Cleaning out the notebook from the SEC Meetings from Destin:
1. We lost Haywood Harris yesterday: First of all, Haywood was my friend and he died yesterday in Knoxville at the age of 80. Secondly, he had been a constant and steadying voice in the sports information department at Tennessee since he was hired in 1961. In fact, Haywood was the last UT employee hired by General Robert Neyland before Neyland passed away in 1962.
Whenever Haywood found out that I was coming to Knoxville, he would always call and ask me to come by his office. He retired in 2000 but kept an office to work part time as the resident historian for Tennessee athletics. We would catch up on what was going on around the SEC and he would ask me to tape a segment for radio show “The Locker Room” which ran on Tennessee game days for 49 consecutive seasons.
Haywood was funny. He was smart. But he never told you how smart he was. He didn’t have to.
Haywood was one of those people didn’t just work for his alma mater. He WAS Tennessee. We’re going to miss him—a lot.
2. When it comes to Mark Richt, some of you out there need a reality check: Kudos to the AJC’s Tim Tucker for going right to the source—President Michael Adams and AD Damon Evans—and putting to rest this ridiculous notion that Richt is even in the same universe as a coaching hot seat. Tim had to ask the question because that is what good reporters do.
I’ve tried to be politically correct on this issue and realize there are passions at work here. So let me just put it in language that is a little more to the point: If you think that Richt, who has won 90 games in nine years in the toughest college football environment in the world, is on some kind of hot seat then you are living in an alternative universe that is completely divorced from reality.
Yes, Georgia had a disappointing season in 2009. Changes were made. Very soon it will be time to play another season. Then Richt will evaluate the program again and Richt will be evaluated again. Period. End of discussion.
3. Dooley will be his own man, and that’s good for Tennessee: New Tennessee coach Derek Dooley made one thing clear when he met with the media in Destin. He’s not Lane Kiffin. But at the same time he’s not about to slam the coach who had a cup of coffee (not decaf) before he went scurrying back to Southern Cal. But Dooley recognized his style is different than Kiffin’s. That fact, in the long run, will be good for Tennessee.
Someone asked Dooley is he purposely was trying to be the anti-Kiffin. The short answer is no. The former lawyer, who was tutored by his Hall of Fame father (Vince) and Nick Saban, is very comfortable with who he is.
“I know (my style) was quite a bit different from my predecessor,” said Dooley. “I wasn’t trying to make headlines. Our program needed somebody to get their arms around it and our players needed somebody to get their arms around them.
“Because at the end of the day a headline in February is not going to help you win games. It’s just not my style.”
4. Now coaching for the Lake Burton Bears, Nick Saban: The coach of the 2009 national champions insisted this week that Alabama is going to be his last coaching stop. The Crimson Tide went 12-0 during the regular season in 2008, went 14-0 in 2009, and will be preseason No. 1 in most polls when the 2010 season begins.
There has always been speculation that Saban will someday return to the NFL, where he had a disappointing two years as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins. But in my last few meetings with Saban he seems very comfortable in the lifestyle he has in Tuscaloosa. It doesn’t hurt that his getaway home in Lake Burton is not that far away.
“It is always a difficult decision to leave any place and it is a decision I am never going to make again,” said Saban. “I am where I am. If they get a football team at Lake Burton, I might go there. Otherwise I am where I am.”
I know I’m a college guy and I look at the world through those glasses. But what pro job—money aside—can match what you have at Alabama or Texas? Just asking.
5. Ryan Mallett started throwing his week: Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said that his quarterback Ryan Mallet will start throwing this week after his recovery from off-season foot surgery. That surgery kept him from participating in spring practice drills.
Mallett, a rising junior, threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, his first in Petrino’s offensive system. He is expected to have a monster season in 2010 and put the Hogs into contention in the SEC West. They get Alabama early (Sept 25) in Fayetteville.
Petrino said that Mallett has two issues to deal with as he gets ready for this season.
No. 1: Mallett’s throwing mechanics have to stay solid. “He has to make sure of his footwork. Sometimes his feet are not under him properly, which makes the ball tend to sail,” Petrino said.
No. 2: Mallett has to learn to trust his offensive line. “He has to get to the point where he trusts our protection 100 percent of the time. At times last year we weren’t protecting him well enough and when that happens you lose your downfield vision,” Petrino said.
My CBS colleague Gary Danielson recently told me that he believes that Mallett could be the single biggest impact player in the SEC this fall. In other words, Mallett could be good enough to lift his entire team and put them in a position to win the SEC West.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Our “Talkin’ Football” show on CSS has been picked up for the entire summer. Starting tonight a new show will air every Thursday night at 6 p.m. until the start of the season. Bob Neal will be back to lead the discussion with Mark Schlabach, Brady Ackerman and yours truly. Please check us out.