COACH HOUSTON NUTT:
THE MODERATOR: We are ready to begin with Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt.
COACH NUTT: Thank you very much. I want to start today with I want to talk about my brother a little bit.
I think number one thing is when you have your health, you're rich. A lot of y'all have been asking about Danny. I appreciate that. He had a scan and an MRI about two weeks ago. He's done very well. Very good report. No fresh bleeding there.
We knew this day was coming, but, boy, you didn't expect it to be this quick. Really wanted to get through this year because of the backfield he basically recruited, probably his best backfield maybe Arkansas has ever had. But very good guys. He has tremendous relationships with those guys. Excellent recruiter.
He had a real knack. I don't know if y'all realize, but we had very few backs transfer. That's unusual in today's world because everybody wants the ball. Did a great job of counseling and talking and encouraging. That's the one thing, I think because of his last name, I don't think he always got the credit he deserved. But, boy, just a tremendous loss for us. Appreciate your thoughts and prayers for him.
A lot of people have been asking about him. I really appreciate that more than you know. Hopefully we can get his life back to normal. He has another MRI scheduled in a couple weeks. I appreciate it.
University of Arkansas, the Razorbacks. I'm really proud of our football team. I'm proud of our off season. I'm proud of how hard they've worked. I'm proud of their commitment. I'm proud of their attitude. Our guys have been through quite a bit during the off season. I think we've become very, very close. I think we've become closer.
Our team, especially when you look at the off season, it's voluntary. When you talk to Don Decker, our strength coach, who does a tremendous job, these guys are working and did a good job of working.
Also we've probably had the most campers we've ever had at our camp. I think it's the second highest, over a thousand. Just had the most seniors at a senior day camp. So there's a lot of good things going on.
I think the one thing that got overshadowed was our championship run. It's hard to get that, guys. It's really hard to get to Atlanta (showing the ring). You never pick us (smiling). That's okay. We probably won't be picked again this year to get there, and that's okay. Because that's why it's the greatest game in the world, you got to play it in between the white lines.
We've got a good group coming back. Starts with those runningbacks. Starts with Darren McFadden. Darren McFadden, I brought him today so you could talk to him. I brought Weston Dacus on the other side. Got a good group of guys coming back.
When you lose a Jamaal Anderson, a leading sack getter, when you lose a Chris Houston, a cover corner who cuts down probably the best opponent's receiver every game, that's two tremendous losses. You lose a Keith Jackson, Sam Olajubutu. You lose quite a bit.
But we do have a lot of experience and heart coming back. I'm excited about them.
Matt Hewitt, Michael Grant are back. I'm excited about them.
Getting back to the offense, Darren McFadden, he's very, very special, as you know. If he walked in this room right now today, if you saw him live for the first time, the first thing you'd say, Boy, he's bigger than I thought; he's taller than I thought. Then if you got to see him live from a sideline, you'd say, Boy, he's faster than I thought. He's very, very tough. He doesn't mind running over you. He has a tremendous stiff arm.
Lot of people ask me to compare him. I had the privilege to be around Barry Sanders when I worked for Coach Pat Jones. When Bill coached Barry Sanders, the one thing Barry Sanders had was tremendous work ethic. The one thing I notice about Darren, he has tremendous work ethic, he's unselfish, great character, tremendous leader force. He goes to school.
You know, he could be a real pain right now, y'all, a real pain. Why do you say that? Because he's one of the top players. He's on every magazine. What if he didn't show up for a week of work or didn't go to school? But here's what he does that you don't get to read in the paper.
I get a call from a professor that says, I got to talk to you about two of your players. I'm like, Oh, no. Usually when a professor calls you, usually not good news. So I said, What's the problem? I want to talk to you about Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. I said, What is it? Well, they've gotten enough points in class where they didn't have to come this week of class because they'd already reached enough points in this class, and I told them they have a week off.
There's about five students that had a week off. And Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, lo and behold, came to class.
That's what it's about. That's the attitude. He loves to practice. He loves to go to school. He loves to go to the weight room. I don't know if he likes all the cameras, but he's doing a better job each and every time he gets in front of them. So I've been real proud of him.
We lost a few on my offensive line, so we got some guys that have to step up. We have Jonathan Luigs back, Robert Felton back. We have some very good guys back. There's some names that you won't know. What I'll do is I'll stop right there and we'll just go to questions and see where you want to go.
Q. Coach, would you talk about Darren and how he has progressed since you got him. He's always been an amazing talent, but what has he done to make himself better, and how has he made that progress?
COACH NUTT: That's a good question. The very first year when Darren broke out, he made the first run I remember, an 80 yard run against Alabama, stiff arms an All American free safety, I think Harper. Boy, he had a great year.
I remember Danny calling him in after that first year and saying, Look, we've had a lot of good backs have a good first year, but then they disappear the second year. They disappear as a sophomore. It's that sophomore jinx. We don't want that. We want you to be the same guy.
The one thing, the reason why he improved so much is because he has tremendous work ethic. He's a little bit different. Has a tremendous attitude. He practices with a purpose to get better. I just love his unselfishness. He's very unselfish.
So each year, this is my third year to have him, we always would kid him, Hey, are you still Darren McFadden? You still that same guy we recruited, that hungry guy? To give you an example, the first time he set foot on campus in a camp he wanted to wait on the 40 yard dash. He wanted to see everybody run, and then he wanted to go run against the fastest guys, whether it be from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, wherever, Georgia. He wanted to wait.
That's the competitor that's inside of him. So he has that. He's a tremendous competitor. He's a winner. But the ingredients are this, real simple. I know I'm repeating myself, unselfishness, it's a character, it's an attitude, it's a fierce competitor, that's about almost 6'3", long, long arms. He runs 4.3 or less, and he can take it home each and every time.
We just want him to keep doing what he's been doing. That's really a tremendous work ethic.
Q. One of the things you went through this off season was the release of your cell phone records. How difficult was that to deal with, and what was your reaction when you found out your records had been put out online?
COACH NUTT: This was really a different, totally different, off season, something I've never experienced before in 26 years of coaching. To have someone get so personal, to have so many things written, starting in your home state, sending things to an editor, things that are starting to spread. It kept going and going.
You know, the toughest thing is your family. It's your family. One of the things, the reason you're able to go home at night, look your children in the eye, look your wife in the eye of almost 24 years, is because, see, they know. They know the truth. Our players know the truth. That's why I'm still here today. This is my 10th year.
You go back with the record number of campers. There's mamas still bringing their sons to me. So there's a reason for it.
I think if you ask Darren McFadden, he would say you attack Coach Nutt, you attack me. You ask Felix Jones or Marcus Monk, they'll say the same thing. You attack Coach Nutt, you attack his character, you're attacking me.
To answer your question, that part of it was difficult 'cause you're hurting two parties that you know nothing about and you're spreading gossip and you're spreading lies. You don't know these people. You don't know what they're talking about. But you think that you see two people talking, and that's not what FOI is about.
You think because you see two people talking, you think, Hmm, must be a soap opera, must be something going on, when you don't know. That's what my family, which has been so strong, Diana has been so strong, so good, understanding. They're very tough. And our players.
See, here's the thing. I get asked about it by reporters. If you went to our weight room you wouldn't hear one word of it. If you asked our players how it affected them, it hasn't. I think it's done this, though: It's made us get a lot closer. It's really our team has grown together. Our coaching staff is much, much closer. The immediate family and the Razorbacks family are much closer. That's what it's all about.
You appreciate the guys like Marcus Harrison and Marcus Monk. I can't tell you how many times they came to me, Can we have a press conference? Can we shoot back? Can we talk? Can we tell them the truth, what's really going on? They were feeling the frustration of they won 10 games.
Coach, we know your character. We know our coaches' character. We know what's going on. Let us tell them. I said, No, let's not do this. Let's not give them credibility. Let's keep doing our deal. That's kind of been our thought process of the whole thing.
