Summer vacation for some 700 sports reporters will officially come to an end Wednesday when we descend on Birmingham, Ala., for the start of the annual Southeastern Conference Football Media Days.
And with that, football season in many ways will begin.
SEC Media Days, as you’ve probably heard, is an event unto itself. No other conference even comes close to attracting as much media. The Wynfrey Hotel in the Birmingham suburb of Hoover, where the event is held, becomes ringed with television trucks and is stuffed with fans and autograph seekers. Media is as thick as molasses.
Ostensibly, we’re all there to talk football and begin our coverage of the season, but SEC Media Days has become much more than that. It’s a showcase for football in a conference that is as close to professional as it can be and does everything on a grand scale.
As for the season at hand, there is much to discuss. Here are some guesses as to what will take place:
New Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino will talk about leadership, character, integrity, commitment and pulling together for a common cause. The ensuing sound you will hear will be the media scoffing.
Alabama coach Nick Saban will also talk about leadership, character, integrity, commitment and pulling together for a common cause – without actually saying much that anyone wants to write down. He’s the master of playing it close to the vest.
LSU coach Les Miles will be asked how his team plans to defend its national championship after the spring dismissal of starting quarterback Ryan Perrilloux. Miles will talk about how good Jarrett Lee, the projected replacement, will eventually be.
Wise-guy Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson is sure to make a good joke. A few years ago, he said football was not “rocket surgery,” and it wasn’t a slip of the tongue. Johnson might have the steepest hill to climb in the SEC, but he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer a few years ago chose not to attend SEC Media Days after receiving a subpoena from an Alabama attorney. Things have quieted down since then, and the UT coach will probably spend most of his time at the podium talking about his team’s new spread offense.
Something about Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom leaves you spellbound. He has a presence about him and a certain dignity that commands respect. I look forward to hearing what he has to say, and given the ascension of his program, he should have plenty to discuss.
What can Florida coach Urban Meyer say? He has the nation’s most explosive offense at his disposal and the returning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Tim Tebow. Maybe Meyer will just say, “We will, we will rock you!” and walk away.
Georgia coach Mark Richt also has an outstanding team in waiting, but something tells me he’s going to receive some uncomfortable questions about his program’s unpleasant offseason. No less than seven Bulldogs players have been arrested in 2008.
New Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt arrives from Arkansas and has seen his share of SEC Media Days. In a way, you’d like to see Nutt fire some choice words at some folks in Arkansas for running him off, but he’ll probably take the high road.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is funny and doesn’t even intend to be. His down-home, straight-forward approach is amusing and refreshing in this era of coach-speak. What he’ll say this week is that the Gamecocks still have a lot of work to do in order to win an SEC championship. The bloom is off the rose in Columbia.
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks isn’t flashy and just goes about his job of analyzing his team. How will be the depleted UK offense find ways to score points and get the team to a third straight bowl appearance? We’ll see what Brooks says about that.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville always seems to be hiding some secret that nobody knows – and usually it’s that Auburn is going to be much better than many predict. I agree. I look for the Tigers to win the SEC West this fall.
If you wish to watch SEC Media Days, tune in to ESPNU, which is televising each coach’s press conference. Coaches and players from Florida, Mississippi State, LSU and Vanderbilt are scheduled for interviews beginning at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee are up at 8: 30 a.m. Thursday. Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina take their turns at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Live streaming video is also available at SECsports.com. And, of course, will bring you the latest at NashvilleCityPaper.com, on our sports blog and in Friday’s print edition of The City Paper.
Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. His SEC column appears online each Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.