2012 SEC Media Days – All-SEC, coaches speak

The 2012 Southeastern Conference Media Days concluded Thursday in Birmingham, AL. Though the Florida Gators contingent met the media Wednesday, below are some highlights from the final two days of the event, which featured Georgia, LSU, Alabama, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Kentucky. Quotes courtesy of transcripts created by ASAP Sports.

FLORIDA GATORS ON ALL-SEC TEAMS (as voted by the media)

Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis (first-team specialists), junior safety Matt Elam (second-team defense), senior tackle Xavier Nixon (third-team offense), junior defensive linemen Sharrif Foyd and Dominique Easley (third-team defense), senior linebacker Jon Bostic (third-team defense), redshirt junior kick returner Andre Debose (third-team specialists). [SEC coaches selected eight last week.]

Florida tied for fifth with the most selections (seven) though most of them were on the third team (five). The media picked the Gators to finish tied for seventh overall in the SEC and third in the SEC East (12 first-place votes).

GEORGIA HEAD COACH MARK RICHT

On having seven home games this season (one more than usual): “I love having seven home games. I’d like to have 12 home games if we could, certainly for our fan base and for our players. This season is one that I think the amount of home games is outstanding. The fact that we always play Florida in Jacksonville is going to give you a cycle of every other year not getting that one home game, but it’s certainly worth it to play in Jacksonville.”

On being picked by the media to win the SEC East (and that the media is usually wrong): “I hope the media’s right this time. But we haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t played a game. We haven’t won a game. We know our league is tremendous. We know the Eastern Division is going to be a rough road. All we’re trying to do is prepare the best we can to hopefully play the very best we can play and maximize the potential of this football team. Hopefully that will be good enough to get back to Atlanta and hopefully play a little bit better this time around.”

On the upcoming four-team playoff: “I think the four team playoff is going to be outstanding. I’m not sure who’s going to decide who the top four teams are, but hopefully we’ll get a chance to have one and maybe two teams play out of our league if the season’s just right. One of the reasons why I like it is it doesn’t destroy the bowl system the way it is. Some people may not like it the way it is, but I think the bowl system is outstanding. I think our regular season games are huge. I’m talking about the entire BCS. [...] I just hate to see a day where we might play Florida, and whether you win or lose, you still go to the playoffs, no one thinks it’s that big of a deal. It is a big deal every game we play. I don’t want college football to lose that.”

Check out thoughts from eight more coaches…after the break!

LSU HEAD COACH LES MILES

On his new EA Sports commercial with Mike the Tiger: “I certainly enjoyed the experience. Very talented producer and crew around. The lines were narrowed so that I could perform them effectively. I really thought that Mike the Tiger stole the show. We didn’t get along on the set. He was kind of working the camera. It was really a difficult time. It’s interesting. We had a lot of fun with it. I can’t tell you the number of people that walk by me, and he goes, ‘Like a son to me, a Tiger son.’”

On if he has re-watched the BCS Championship that LSU lost last year: “I’ve seen that a couple times. There weren’t that many plays for us on offense for me to spend that much time. I can tell you that our team had a great year and played 13 straight very, very good, quality opponents and won. We didn’t play our best in the last one. We understand that. That was last year. We also remember and we look forward to playing like we play. It’s about us, some things we need to fix. I think our team sees that.”

On Tyrann Mathieu’s Twitter rant: “I can tell you that no game is won in a Twitter page. It’s a nice, pleasant pastime, very much like Media Days. But it’s all about what you earn in the fall. I think certainly not only Tyrann, but those people that he was communicating with, they understand that, as well.”

On a possible LSU/Florida rematch in the SEC Championship: “Anytime you play the crossover opponent, it’s the team you end up coming back to play yet in the final in the conference championship, that will be an exciting rematch. Certainly the key is to earn your way to the championship game. There’s plenty of quality teams that we’ll have to defeat and work to defeat and game plan before we get to Florida and after we get to Florida. Yeah, they’re a very talented team. Again, they’re our crossover permanent opponent. We look forward to playing them.”

On how tough LSU’s schedule was in 2011: “We played everybody but the Green Bay Packers. But we enjoyed it. There was great challenge to that schedule. We answered the bell 13 straight times. Looking to play better.”

ALABAMA HEAD COACH NICK SABAN

On coming off of a championship season: “It’s really, really difficult in college football to carry momentum from one season to the next. You lose 25 percent of your team. That’s an understatement for us. We lost 13 starters from our team last year. And the new 25 percent that you bring to your team, really they don’t have knowledge and experience, they haven’t played. They’re young players. Maybe very talented players, but they’re very young players. So you have to create your own identity by what you do. You have to create your own momentum by what you do. Everybody has a new role. We have new people who have new opportunities. This is their opportunity to make this their team.”

