The commissioner wins.