Q. You mentioned Darren's shyness around the cameras, how he doesn't love to do it too much. How has he seemed to handle all the increased attention? Got to be a growing lack of privacy with him. How has he handled that?
COACH NUTT: You know, he's gotten better. He has really loosened up. I think some of y'all that really know him, had more than one conversation with him, he has a tremendous smile. He dresses up for Halloween, things like that. I mean, he's a fun loving guy that has gotten better with each interview.
I think Kevin, and Josh, our people have done a really good job of trying to help him.
You mentioned one thing that I think really is a key. He can't go home to Little Rock, his hometown, and go to the mall without getting bombarded for three or four hours. He's the type of person, he won't tell anyone no. He won't tell one person no. That's what you love about him.
He's handled things I've been so proud of the way he's handled things. Everything changed the minute he won the Doak Walker. We've never had a University of Arkansas athlete win the Doak Walker award. We've never had one guy fly to New York. That's what upsets you a little bit with all the things that's been talked about. What about that guy? What about his unselfishness, what about the team?
I think this team is probably the only I think it's the ninth team that has won 10 games, and the only team to ever do it in the SEC. This is a hard, hard league, as you know.
I just love the way he's handling things, and he's getting better at it.
Q. Was there ever a time through this off season that you said that this just isn't worth it anymore?
COACH NUTT: There was just maybe a short period of time we felt like that. But then you go to your family. Say, No, no, no, no way. You talk to your mom. You talk to your brother. You talk to the players. You talk to Darren McFadden. You talk to Felix. You talk to Weston Dacus, Marcus Harrison. You talk to your players. There's no way.
No, if they would have felt like some of the people felt, it would have been different. I've never had a poll done on me before. I didn't know we were into the age of now we're doing polls and different things like that. Even that, you know, showed in our favor.
So to answer your question, maybe a short period of time. Maybe a short, short period of time you thought about Here's the keys. But when you talk to your family, talk to your players, there's no way. Got too many good things going. You just won a championship.
You had Florida. We weren't picked to be there. It's LSU, Auburn. Y'all know who you picked. We were not picked to be there. We had Florida on the ropes, the national champion.
With Darren, Felix, the guys that we got at the University of Arkansas, you can't let go of that.
Q. Last year you ranked I think 108th nationally in passing, but you won the west. Does that even bother you?
COACH NUTT: You don't like to be last at anything. You know that. I'm a former quarterback who loves to throw. The stats don't show it. But you got to do what your players do best. Our players at the time, what we did best, if you came to practice, you'd say, Hmm, No. 5, you better give him the ball. That's what you would say. You'd say, You better give No. 25 the ball. You better find to way to give Peyton Hillis the ball.
You do what's best with your players to give them the best chance to win. We still hold the record for the passing. Clint Sternum. Still got the record. I predict he's going to win the most touchdowns, our receiver. Marcus Monk is going to break a record.
To answer your question, it don't bother me that much when we're winning 10. I do know we've got to improve that. I do know we've got to be better. I think we'll be better at it. I know they're going to overpopulate the line of scrimmage. I know every time we walk into a stadium they'll say, There is No. 5. Put a bullseye on his chest. There's No. 25. We have to keep teams from making us play left handed, no question.
Q. Can you tell me how you first heard about the poll that was done on you, what your reaction was, and if when you look at something like that if there are times when you think the passion for football down here has gotten to be a little over the top?
COACH NUTT: The first thing is when you hit your 10th year, when I first stepped in the SEC coaches' meetings in 1998, I was one of the youngest. I didn't have one gray hair, not one. Now you fast forward 10 years later, I'm the second longest in tenure. It's my 10th year. So I know your words get a little older. Your comments are a little bit... I've heard that before.
There's been 25 to 26 changes in the SEC. I know the passion of this group of SEC, the passion of the fans. I understand that. But all I know is to do the best I can every single day, and do it with character, do it with integrity, do it the right way, care about a young man's life, try to make a difference in his life. That's why you're in it. So that's what we try to do.
You know, I think sometimes it does go too far, no question, but I know it's here. That's the world we're in. That's the world that we're in. And so, again, I go by our immediate family. Who is that? Our players. When the player comes to my office, like yesterday, and says, Hey, Coach Nutt, this is my five year old son and my three year old daughter, and I couldn't have made it without you. These four or five years right here at Arkansas, you made the difference in my life, and that's why I'm the father I am today. Don't listen.
That's what encourages you. It's not the other. So that's what I go by.
Q. What was the reception you got when you went out to the public in the off season? Did you make any special effort this year that you hadn't made in past years?
COACH NUTT: You know, I had the exact same schedule I had the last nine years. What's amazing is when we went to our Razorback club meetings, the fire marshal would come in and say, You cannot put one more round table in here. That's it.
Everywhere we went it was sold out. Our ticket sales are higher than they've ever been. So the reception was very, very positive. But we did the same exact schedule, same golf outings. We didn't duck anyone. It was really, really positive.
What you don't hear is the minority or the ones that are quiet, the letters that I get, the emails that I get, the fans where we go reach out to, the Razorback clubs, it's, Boy, I'm thinking with Danny. I'm thinking about you. I'm thinking about your family. That has been so positive.
Then you see the contributions. You see the ticket sales. You see the commitments. You see the camp numbers. They're all up, up, up, up, the best we've ever had. So that's a good sign.
So to answer your question, the same schedule we always had, we kept it, just kept going, and it was really good.
Q. Where do you think Darren McFadden fits in the Heisman picture? What would that award mean to the University of Arkansas?
COACH NUTT: I tell you, that would be tremendous for Arkansas, to be able to put a Heisman Trophy in the Broyles complex. Coach Broyles' last year. There would be nothing like it. I think it would mean so much. It's hard to get.
You know he'll be at the top to start out. He came in second. So he's at the top. But as you and I both know, it's about winning, his teammates. I think he'll be the first to tell you, I need my teammates. I need everybody on our team: Coaches, players, to be at their best, and winning solves all. That will put him in the race.
But to answer your question, I think he's at the top, the front runner. There's no question about it or he wouldn't be on every magazine. I think everybody knows that. Also they're going to be trying to stop him every single Saturday. Every team will be trying to stop Darren McFadden. You're in a fast, fast league. It's a difficult chore, no question.
Q. As you went through the trials and tribulations of the off season, did you hear anything from other SEC coaches, anybody call you? You said so many coaches come in and out. Are you able to develop friendships with coaches in the league?
COACH NUTT: I do. I have a good group of friends in the SEC. I talk to a lot of 'em. They were calling me. I had a lot of professional coaches call me. The ones especially that knew me, they knew it was a lot of rumors, lies and gossip. They knew that.
The coaches in the SEC were very, very good about, Keep your head up. They were just very, very encouraging. I'm very appreciative.
Q. Do you think this off season, the way it went, has any impact on Darren's Heisman run? Do you think it could hurt him, or do you think the attention the school got may have gotten his name out there a little more?
COACH NUTT: Well, his name's out there. His name is out there. I think it started when we went to New York. As soon as he went to New York he knew things were different.
His name's out there. I think this maybe added to it a little bit, maybe a few more interested, maybe a few more names in different publications. Arkansas, Darren McFadden, there's a connection there.
But the bottom line is, he's a frontrunner, guys. He's the real thing. Again, being around Barry Sanders, the only other Heisman I've had the privilege to be around, I put him in that category. He's just an unbelievable talent.
But I don't think the off season I think it's earned on the field. He's a frontrunner because he came in second. He's a Doak Walker award winner, the first ever at Arkansas. You look at his runs, it's amazing, the runs that he's made throughout his career, starting when he was a baby as a freshman. He's continued each year. Done a good job.
Q. You talk about the lies and the rumors out there. Was it not possible just to ignore them, walk away, not deal with them at all?