On his preference for a nine-game SEC schedule: “You know, here’s the priority: Trying to look at this whole thing from a thousand feet rather than looking at it as how it just affects us. My opinion was the number one priority should be that every player at every school have the opportunity to play every SEC school in his career. That’s the number one priority. Now, it doesn’t have to be nine games. But what scheduling format gives us an opportunity to do that? So we’ve always played two teams on the other side plus a fixed opponent. You can do that by playing eight. You could do it by playing nine. Everybody’s got a self absorbed opinion about why we shouldn’t do it because maybe they won’t get bowl eligible.”

On whether or not his former assistants like Will Muschamp and Derek Dooley seek his advice even though they’re the competition now: “I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the coaches that have worked for me and done a fantastic job and am very happy to see them have opportunities because that’s what they worked so hard for. That’s what they did a great job for us. We would not have had the success that we’ve had if it wasn’t for the staff and coaches that worked for us in the past. So I have a tremendous respect and admiration for what those guys have done for me.

“So when they do call or they do ask or we discuss things that may affect the future of college football, I’m always willing to be as helpful as I possibly can to helping them enhance their programs. Look, I’m for everybody having a good program. And the idea that you have to dislike somebody to compete against them is not something I’ve ever really [bought] into. I like Derek Dooley, I like Will Muschamp, I like Jimbo Fisher…all these guys have worked for me somewhere along the line, and I would like to help them every way I could, have the best program they can have for their players. That’s what college football is really all about.”

MISSISSIPPI STATE HEAD COACH DAN MULLEN

On the direction of his program: “Also excited overall in the program, in the direction we’re heading, the great leadership we have within our athletic department and university with brand new 80,000 square feet football facility opening up in January, stadium expansion that is going to start after the last home game this year. There’s all kinds of great, exciting things happening within our football program. I think the future is really bright for us as we continue to strive to build a championship program, to build a team that can consistently win and consistently have the opportunity to compete for championships within the Southeastern Conference.”

On how tough it is to play in the SEC: “Right now what makes the Southeastern Conference to me different is the depth of quality teams that are in this league. You have got to play every play, every game for 60 minutes, sometimes beyond that. The margin for error is so small between winning and losing in this league, that if you slip for one second, that will be the difference between winning and losing that game. It’s not just in one game, not just in two games. It’s the overall, every single game you play. It’s hard to look at schedules in this league and check off wins. You look and say, ‘That’s going to be a battle.’ You’re going to say that with just about every conference game you’re going to play.”

On Urban Meyer’s potential for success at Ohio State: “He’s a heck of a football coach. Ohio State is traditionally a powerhouse football program. I imagine he’ll do a tremendous job there.”

TENNESSEE HEAD COACH DEREK DOOLEY

On his time with the team so far: “It’s been a tough four years in Tennessee. I know, of course, the SEC has enjoyed taking advantage of our tough times. But there’s a nice mood on our team right now that you’re not going to have Tennessee to kick around anymore. So I’m excited about the season and I feel like we got a team that can go toe to toe for four quarters with all the teams in our league. It certainly doesn’t mean we’ve arrived; it certainly doesn’t mean we’re where we want to be at every position. I made the statement to our local media, it’s kind of that song, ‘A little less conversation and a little more action,’ so we have to go out and prove it, and that’s what we intend to do this year.”

On what Tennessee needs to improve on from last season: “Well, we need to improve on just about everything, because we really weren’t good at anything. Certainly on offense, it starts with the run game. We have absolutely no chance to compete for an SEC title if we run it the way we ran it last year. Put a big commitment in the spring on improving that area. I think on defense, of course, I felt like we needed to be a lot more aggressive to impact the game in a positive way. We had some respectable statistics in some areas, but I never felt like we impacted the game from a negative play standpoint, from a turnover standpoint, from a sack standpoint. We’re going to try to be a little more aggressive on defense.”

AUBURN HEAD COACH GENE CHIZIK

On Texas A&M and Missouri joining the SEC: “I’ll tell you what, I don’t think a lot of people are giving Texas A&M and Missouri the credit they deserve. I will say that standing up here because for four years I played in that league. [...] Missouri and Texas A&M aren’t coming into the SEC with their hat in the hand saying, ‘Thank you for letting me be here.’ They’re coming in here to compete and play their tail off on the football field. You can bank on that one. [...] These are two dang good football teams with dang good football coaches. They’ve got players. They’ve got coaches. They’ve got great venues. They’ve got great backing. It’s a perfect fit for our league. They’re going to fit right in here.”

