Archive for July, 2010

Ranking the SEC, from Bama to Vandy (and Georgia No. 4)

Mark Richt has confidence his Georgia team can rebound from going 4-4 again in the SEC.

Mark Richt is confident Georgia can rebound from a tough summer and going 4-4 in the SEC.

Twelve head coaches stood at the podium during last week’s SEC media days. Shockingly, not one declared, “Thank goodness for Tums because this season could be an unmitigated disaster.”

There’s nothing like the optimism of July, when nobody has lost a game yet. So how do things really stand in the SEC? Here’s a loose guide. I’ve ranked the 12 schools by a combination of perceived current strength and the program’s direction. Feel free to debate.

Looking Down On The Villagers

♦ 1. ALABAMA: It was funny when Nick Saban lost to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007. There haven’t many opportunities to laugh since. Alabama is 16-0 in the SEC’s regular season in the last two seasons (it only lost to Florida in the 2008 conference title game). The Tide is coming off a BCS title and could repeat. Direction firmly established.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have established a clear pecking order in the SEC.

Nick Saban and Urban Meyer have established the SEC's pecking …

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Dooley calmly moving from one fire to next at Tennessee

Derek Dooley is still smiling despite famous a difficult job in turning around the Tennessee program.

Derek Dooley, son of the former Georgia coach, is still smiling despite facing a difficult job in turning around the Tennessee program.

HOOVER, Ala. – The first question was about his mother. The second question was about his father. The third question was about the bar fight.

At some point, Derek Dooley might become just a football coach but for now he’s a novelty.

His mother, Barbara, has all but started the first Athens-based Tennessee fan club (“She made no bones about it in Atlanta at a ‘Big Orange’ caravan event, walking in with an orange boa.”).

His father, Vince, the Georgia icon, views orange as the color of the walls in Hades.

The bar fight? It defines the mess Dooley has stepped into. He left a law practice to coach football, not the typical career transition. He left Louisiana Tech, where he went 4-8 last season, to take the head coaching job at Tennessee. Whether that’s a step up right now is a matter of debate. A once-proud program slid under Phil …

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SEC media days: Tennessee and Dooley take center stage

Derek Dooley is dealing with a much bigger mess at Tennessee than he dealt with at Louisiana Tech.

Derek Dooley is dealing with a much bigger mess at Tennessee than he dealt with at Louisiana Tech.

HOOVER, Ala. — Vince Dooley said he went through “all three phases” of the SEC’s preseason media access.

“The first phase was when [former Atlanta Journal and Constitution columnists] Furman Bisher and Jesse Outlar would come down [to Athens] and take their individual tours and I’d spend the day with them,” the former Georgia coach and athletic director said. “Then we had the ‘Skywriters Tour’ where I guess 30 or 40 writers would load up a Southern Airways Martin 404 and go from one school to the other. Then they came up with this thing in Birmingham. It was big, of course, but not as big as it is now.”

Dooley knows what awaits his son today. It’s Day 3 of of SEC media days, where there are nearly 1,000 credentialed media. Tennessee, coached by Derek Dooley, is likely to emerge as the biggest story today. (Also on tap: Auburn, Mississippi and LSU.) The Volunteers have been a soap …

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Spurrier’s lament: Team is better academically than on field

Steve Spurrier is 35-28 in five seasons at South Carolina, which is not up to his expectations.

Steve Spurrier is 35-28 at South Carolina, not up to his expectations.

SEC media days, like almost any event with a roomful of reporters, used to be nirvana for Steve Spurrier. Of course, that was back when he was at Florida and had something to brag about.

Now Spurrier shows up at media days and he finds himself upstaged by Alabama’s Nick “Death To Agents!” Saban one day and Vanderbilt’s Robbie Caldwell the next. (Two of Caldwell’s classics from Thursday: “I know the first question you’re asking is, ‘Who is Robbie Caldwell?’” and, “I can still walk in places and nobody knows me. Last night I was opening the door for people and they gave me a tip.”)

But Spurrier admitted Thursday things have not gone as well as he had hoped since taking the South Carolina job in 2005. He punctuated his remarks with this: “I don’t think I’ve won enough games lately to have any outlandish quotes. I’m just another ball coach trying to win a whole bunch of games that we haven’t quite done …

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Richt’s words, actions haven’t changed ugliness at Georgia

HOOVER, Ala. — Mark Richt says he has “really enjoyed this summer.”

Given that seven of his players have been arrested, three have been kicked out of the program, another transferred after being suspended for half the season, his boss was arrested for a DUI and ultimately was forced to resign and the NCAA just phoned to announce their impending arrival in Athens, we’re left to wonder: Just how low does Richt set the bar for his summers?

Mark Richt has had a tumultuous summer. (AP photo by Butch Dill)

Mark Richt has had a tumultuous summer. (AP photo by Butch Dill)

Or has he just become used to this sort of thing?

“It’s like, you know [something is] gonna happen,” he said Thursday morning. “It’s just like a ballgame. You know there’s going to be a penalty or a turnover, even though you don’t want there to be. Now you have to decide: How are you going to react to that? You can lose your cool and start spouting things you wish you didn’t say. Or you can just take care of the issue and move …

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SEC media days: Waiting on Richt as NCAA hovers at Georgia (UPDATED)

Georgia coach Mark Richt will address the NCAA's inquiry into his program today.