COACH NUTT: We tried to do that. We tried to do that. But there was a tremendous, tremendous campaign, onslaught that didn't stop. You're talking about hurting some people, families on both sides. Then when it starts to get in just about every publication, it started in Arkansas, then it gets out to every publication, every radio.
There comes a point in time where for the first couple of months you're ignoring it because we don't want to give it credibility. We try to do exactly what you said: try to ignore, ignore, ignore. But then it's such a massive campaign. It doesn't stop. That's what made it tough, where you had to our university lawyers, councils, comes a point where you have to go address.
Sometimes you look back. I wanted to do it much earlier. I wanted to do it the first day it came out, the very first rumor. They wouldn't let me. You try to follow people that have been there and understand, trying to give you the best advice for your team and the university. You follow their lead.
Q. You're talking about your depth charts, strengths and weaknesses, instead you're talking about how your off season was. Did you anticipate coming here that that's what you would face? Did this take away from your championship run? And two, could you describe your relationship with Coach Broyles.
COACH NUTT: I expected it a little bit. This is what's brought our team closer together, though. Again. You go by Razorback clubs, you go by campers, you go by commitments of players, mamas that are still dropping their sons off to this campus with me as the head coach. That's what you go by.
You go by people still coming and buying tickets. That's what you go by. Our fans are very passionate. They can't wait for the season. That's what I hear.
Our players are not going to sit around and say, I wonder what's happening about that rumor. They don't do that. They don't know anything about that. They're focused on this, and that's football, going to school this summer, weight room.
As far as the relationship with Coach Broyles, as he's been just a big time athletic director, I think he's the best there is. The reason I say that is because he understands. He's been there. He's been there as a player. He's been there as a coach. He coached at the University of Arkansas. I could always go to him always.
Guys, because of all this, he had to make a quicker decision to step down, and I think that's what gave a lot of people a lot of momentum. They thought they could come get me after that. That's what really hurts because I think he's an icon; he's a legend. What he's done with our facilities, without one tax dollar, without one student fee, it's unheard of. It's unheard of what he's done.
I can't tell you how many times players, former players, come back after their pro runs, they've been carrying that adidas bag on their shoulder all those years trying to make every league from Arena League to NFL, NBA. They come back. What do they need? They need a degree. What does he do? He goes and finds a way to get them a degree with tuition and fees paid for. He gets them a scholarship. He's been nothing but a helper.
I have a tremendous relationship with him. Gonna miss him. Gonna miss him big time. I'm gonna find out where they're going to put his office and I'm gonna go see him and try to see him on a regular basis.
Q. With the atmosphere off season being what it is with the microscope on the program, how important do you feel the first three or four weeks of the season are setting a tone, saying this affected us or didn't affect us in the off season?
COACH NUTT: Well, naturally, it's always about winning. You know that. Especially in this league. You always want to get off to a good start. But before we can do that, we had to get through this summer. We had to get through step one, step two. Step one, step two is recruiting.
You wouldn't think that after winning 10 games. You wouldn't think that winning a championship. You had to get through recruiting, which was very, very positive. Then it was Razorback clubs. Very positive. Then you're checking ticket sales, summer camp numbers. Up, up, everything's positive.
We're off to a great, great start. We've never had 14 commitments sitting here in July. We've never had that with the quality of players that are already committed. There's a lot of people still believing what we're doing. But it's very, very important we get off to a good start. There's no question.
And it starts at home the very first game against Troy University, who is a very good team. We've been criticized about our schedule.
I tell you, you better go check. I don't think you've watched Troy University play Florida State. I don't think you've seen they have tremendous athletes who can run. Sometimes those athletes who have been turned down by Alabama and Auburn, they play with a fierce passion. They're not going to be in awe of any stadium. Just because you have a 72,000 seat stadium, they've been there before.
Q. What sticks with you about the way the second half of the conference title game unfolded? If winning solves everything, as you say, do you think putting Florida away that day would have changed the negative parts of the off season from unfolding the way they did?
COACH NUTT: The second half of the championship game?
Q. Against Florida.
COACH NUTT: Boy, I tell you, you can't ever forget it because there's a time looking across that sideline, looking at Urban Meyer's team, such great athletes, so well coached. You felt like, This is our ballgame. We're going to win the SEC outright.
Boy, there was a time. Especially when Antoine Robinson intercepted the ball, the momentum switched. It got quiet. You could almost see on the other sideline there's a little bit of, even through their players or coaches, we got 'em now, got 'em on the ropes, just where we want them, and felt so good about it.
But, boy, when you turn it over, it didn't take but a couple of plays, the momentum switched back. And that's what sticks out. That's where our players are hungry. That's where they've tasted it. They tasted that championship game. They just about tasted victory. They want back in that ballgame with a chance to win it.
Q. You talk about you have 14 verbal commitments. What is your opinion on having an early signing period for college football?
COACH NUTT: You know, again, there's been a lot of discussion in that. I would want to know what time of month, what time of year you're talking about on early signing dates.
The only thing about early signing date, it draws everything out. It just extends recruiting. My brother can't coach today, and I think one of the reasons is because of recruiting, the intensity of it. After recruiting, after signing day, the regular coaches who hadn't had their skull opened up with brain surgery, they're exhausted. I'm exhausted.
So can you imagine what a guy with brain surgery, had his skull opened up, how tired he was? Carla said he'd come home and said he'd fall asleep immediately in the chair.
My question is, When? What I'm worried about is, okay, now you're going to have a visit in May. Now instead of just evaluations made, you're trying to see every play in May. To me it could open up to just about year round recruiting. That's what I'm scared about.
It's just about to that point now where parents are bringing players up for an unofficial visit, but it's an official visit. Why? You have to show them the weight room, where they're going to eat, where they're going to live, you have to sit down with them.
It's already pretty early. So I don't know where you're going to put that. It's tough.
Q. You mentioned earlier you thought Marcus Miles could set a receiving touchdown record for you this year. Could you talk about why you think that and talk about the strength of the SEC.
COACH NUTT: Is he at 17? Where is he at? Eight more touchdown passes, right.
He needs eight more. I'm glad Kevin is in the room. I don't know the numbers exactly. He needs eight more. And I feel that way because he's the best cover catcher I've ever seen. What I mean by that, when he's covered, at 6'6", he's not covered, he can go up understand a get it. He has great hands. He's faster than you think. He's been our go to guy. I just feel like in my heart with 12 games, he's going to get that record.
Q. You had a unique offense last year that really worked. How amazed were you it got so much criticism starting from one player and his mother?
COACH NUTT: I like that question right there (laughter). Me, too.
You know, this formation, what's amazing, we've ran this formation before, but we had the quarterback back there, so it wasn't that exciting.
Gus had used this formation a lot in his high school. But Danny had a great idea but moving Darren McFadden in that position at quarterback. And the reason was, he said, Hey, the guy you want there at the controls is Darren because Darren played this position in high school. He has ball skills. He can throw it. He can run it. He can hand it off. He can fake it. So he had those kind of ball skills.
It worked beautifully. We'll continue to use that. We've led the league in rushing four out of the last five years. The thing that everybody wants to see, everybody loves to see the pass. Hopefully we're going to get better at that.
But it's about what do your players do best, put them in the best position to win, and that's what we try to do.
Q. How have you and your staff changed the recruiting strategy in anticipation of the text message ban going into effect on August 1st?
COACH NUTT: That's a good question. I'm kind of excited about that. We'll really gang up in multiples of two, three. Our off day is Monday. So what we'll do is have a good study day on Monday, then Monday night what we'll do is we'll get in different rooms and we'll start getting on that phone with prospects, let the runningback coach talk to them, let the receiving coach talk to them, whatever position coach, besides the recruiting coach.
