HOOVER, Ala. – The Southeastern Conference’s motto of “it just means more” wasn’t reflected quantitatively as the league’s annual Kickoff Media Days started on Monday.
Each head coach brought two players, one less than previous years. Instead of being at a table engulfed by media, players answered questions from the podium a la the coaches. Media attendance was down. Hordes of cameras weren’t allowed to follow coaches and players as they made their way between interview sessions. And there were no fans in the Hyatt Regency lobby hollering, hoping to get an autograph and possibly be on television, while providing great atmosphere for radio row. It was all too quiet, almost like covering a Vanderbilt football game.
Quantity might have slipped at the toned-down SEC Media Days, but not the quality. Monday kicked off four monumental days, considering last year’s event was canceled because of COVID-19. Media Days signify a somewhat normal football season is less than six weeks away for the nation’s best conference. That was reason enough for all the smiling faces.
“It’s great to be up here,” Florida head coach Dan Mullen said. “Great to see all of you again.”
Mullen was attending his 12th SEC Media Days, topped only by Alabama’s Nick Saban who will be making his 14th appearance Wednesday. As Mullen exited stage right he reiterated how great it was to be there talking football. Florida was followed by LSU and South Carolina players and coaches who echoed the same sentiments. Other than a few gushing statements, it was pretty much a typical press conference.
LSU senior Austin Deculus, a 6-foot-6, 331-pound offensive lineman, was asked if he would be willing to cut his longer than shoulder-length hair for Sports Clips since players can now be paid for endorsements.
“Sports Clips would probably have to take that up with my girlfriend, because she’s the main reason I got it,” Deculus said.
LSU head coach Ed Orgeron fielded the day’s toughest questions.
“In the past few months, LSU as a school, and the athletic department and you personally have been linked to serious sexual misconduct allegations,” one reporter asked. “I know obviously there’s some active lawsuits. I’m not so much asking you to comment on that specifically as I’m curious if the past few months you’ve had any takeaways in terms of changed behaviors in how you’re going to maybe act differently as a coach and handling such situations in the future?”
Orgeron’s answer was much shorter than the question.
“That’s something I’m not going to comment on,” Orgeron said. “It’s an ongoing investigation and I’m not going to comment on any of that. Thanks for asking, though.”
Nothing says it is football season more than a coach not answering a question. Orgeron, to his credit, answered one tough question. He admitted it was a mistake hiring Bo Pelini to be defensive coordinator last season without a formal interview. It proved to be a rather costly blunder. Orgeron fired Pelini after LSU allowed 492 yards to rank 124th in the country. Pelini had two years left on a contract that payed him $2.3 million annually.
“I believed in him, and it just didn’t work,” Orgeron said. “I said I would never do that again.”
Robert Cessna’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org