Georgia coach Mark Richt will address the NCAA's inquiry into his program today. (Brant Sanderlin/AJC)

(UPDATED AT 10 a.m.)

HOOVER, Ala. — Good morning. Welcome back to SEC media days, which at some point in time I’m sure was a nice little gathering of writers from newspapers — yeah, yeah: which, were delivered by wagon train — to collect background information for the upcoming season.

But there’s nothing low key about it now. Day 1 seemed more like somebody fired a cannon.

A brief rundown, in case you missed it:

The NCAA is conducting an “inquiry” -- I’m not sure if it qualifies as an investigation yet — into Georgia’s program. Officials have not said what they’re looking for but it’s believed to be related to all of the recent stories regarding illegal contact between college players and agents. For what it’s worth, wide receiver A.J. Green, whose name came up in a couple of  internet stories, has denied involvement.

A small group of us are meeting with coach Mark …

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NCAA inquiry is the last thing Georgia and Mark Richt need (UPDATED)

Georgia coach Mark Richt is trying to turn Georgia's program around. An NCAA inquiry doesn't help.

Mark Richt is trying to turn Georgia's program around. An NCAA inquiry doesn't help.

(UPDATED at 7:45 p.m.)

Georgia can finally count itself in the same company as Alabama and Florida — just not in the way everybody hoped.

According to our Tim Tucker, the NCAA has contacted Georgia to inform the school of an “inquiry” on campus.

This is never good news.

Georgia associate athletic director Claude Felton emailed a statement, reading: “I have been asked numerous times over the last two days whether we had been contacted by the NCAA and the answer has been ‘no.’ … Late Wednesday afternoon, the University of Georgia received a call from the NCAA requesting permission to conduct an inquiry on the UGA campus.  Athletic Association officials indicated that full cooperation would be provided.  The NCAA has requested that UGA officials, coaches, and/or student-athletes decline further comment until the inquiry is completed.”

The best case scenario for the Bulldogs is that this …

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It’s no coincidence Saban suddenly is concerned about agents

"Hello, my name is Nick Saban, and suddenly I feel the urge to talk about something."

"Hello, my name is Nick Saban, and suddenly I feel the urge to talk about something."

HOOVER, Ala. – Far be it for me to steer attention away from an important issue like sports agents trying to recruit impressionable young men as their future clients, especially when said student-athletes clearly are in the middle of summer school classes as they work toward their doctoral thesis and certainly have no time to go to South Beach for a party.

But exactly when did Nick Saban become so concerned about sports agents, or, as he calls them: “pimps.”

Because I certainly don’t remember him speaking out when Reggie Bush helped get Southern Cal thrown into the NCAA’s penitentiary. And I don’t remember him saying anything when an Alabama player, Antonio Langham, took money from agent back in 1993. Just wondering: Was he upset a few days ago when he heard reports that a Florida player, Maurkice Pouncey, might have taken $100,000 from an agent. Because maybe we all missed …

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SEC media days: Hey, who let the BCS in here?

This is Bill Hancock of the BCS. He told us a few jokes.

This is Bill Hancock of the BCS. He told us a few jokes.

HOOVER, Ala. — Let me start by saying that I really like Bill Hancock. He has worked for the USOC for several past Olympics (summer and winter) that I’ve covered and he’s one of the few individuals a media person can always count on to get information and help cut through international red tape on issues.

But Hancock now is a likable guy with a thankless job: He is the executive director of the BCS.

Nothing stirs the masses like a power point. (Yawn.)

Nothing stirs the masses like a power point. (Yawn.)

I believe his second choice for employment was environmental spokesperson for BP.

Hancock opened SEC media days with a 15-minute power point presentation. He started with an unintended joke: “I’m going to tell you how [the BCS] works and why it works.”

He went on to talk about how college football “never has been more popular.” And, “Since the BCS was created, attendance and TV ratings have soared.” And (this might be my favorite): “We have the best sport, …

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We’re LIVE at SEC media days (with no shortage of storylines)

That's a relief. I was worried for a minute I had wandered into Sun Belt media days.

That's a relief. I was worried I'd wandered into Sun Belt media days.

HOOVER, Ala. — Welcome to the zoo: SEC media days.

If you took Super Bowl media day, subtracted MTV and questions like, “If you could go through rehab with Lindsay or Britney, whom would it be?” and actually made it somewhat relevant to a sports event, this would be it. Actually, I say that even knowing that there is no sports event at the end of the week, but where else can you get access to 12 head coaches and 36 players from the best and certainly most entertaining

Testing 1-2-3, testing. It works. Cleared for lies from Petrino.

Testing 1-2-3, testing. It works. Cleared for lies from Petrino.

college football conference in the country in a span of three days?

Why, even the likable Bill Hancock from the unlikeable BCS is here.

Tim Tucker and I will be here all week. We’ve both planned a blur of columns, blogs, stories and Tweets. So keep checking back for updates and you can follow us on Twitter (@JeffSchultzAJC and @ajcuga). All posts will automatically go on Twitter,

I plan to make about 27 stops at this table today.

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