We'll try to really get involved with the family. We found out early in the week it's a little bit better, a little easier to get ahold of that young man earlier in the week than later in the week towards our ballgame. Really try to zero in. We always write cards and letters. We'll continue to do that, try to keep that relationship going.
It's full time. It's constant. It will be more by phone.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
Tailback Darren McFadden:
On the goal of winning the Championship this year:
"I will go out there and work really hard. I want to go out there and prepare really hard in practice to win. We lost a lot of offensive linemen this year and we have some new guys coming in to fill those spots. "
On being a Heisman candidate:
"It's something that motivates me. I know that I will have to come with my A-game when I'm out there and not slack around. I must come out for every game."
On the Arkansas offensive line:
"My offensive line was great last year. Half of the things that I did I could not have done without them and the supporting cast of my team. "
On the Wildcat offense:
"I think it's something people can look forward to. It's not just a trick play, it is part of our offense."
On changes for the new season:
"We will go out there and play like we have been doing. We will work hard, win football games, and make sure everyone is accountable for one and other."
On the off-season:
"It's something that didn't bother me. We knew what was going on inside the program. We were not listening to what was being said outside, it was something that was being looked right over. We were all sticking together and staying strong. We came to workouts everyday and worked out."
On his quarterback Casey Dick:
"Casey Dick is something we don't have to worry about. Casey is experienced and ready to play."
On who will win the SEC:
Linebacker Weston Dacus:
On the wild off-season so far:
"I think for the most part we tried to ignore everything that was going on. It did not really make sense for people to take stabs at Coach (Houston) Nutt. He went ten and four and is probably one of the best coaches in the country. The players did not really understand it. We are a family and Coach (Houston) Nutt is the rock of that family."
On lack respect after a great season last year:
"We have got a lot of talent on this team, and I think that the sky is the limit for us. We know that our coaching staff can take us to the top, and if we stick together as a team we can accomplish anything."
On head coach Houston Nutt:
"We know that he has got our back and we have got his. He is going to do anything for us. He is a great leader for our team by just showing the players how well he handled everything that went on."
On playing with Darren McFadden:
"He is a great running back. Probably one of the best I have played against in practice. He is going to hit the hole full-speed. He gets us in a lot of trouble with our defensive coordinator. It is just something special to play with him. We feel like we can go against anything practicing with a guy of his caliber."
On his team's expectations this year:
"The biggest thing we can do is come out strong. We have come out slow on defense the last couple of years. This year we have to come out on fire with Alabama being the second game."
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS--
COACH STEVE SPURRIER:
THE MODERATOR: We have South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.
COACH SPURRIER: Nice to be here again. My 15th year. I know a bunch of you sportswriters still got me by a lot of years, but good to be here again. Looking forward to the coming season.
At South Carolina, first couple of years we felt like, with our team, our goal was to win more than we lose, and to win the Bowl game would be a pretty good year for us. We did that last year. We finished with three wins and won the Bowl game.
First year we lost the Bowl game, so we felt like, you know, that was a pretty decent year.
We've raised our goals this year. We're going to try to win the conference. We felt like we've really increased our talent level at South Carolina. We've added a lot of players that we think are at a pretty close level with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
Obviously you need to be at their level to win the conference. We lost some close games last year, didn't play our best maybe or didn't coach our best. But we feel like our talent level is good enough now we should say, Hey, let's go try to win our conference championship.
I know it will be a huge assignment, but I believe our players, our team, we need to come to the ballpark feeling like we're just as good as Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and that we can play with those guys to see what happens.
Don't know what's gonna happen, but that's gonna be our mindset going into the season, to see what happens. So we're looking forward to it. We think, again, our players, our talent level is up pretty close or maybe even even with some of those teams.
Q. When you went to Florida, there was a lot of talent on hand. You stepped right in and won. How hard has it been for you to be patient at South Carolina where you've had to build?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, you know, like I said, I think every year at Florida our goal was to win the SEC because we had a team that we certainly felt was capable. We didn't do it every year, but we were actually pretty close most every year.
I think some years we won it with maybe not the best talent. Maybe one year we didn't win it with maybe the best team. The best team doesn't always win the conference championship.
In fact, some people asked me about last year. LSU led the conference in almost every category: Offense, defense, everything just about, but they didn't play their best at Florida or at Auburn, and they didn't win their division, didn't win the conference.
You know, some breaks, some good play at the right time certainly determined the champion. But, again, going into our third year at South Carolina, we believe our talent level has improved enough that we can realistically tell our players, We got a chance, fellas. We're going to set a goal to do it. I know we're not gonna be picked and we shouldn't be picked, but we need to come to the ballpark of these other teams and believe we're just as good.
Q. When you've talked the last few years about changing the culture of winning in South Carolina. They've had a losing attitude, had low expectations for too long. How is that coming along with the fans, athletes and people that are involved in the program?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, I never said anything about changing the culture. That was Lou Holtz that said that. I said something about changing our attitudes. Attitude, that's my word (smiling). I guess it's about the same thing.
But, anyway, the attitude of everything at South Carolina, when you haven't won much, we won our fourth Bowl game in school history this year by the way, so we did that, but the history there is not all that super duper. '69, South Carolina won the ACC. That's the only championship in 110 years of football.
But what we need to do is understand that the object of a football season is to try to win your conference championship. I really believe that. I'm really sort of a coach that tries to win a championship, which in our situation is the conference. I don't really worry about the national that much. I don't know why coaches do, to tell you the truth, because that's really a longshot and a lot of things have to happen.
What we can control as coaches is trying to win our conference championship, all of us. So that's where we are right here. Just trying to get our fans in the mindset that, you know, don't applaud our guys when we lose close games. You don't have to boo us or anything, but we don't need to be patted on the back for close losses. That was one thing we went through last year that hopefully we don't have to go through again.
But our fans are super. I really believe the reason we had such a big recruiting class, even though we lost those close games at home to Tennessee, Arkansas and Auburn, the noise level was so great that recruits out there could see, hey, South Carolina is as big a big time atmosphere as all of these other SEC schools. I can go there and maybe play a little quicker. Looks like they need a few more ball players, and maybe be on the first SEC championship team ever. So that's I think really helped our recruiting.
Q. You lost two key players. Who do you feel will step up this year and bring the talent to the game to help you win?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, okay, Syvelle really helped us last year in about the middle of the year, coming in and playing the quarterback. His ability to scramble, make plays, improvise really helped us in a lot of games. I really brag on Syvelle every chance I get. Hopefully he'll get a chance in pro ball somewhere.
Sidney was a very good player for us. His leaving may have helped us sign five really I think outstanding potential wide receivers. We got a couple of players that look just like Sidney: 6'4", 6'5". Joe Hills from Palmetto, Florida. Jason Barnes from Charlotte, North Carolina. A couple of 6'1", 6'2" guys, Dion Lecorn and Matt Clements. The fastest of all the guys we signed, Chris Culliver, from Garner, North Carolina.
Hopefully a couple of those guys or three or whatever will really be ready to play this year.
Q. As someone with a unique perspective on all this, what would you tell LSU fans to expect when they play Alabama? Have you talked to Saban about what it was like for you going back to Florida?
COACH SPURRIER: No, I haven't done either of those. I don't really try to tell people what to do. I'm not very big on advice or anything like that. I just try to worry about what I can control.
And someone asked me about us going to LSU. I said, Oh, it will be tough, there's no question about that. The eastern division is a very, you know, good division. But the other side of it is that you don't have to go undefeated usually to win the division nowadays. You need to beat your division opponents.
If you lose outside the division, sometimes that doesn't necessarily mean the end of the year.
So, anyway, what was your question? Something about LSU, I don't know (laughter). I don't have an answer to all those LSU and Nick Saban. I'll let you ask those guys all those questions.