On the four-team playoff as it will be structured: With a four team playoff, I’m going to be honest with you, that depends on what glasses you’re wearing. [...] I think, as anything, you can shoot holes in anything you want. I think it’s a movement in the right direction. I think there’s two main keys to the point of how they structured it. Number one, they kept the bowl systems pretty much to the best of their ability intact so that there’s still a reward for all of the players at the end of the day. I feel that for the traditionalists out there, the bowls that are out there, they get to stay as a reward. That’s big for the players and coaches. Second thing, I don’t think a four team playoff diminishes whatsoever the intensity of week by week trying to get down to the final four. I think there’s a lot of value in that for the fans. Essentially every week is a playoff, certainly in late October and November. So I think those are good things.”

ARKANSAS HEAD COACH JOHN L. SMITH

On returning to Arkansas and overcoming adversity: “As I came back after spring ball, the energy in the room, the energy around the players, has been exceptional. I know, like I said, our senior class is tremendous as far as their leading. I think they took a little adversity they had, they locked up, came together, said, ‘We’re going to be better because of it,’ and that’s what they’ve done. I think that has continued this summer. Our group has done a great job of saying, ‘A little adversity is just going to make us stronger.’ That’s what they’ve done. They’ve had great energy, worked hard. Our players are doing a great job. My coming in, walking in the door, it was unbelievable, the reception. I had to wipe the tears away because of the kids and the reception that I got.”

On if he wants to coach at Arkansas past this season: “Well, certainly. Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that question.”

On if he has been told that he would need a near-perfect record to be retained: “That is to be determined, OK, by our athletic director, our administration. What that number is, if you want to put a number on it, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know that he knows at this point. Hopefully we’re going to, knock on wood, and make things happen to where we give him no choice but to say, ‘Yeah, you’re going to be back here next year.’”

OLE MISS HEAD COACH HUGH FREEZE

On Steve Spurrier suggesting Ole Miss would be a preferable opponent for South Carolina to LSU: “I heard he said something to that regard. I guess my thought would be 2013, they’re on our schedule. We will circle that date and maybe change his perspective about what he thinks about Ole Miss football.”

On his realistic expectations for this season in terms of team development:
“I’ve said this from day one. I think the reasonable expectation from our fans and our administration that they should have on us, our staff and our kids, is that we compete passionately for our university for 60 minutes. Whatever the scoreboard says it says at the end, we’ll have to live with that. Outside of that, the goals I have are laying the foundational core beliefs of who we’re going to be at Ole Miss, what we’re going to build our program on. They’re very simple. They’re based around the word family, their faith, attitude, mental toughness, integrity, love. It takes all of us, the entire Rebel Nation, buying into the core values for us to get to where we want to get.”

KENTUCKY HEAD COACH JOKER PHILLIPS

On his team’s confidence after ending 2011 on a positive note: “Well, I think it’s huge in our conference in gaining confidence, especially when you are as young as we are as a football team. Again, there’s a lot of young kids making plays for us late in the season, especially the last four games. You look out there, the last game, probably four or five true freshmen playing for us on defense. Bud Dupree is a guy that someday will be at this event here, be a household name in the state of Kentucky. So I think it was huge in our players gaining confidence. I think it was huge in that those guys were able to make plays. The guys that were redshirted that were in the same class as them, I think it gave them confidence that they want to experience some of the same things that some of their classmates did.”

On if being a “basketball school” affects the football team and/or its recruiting: “Well, I’m a Kentuckian, OK? I’m a long-time Kentuckian. I’m a letterman, an alumnus. Everybody has things they want to sell in their program. I’m selling our basketball program, OK? I would be crazy to try to fight that. I’m trying to sell our basketball program. I think it was unbelievable advertising of our logo. Every time our basketball team went to the next round, playing in the Final Four. How many times did kids see the UK interlocking brand out there? I think that’s huge. [...] We’re able to sell that we’ve had 40 guys sign NFL contracts in five years. We’re able to sell we have a streak of five bowl games. We’re able to sell we have great academics. We sell the things that we feel will help us win at Kentucky.”

On if it is unfair that he is always on the “hot seat” lists: “I’m not sitting down right now, so there’s nothing hot. I don’t have time to listen to that stuff. All we have time to think about is doing all the productive things in our program that we need to get it back to the level that we want to. I don’t have time to think about those things.”

Quotes courtesy of transcripts created by ASAP Sports.

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