Q. Talk about Blake Mitchell, the value of a senior quarterback in the SEC.
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah. Blake is a fifth year senior quarterback. Started two years off and on. Hopefully his experience and his mental toughness is much, much better. I think he's ready to have a big year.
I probably bragged on him a little too much prior to last year. But looking back, realistically, our offensive line was not good at all the first couple of games. Mississippi State and Georgia. We felt like we needed to put Syvelle in there just to run around, to dodge the pass rush. That's what he did. He really helped us.
Blake's the kind of quarterback, we need a running game and we need pass protection. When those two things happen, he can be very productive. He was most valuable player in the Liberty Bowl: Four touchdown passes, 300 something yards, I'm not sure. So he's very capable. He's capable of taking us a long way.
Q. With Jasper and Cory here today, have you been pleased with the leadership you got from your older players, and do you think you will have better senior leadership?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, we have noticed our off season program this year, summer program, had been much better attended. Not perfect. But from what we hear from other players, most all the guys that have been there that we're counting on to play. There were a few freshmen, a few other guys missed maybe more than they should.
The players we were really counting on to be there pretty much have done much better than the first two years. So our commitment level from what we understand is much improved.
Jasper, again, stayed for his fifth year. He and Cory. Both of them could have been projected fourth, fifth round NFL picks and stayed. That's not always happened at South Carolina. Usually most those guys, if they can make a few bucks here and there, they take off as soon as they can.
But Cory and Jasper elected to stay their senior year, graduate hopefully, and hopefully help us have as big a year as we possibly can. So I really admire those guys for hanging with us another year.
Q. With what happened in the NBA last week with the referee, the gamblers or mob getting to him, is it ever a concern to you that sort of thing could happen in the SEC in football?
COACH SPURRIER: I've probably been accused of saying something like that a couple of times (smiling). But, yeah, we'll all have to be careful now of not saying, It appeared that guy had money on the game. You can't say that anymore. I don't know if I've ever said that before. There were a few games, not many. There's been a few lousily called games that deserved an investigation (smiling).
But that's why Commissioner Slive and Rogers Redding, that's their responsibility. I think because of what happened in the NBA, this will really heighten all the security and checking on guys' background all the time, what they're doing.
Referees really need to be scrutinized probably more so than us coaches are scrutinized. Anyway, hopefully it will be a good scare that will help every sport.
Q. Do you think you've gained some credibility with your players because you didn't come in the first year saying you were ready to win the conference championship, let's go do it, that you waited until you were ready to do it, and do you see them responding to that?
COACH SPURRIER: I don't know about the players. As a coach, I think you have to realistically set your goals. I think you have to look at your team, your talent level, give them something they can achieve. We tried to do that the first two years and have a go at it. We didn't achieve all of our goals, but we hit quite a few here and there.
Now that we believe our talent level is, like I said, pretty close to those top tier teams, we need to raise our goals. We need to believe we're just as good as those other guys.
That's where we are. What will happen, who knows. But our approach is right now that we can compete with these other teams. Now, to beat 'em, we got to play better, coach better, maybe get a break or two in those close games.
Obviously Florida played very well when the games were close. They had a bunch of close ones. That's pretty much how you win conference championships nowadays. I think Florida won, what, two one point games, us and Tennessee, some six pointers, seven. I'm not sure what all.
But to win a championship nowadays probably in our conference, the ability to win a close one is crucial.
Q. With the Internet today and technology like camera phones, are football coaches more paranoid than ever about stuff in practice getting out? Has it changed over the years?
COACH SPURRIER: Oh, it's definitely changed to where most all of us are closing practice. In fact, this year we're pretty much going to close practice. But we're going to open it up for some scrimmages at times so our fans can come watch practice. Normally, though, it's going to be closed, just like about everyone else is doing.
We believe it's important to have at least one or two a week where maybe the fans can come watch, those that want to. But it's important to close them up nowadays, yeah.
Q. A lot of talk lately about how tough the SEC has become. From your perspective, is it significantly tougher than it was when you were at Florida in the '90s? If so, how much of that has to do with the coaches in the league right now?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, I think it is a little tougher than back then. Seems like there was only maybe three, maybe four teams that had a chance to win the conference championship, whereas now there's at least six to maybe even seven or so. Who knows.
But with so many good teams, I mean, when you usually look in the top 10 defenses in the nation, there's five or six SEC teams in there. It shows the talent level in our conference is pretty doggone good. I think someone said at the NFL combine, there were 59 SEC guys, and the next conference with 34 or something like that I read.
So there's a lot more teams capable of winning the conference. A lot of good coaches. But we're usually only a pretty good coach if we've got a pretty good team.
Q. In your recruiting, how important is it for you to get guys giving you those verbal commitments in July, August, before the season starts? Then the guys that do commit to you early, had you does that affect your recruiting of them up until February?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, what's most important is the good ones that sign with you in February, as we know, 'cause sometimes early commitments do change their minds. But we 're sort of in between on early commitments. Sometimes we may actually keep talking to a player that made an early commitment until he just definitely says he's made up his mind that's where he wants to go. I'm sure they do the same thing if we get an early commitment.
I'm not sure. Sometimes a lot of these early commitment guys may not be the top players. Sometimes a lot of the real top players like to wait and check everybody out, meet the players, get to know the coaches, all this, that and the other.
But, anyway, I was against an early signing period. I'm glad we keep it in February. I think recruiting has turned more year round, though. It has turned into the April/May is maybe more important than it used to be. Everybody's recruiting hard in those months now. That's what we all do. I think it's fair for all.
Q. In your system, how long does it take usually for the light to go on for a quarterback? When do you feel like it really went on for Blake and stayed on?
COACH SPURRIER: Blake did play well the last part of the year, only had a few errant plays here and there. But probably when he came in against Arkansas, we put him in the second half just to see what would happen. He only really threw one bad ball the whole night, but that was all it took for us to be a loser 26 20 that game 'cause we didn't get the ball back after one interception.
But he threw the ball beautifully that night. Receivers caught it everywhere. From there on he seemed to play very well. My experience coaching quarterbacks, once you bench them, they come back a better player. Some coaches don't like benching them. But it was interesting watching Rex Grossman this year. Of course pull for Rex all the time.
But, anyway, the last year, the 2000 season that we won the SEC, actually benched him the Georgia game and also the South Carolina game, but then we'd bring him back. He'd be a lot better after you benched him a little bit and bring him back.
I'm hoping that's what's happened to Blake. A little time on the bench, maybe he could see the game a little bit better, understand, whatever. But hopefully he will really have a big year for us.
Q. The first off season leading into your first year at South Carolina, you had some players involved in some off field incidents. How do you go about getting the handle on that from last year to this year? Is that something you can get a handle on?
COACH SPURRIER: We still have a few that step out of line. My sort of philosophy on coaching is giving a second chance, those first year guys. But if they continue down the wrong road, then certainly we dismiss them.
But there's some acts that we don't tolerate, that they will definitely be gone, and our players know what they are.
So my philosophy on discipline is that you remove the guys from your team that can't follow the rules. I can't watch them every night and every day. Somebody thinks you ought to bring in all these mentors to talk to them every night. Their time they're busy year round. Football players are busy: Study halls, tutoring.
Well, anyway, at South Carolina they are. I don't know about all these other schools. But their time, academics, tutoring, study hall, all that, we can't watch 'em all the time. So they got to make a choice. The way to have good discipline, in my opinion, is you just remove those that don't choose to get with the program.
Q. On paper it looks like your offensive line is about where you were last year. What makes you believe that it's going to be any different this season?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, although our two tackles we think are ready to play, Justin Sorensen and Jamon Meredith. We think they're going to be pretty solid in there. Inside actually our two starting guards were a couple of walk on guys that didn't earn a scholarship till I got there in their fourth and fifth year, I guess, Thomas Coleman and Seth Edwards.
We got Seth from defense. He thought he was a defensive lineman, playing about fourth team. Finally got him over on offense and he became a starter.
Anyway, we think we've signed some players that can play. We think Kevin Young can play and we think Lemuel Jeanpierre who we took from defensive tackle, a big, strong, 300 pound kid that's smart and wants to do well. Lem has a great chance to be a very good left guard there.
We just think we've got some players that can play in there. But it is crucial that we get those guys playing together early and not wait till about the fifth, sixth game of the season like we sort of did last year.
Q. You talked a lot about talent today. There's so much energy expended talking about whether a guy is a four star or five star guy. Do you see recruiting as something a little bit more complicated with things that aren't necessarily measurable or quantifiable?
COACH SPURRIER: Oh, certainly, certainly. Some of those hot shot guys that you think are going to be really top players don't pan out. Our first recruiting class, I know we were doing some cartwheels around Columbia there. I think about half of them are probably still on the team out of 24, probably 12 or 13 is all that's left. A bunch of them quit, a bunch of them couldn't get with the program.
That's one good thing about college football, is that they do give us room for error. With 85 scholarships you got some room for guys that don't make it. Hopefully you don't get too many that don't make it, but there is some room for error.
Yeah, the ratings on those guys doesn't always mean a lot. You got to get 'em and train 'em and go from there. Of course, the attitude they come in with is just as important more important probably than their talent level.
Q. The NFL commissioner has gotten tough with off the field citizenship issues. Do you see that having any kind of impact or trickle down effect in college football?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, what's interesting about our sport is about every university and every coach has his own rules. Commissioner, he can sort of control us coaches a little bit if we get out of line, I guess, but he doesn't tell us class attendance policy or drug policy. Every university has a chance to do their own thing on those kind of issues when a guy gets in trouble.
Obviously I think all coaches much, much more strongly react when something goes bad now. You know, hopefully it won't be as much as in the past. But, again, my way is remove those guys from the team. Can't baby sit them all the time. One of our media boys asked me the other day, Do you let your guys go down to Five Points? Five Points is a college bar they go down to downtown.
I said, No, they got to learn how to go out in public without getting in trouble. If they can't, they need to go play for one of these other schools or something. Send 'em on down the road (smiling). No, you got to learn to, you know, mix with everybody. You don't need to be sheltered and all that. That's just my opinion.
Q. How have you and your staff changed your strategy with the text messaging ban going into effect August 1st?
COACH SPURRIER: I guess we'll quit text messaging on August 1st. That won't change much what we do. Do what everybody else does. Send out all the letters, this, that, the other. Wait, make our calls, and when it's appropriate text. Which is about what everybody else does.
Q. I know it's not one of your players, but given your background with quarterbacks, can you talk about what you see out of Andre' Woodson?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, again, I don't like to talk too much about the other teams' players. He's obviously a good player. I really admire what Kentucky, their team did last year. Go 8 5, win the Bowl game. We thought we did something big beating Clemson, then Kentucky beat them also.
Anyway, Clemson was a pretty good team. They were a good team (smiling). At one point in the year they were a dang good team. I don't know exactly what all happened to them, but they didn't finish very well.
I like Rich Brooks, Kentucky. I really admire what they did and so forth. Quarterback's a good player. Their whole team did a lot of good things last year. I'm not into rating or judging other teams' players all that much. They're all good.
Q. Houston Nutt had a highly publicized off season with adversity. Have you ever had anything close to what he encountered these past several months?
COACH SPURRIER: Let's see. Let's see. I think the only time I had a little bad stuff is when we lost our last three games at Florida in, let's see, what year was that, '99. '99, wasn't it? Yeah. I think his problems stem from losing his last three games. We're only as good as our last game.
South Carolina, we won our last three somehow, so we had a good off season. It really helped recruiting, helped everything. Fans are positive. They're giving money like they've never given before I think (smiling). So life's pretty good when you win your last few. When you lose those last few, then all the problems come in.
So I think that was probably what, in my opinion, happened in Arkansas, is they just happened to lose those last three. They had a big year going and it just didn't work out there at the end.
Q. What does it mean to be committed at Carolina? Has it changed in the last 10 years? Does it mean different things for different kids when they verbally commit to y'all?
COACH SPURRIER: Verbal commitments, most of the young men really mean it, I think so. Then a few think, well, if I commit early and get hurt I have one to fall back on, if I get hurt playing high school football during the season. Who's to say what's right or wrong.
But generally, you know, most of high school kids keep their commitments. Some change and some should change, really, because times change. I always relate to it like if you got a girlfriend in the summer before your senior year, in February of the coming year she may not still be your girlfriend. It's like schools. You know, sometimes they look pretty to you, then six months later they don't look so good.
I think they all should sort of change, wait, make their commitments sort of after the season. But that's not the way they do it. But some really know what they want to do. If they firmly know where they're going, that's good. I think it's good to do it that way.
Q. Could you briefly comment on Chris Smelley, how you think he may fit into the future of your program?
COACH SPURRIER: Chris is doing well. Chris right now is your backup to Blake. I hope he's had a real good summer working out, throwing the ball. I haven't seen him throw a ball since last spring. He needs to, you know, improve his passing a little bit here, there, the other, learn our offense.
But physically he certainly is capable of being an outstanding quarterback, so I'm anxious to see how much he's improved through the summer. Players can really improve through the summer if they're dedicated and make a commitment to work on the things they need to work on. I'm anxious to see what he looks like the night of August the 4th. We'll go out and throw the ball around a little bit.
Q. What do you think of Commissioner Slive's edict four years ago to get all the teams off probation within five years? Now that it's close, the fact it might happen.
COACH SPURRIER: All the teams off probation?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, I think Commissioner Slive is super. Commissioner Kramer was certainly an innovative commissioner, to get the championship games going in our conference, so forth. I tell everybody, if you get to that game, that's the biggest game of the year.
If you're lucky to get to the national championship game, that's another big game obviously. But for starting the season, that to me should be our biggest game, every conference team, is the SEC conference championship game.
Commissioner Slive, he knows what he's doing. Television money I think is at an all time high for SEC. I think South Carolina, we got the most money of anybody 'cause I think we played a couple of Thursday night games last year.
Commissioner Slive's done a super job. He's one of the best, no question about it.
Q. Talking about the Thursday night games last year, you play Kentucky this year. Can you talk about the advantages you see in playing Thursday night games?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, certainly when I was first hired at South Carolina, Dave Brown, ESPN, said, We'll put you on Thursday night, open the season, if you'll do some during the year also. I said, Sure, that's a good trade off for the University of South Carolina, open college football the last two years on Thursday night.
We're not doing it this year. I think LSU and Mississippi State has it this year. But the following year I think we're scheduled to open.
He wanted us to do some during the season. I think we had the Auburn game last year, Mississippi State early. But that was opening season, then we got Kentucky this year. Yeah, everybody's watching. It's a night that you get the whole country to watch you.
There's advantages if you play well and win. If you don't play very well and lose, I guess it's not real good. But we've been very competitive. I think our Auburn game last year went down to the wire. So obviously TV guys love those good close ones.
It's been very good for us to play Thursday night. We're going to continue I think playing one a year at least.
Q. You mentioned that you were trying to raise expectations, convince them they could play with everybody, make a run at the conference championship. You're going to get tested early with games on the road at Georgia and LSU. Does it change your preparation for a season having two games like that at the beginning? Would you rather sort of ease your way in?
COACH SPURRIER: It really doesn't matter that much. At Florida we played Tennessee about second game every year it seemed like. What's fair's for one is fair for the other. Hopefully your team's really ready to play early. The good teams obviously get better as the season progresses. The bad ones usually go downhill. Hopefully we'll get better as the season goes. That's how you have a big year, is to continue to improve.
But, again, like I said earlier, we need to get our offensive line straight before that Georgia game and go from there. Yeah, those are two big road games. Actually we played a little bit better on the road than we did at home last year. As far as wins and losses we were 5 1 on the road and 3 4 at home. But we had more of the top SEC teams at home last year.
Q. You're 62 now. How much longer do you reckon you'll coach?
COACH SPURRIER: I read something the other day that yesterday's 60 is today's 40, if you're a workout person and eat correctly, all that kind of stuff. So I've always figured on at least five more years, five to seven. I got a seven year contract, I think. I think I'm the last coach calling the plays.
Any other head coaches calling the plays now, or am I the only dumb idiot still doing it? I've always said that if I can't call the plays maybe it's time to get out of it. That's sort of what I do, this, that and the other.
But, you know, I feel about like I did when I was about 45, to tell you the truth. I work out now more than I did when I was 45. I don't know what all that means. Yeah, I feel real good. So hopefully if I start forgetting the plays, can't get 'em in, all that kind of stuff, then they need to get somebody else.
Q. What would you do if you retired, other than play golf? Do you just like coaching football and you can't foresee yourself not coaching football?
COACH SPURRIER: Well, probably same thing you sportswriters. I mean, what else would y'all be doing if you weren't here all the time (smiling)?
Yeah, I had that one year off, and it wasn't much fun. I don't play golf well enough. I can play decent, but I don't play well enough to play every day. I played in that Lake Tahoe event. Hadn't played since. I just said, That's enough for a while. My mind is completely off golf. Have no desire to play golf right now.
I'm looking forward to the season. Yeah, it's fun. It's fun for me. I guess the competition's the most fun. It's fun trying to win at South Carolina. Lee Corso said it couldn't be done. Trying to do things for the first time. We have so many accomplishments that have never happened there that we have a shot at. So that's the fun part for me. I know it's a wonderful situation. I know we've got pretty doggone good players, real good players. I think we've got real good players right now. It's just a wonderful opportunity. I sort of feel lucky that I got a shot to be the coach there to try to do some of these things for the first time ever.
So I'm looking forward to it.
Q. Does this league need to do a better job with non conference scheduling, getting more games like Cal and Tennessee?
COACH SPURRIER: Yeah, that's another individual university decision. Commissioner doesn't tell us who to play except our eight conference games and so forth.
We're playing North Carolina this year and Clemson. Somebody asked me today, Why y'all playing North Carolina? I said, Because that's a good game. That's North Carolina versus South Carolina. Used to be a big game when both were in the ACC. Of course, North Carolina is still in the ACC. But there's some rivalry between the two states. Of course, I used to coach at Duke. We played those guys all the time. I've got a little relationship going up to Chapel Hill. But that's already a sell out. That game is talked about as much as a lot of our conference games right now.
But I think it's a good game. We still play a couple of teams that just come to our place. We don't have to go to their place. I still believe we always should play seven home games out of 12, which is what we're doing. But I think two of your four choice games should be teams comparable to what you are. Certainly South Carolina, North Carolina, we're pretty comfortable. Then we play Clemson every year.
Our schedule is a good one. It's not a real easy one, but I think it's fair.
THE MODERATOR: Coach Spurrier, thank you.
COACH SPURRIER: Okay, thank you.
Linebacker Jasper Brinkley:
On being at SEC Media Days:
"It's kind of overwhelming to see so many cameras in your face, but it's also kind of exciting to me, and I'm enjoying it."
On the team's incoming freshman talent on the defensive side of the ball:
"We've got some great incoming freshmen, the best in school history. Coach Spurrier let us know that we'll have to work to maintain our spots because those freshman can come in and take the spot."
On being close to having a breakthrough season:
"We were close last year, but we've been working hard this off-season. It's time for that hard work to pay dividends. We're looking to take advantage of the opportunities we have and to compete this year."
On the conference overall:
"It's the hardest conference in America. Every week, we play someone tough."
On the Georgia game:
"A win against Georgia could tell us what kind of season we're going to have. A loss could tell us the same thing too. If we can win that game, it'll be a boost for the rest of the year."
Running Back Cory Boyd:
On staying for his senior year:
"I'm always happy with my decision. I've got to be a leader amongst the younger guys. Jasper Brinkley and I both made this decision and we came up with what we had to do. It feels good to come back for that fifth year. Also, I graduate at the end of the season so I can go home with my papers and hopefully take my game to the next level."
On Steve Spurrier's goal to win his first SEC Championship at South Carolina:
"It's definitely exciting. The young guys that come in can really look forward to doing things for the first time. He's (Spurrier) always big on trying to do things for the first time and trying to have bigger goals. You can't really win something unless you really install it in your mind and I think that's what he's trying to do with us."
On the support amongst the team:
"We all have to understand that we're all going to have our ups and downs, but what keeps us strong is our togetherness and the belief that we have in each other, in our coaches and in our program. We try to stay strong with each other and try to encourage each other and not put each other down or leave each other out from the situation. We try to build around the situation and see what we can do better."
On the off-season:
"I've been here for five years and I have to say hands down, this has been the best summer workout that I've ever been around. We don't have anyone second guessing the coaches or the program and everybody is committed to greatness. Hopefully, it will pay off when late November comes and we're in the middle of the battle. Then, everyone can sit back and think of all the things we did in two-a-days and summer workouts when we had to get up at 5:30 in the morning. Hopefully it will pay off this time, and the ball will bounce our way in some of the games we came close to last year. "
COACH TOMMY TUBERVILLE:
THE MODERATOR: We have Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Welcome. It's good to be here. Glad to see everybody get started off for another year. We're excited. We've had a good off season, good spring practice. We've had a good summer. Seems like we start earlier every year, but our guys are ready to go.
We've got a very competitive schedule coming up, playing two very good non conference teams right off the bat. We're going to have a fairly young team in some areas. We're going to have a blue collar team. I think we have some guys that are going to be extra special.
But when you play college football, try to win consistently in college football, it's how your good players play together and how many you can get playing, playing more consistently. What we try to do as coaches is try to get 60 to 70 guys to play as good as they possibly can as many games during the year. If you do that, you've got a chance to win. That's what we're going to try to do.
We've got our quarterback back in Brandon Cox. I think he's going to be a good player for us. He needs to play healthy. He's gotten stronger. He's a little quicker. He couldn't have got any slower (smiling).
But he's got a chance to be a heck of a quarterback for us. He knows the offense. He's a coach on the field. He spins the ball as good as anybody I've ever seen. He never throws a wobbly pass. He's very accurate.
If he can stay healthy, our receivers can come along a little bit, our offense can get better. We didn't have a good offense last year for several reasons. One, Brandon was a little bit beat up. We pulled the plug about middle season and just started pounding it and trying to win on defense and kicking game. It worked pretty good for us most of the time.
But now we want to put the offense back in. We're starting off with a fairly young offensive line. We got our tight ends back. We're looking for a big play guy at wide receiver. Thirteen years ago, when I came into this league at Ole Miss, I learned very early you got to have more than one runningback.
We've worked very hard the last few years of trying to have four or five runningbacks that we feel like can play in this league because they get beat up. We're a running team. I feel very good about Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Carl Stewart, Mario Fannin, Tristan, Davis. I think they can play in this league. At one point or another, probably all those guys this year by committee will be starters for us.
I think it will help us. As we go through the year, we'll become a more productive team.
Then defensively Quentin Groves will be the guy we'll build our defense around. He's got a lot of quickness and speed. We're proud he came back. Got his degree. Working on his masters. Came back for his fifth year. Passed up the NFL. Says a lot about his character and his attitude. He wants to win a lot of games. But he's got a lot of young guys around him.
We're a little bit shy at depth at linebacker with experience, but all the other places look pretty good. The one area that we strive every year to be the best is our kicking game. We're starting over from our punter, our kicker, our field goal guy, our deep snapper. They're all gone. So this is a year where we've got to kind of start over, throw young guys out there, see what happens.
But we've got a chance to have a good football team. We're looking for consistency. Last year we won 11 games. Pretty good in this conference. Wasn't good enough to get to Atlanta. That's our goal. There's some awfully good teams this year that we'll play. A lot on the road. We have to go to two LSU, two Georgia, two Florida, two Arkansas. We've got our work cut out for us.
The one thing I think our football team has done over the years is we've learned how to win. If you learn how to win, then sometimes it filters down to your younger guys. Sometimes even though you might not be the best team on the field you find a way to win the game. We're going to have to do some of that this year. We did last year. But every team does at some point.
The year we won 13, there were some games we had to find a way to win it, somehow have more points at the end of the game than the other team. That's what's great about this conference. Anybody can beat anybody. As we go and start our season, we know that we've got to get better each week to have a chance to get to Atlanta, but that's what all other 11 teams are trying to do.
We'll stop there and start answering questions.
Q. I think I read a wire story where you were upset or surprised that Brandon Cox didn't make any of the coaches' all conference teams. Could you talk about that.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Not really upset. And, again, I'm a coach that does the same as all the rest of them: you look at stats, and that's how you kind of pick your pre season. Somebody asked me what I thought about it.
I said, Well, you know, I understand probably why Brandon's not a pre season high favorite to be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. But, you know, he has won 19, lost 5, and he did go through a year last year where we asked him to do some things that he wasn't used to doing. But he had to do it because he was a little bit beat up.
I like his perseverance. Again, I think when a guy's playing his fifth year, he's won as many games as him, surely he'll get a little bit more publicity.
But the pre season picks and Brandon knows this are for people to read and talk about. It's what happens at the end of the year. I think he has a chance. He'll be a good quarterback. But, again, he's got to stay healthy. He really knows this offense. He'll make a good pro quarterback. He'll play on the next level. He has the ability, the mentality and the smarts to get that done.
But, again, we want him to finish up and have a great fifth year for us, and he can do that.
Q. I remember three weeks after the LSU game last year you talked about how beat up some of your guys, including Brandon, got in that game. Did that game have a physical effect on you the whole year, or was there a point where you felt like you got back to where you were?
COACH TUBERVILLE: I think every year that we play LSU, I think both our teams, when they play each other, there's a lot of respect and there's a lot of physical talent on the field, a lot of collisions.
I think both teams take a mental and physical beating in that game because pretty much in the last few years, whoever's won that game has a real good chance to get to Atlanta. Last year Arkansas was able to. They beat us and they had the opportunity to go.
But, you know, in the west this year we all look, if you're going to get to Atlanta, you're going to have to go through an LSU team. That just picks up the rivalry and intensity. We were beat up last year after that game. Brandon was beat up.
We had several other guys. But, again, we go back to our team, and knowing how we were beat up, we still won some big games right after that. Guys persevered and fought through it. That's what I was talking about earlier. When you're beat up a little bit and you got to play hurt, you got to find a way to get it done.
Last year I thought there were several games that, man, we were going to have to be really lucky to win, but our guys somehow found a way to win.
Of course, you know, beating LSU a couple times the last few years the way we've beaten them has really helped us. Them the same way. They've beaten us. I think some of their players have benefited from that game, that rival game, so to speak, which has become that over the last few years.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Spurrier wore you all out. He'll wear anybody out (smiling).
Q. The LSU game last year, that was the first game where everybody realized how dominant Glenn Dorsey was as a player. Your recollections of his performance and the impact he had in that game.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Yeah, one of the better players in the country last year. You can imagine what he's going to be like this year. We did everything possible to block him with one, two, offensive linemen, tight end at times, runningback. Just a great player in a long line of good defensive tackles I've seen come out over the years.
Kind of reminded me a lot about Warren Sapp, the kid I coached at university of the Miami. Plays low to the ground, quick off the line of scrimmage, always going north and south. He'll be one of the better players in the country. He'll be up for a lot of awards. I'm sure he's not really worried about that. He's worried about playing as a team.
He's a guy that everybody's going to have to deal with this year going into when you play LSU, he'll be the first guy when you turn on the film, you'll notice him. He'll show up quite often. He's going to be a challenge. Was a challenge for us last year. I'm sure he's going to be that much or more of a challenge this year coming up with a young offensive line that we'll have.
Q. You have a pretty extraordinarily rough schedule between September 29th and October 20th, three road games against LSU, Arkansas, Florida. How do you prepare for such a stretch of games, and does it seem like the schedule is really kind of front loaded here this year, and that by Halloween a lot of these things are going to get sorted out in the SEC?
COACH TUBERVILLE: A little bit different schedule for us. It's kind of moved around. We normally play LSU a little bit earlier. This year it's a little bit later in the schedule. Of course, playing Florida and then going to Arkansas, our road schedule all games are a challenge in our league whether you play a home or a road.
I think the biggest thing you do as a coach in our league, again, as we talked about earlier, you try to teach your players how to win on the road. You just can't say, Okay, we're underdog. We're not supposed to win when we go on the road.
We challenge our players at the beginning of the season that no matter where you're playing or how you're playing, you got to play the same, you got to play in an atmosphere different atmosphere each week, but you got to feel like it's no different. You got to play hard. It's got to be a challenge. You've got to play as a group.
As I said earlier, when you play college football, you know, one guy's not going to win for you. You've got to get them all playing the same way, the same direction. You got to play them the same speed. Sometimes when you go on the road some of your younger guys are second guessing if they're doing the right things.
Your older guys on the team have to be good salesmen to your younger guys in the dressing room of, Hey, we can win this game on the road. You've got to play to another level. You've got to understand that you're not going to be playing at home every week.
So it's a challenge, but it's fun. This league's fun when you play in these different stadiums. They're all hostile environments. If you can win on the road, that means you've really got a good football team. And we've won a lot of road games over the last five years.
I think we've got one of the better winning percentages on the road in the conference. Again, we stress a lot of that, of enjoying your trip, enjoying going there, play to win. We coach to win on the road. We go in and sometimes we take chances. We roll the dice. Our players, I think they like that. We try to change the momentum on the road.
I learned that years ago from some of the coaches I worked with, that if did you go and play the same type of philosophy on the road that you play at home, you're going to end up short sometimes because that's how they're going to play you at home.
When you're playing them at their place they're going to play at a different pitch. Try to keep your players playing on a different level all the time. If you lose the momentum, try to get it back. Momentum is the biggest factor of losing when you're on the road, 'cause if you lose it long enough you're surely going to lose the game.
There's a lot of factors in coaching when you go on the road, and most of it's mental.
Q. Last year you told us you changed your practice schedule to emulate the pro teams. This morning you talked about how beat up your team got during the season. Have you changed anything about your practice schedule to try to avoid that? Anything you can do during the season with your practice schedule to avoid that this year?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Well, I think we all had to look at our schedules and how we practiced, the length of time that we practice, how much contact you have. When we added the 12th regular season game, because we have a conference championship game, if you're going to make it through a season playing in this conference you've got to try to keep your best players on the field as much as you can as fresh as you can.
We changed last year and went to morning practices. I thought it helped us. I thought it helped us a lot, because when you finish your last practice at 11:00 on Thursday morning, you don't play again till Saturday night, your guys have two full days of rest. They're a lot fresher in the morning.
I noticed our guys retain more of the offense or the game plan when they get up, even though we get up at 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, they're a little bit fresher. They understand and are able to concentrate a lot more.
I like the scenario of having the team early, letting them be regular students in the afternoon. I think it helps the attitude. Again, the biggest thing, one of the biggest things about coaching is keeping the attitude good on the team from top to bottom.
I let our players talk and make some of these decisions sometimes of what they think about practice time, how long we practice, how much we hit. I talk to our seniors. We meet every Sunday. One of the best feedbacks that I've gotten over the last few years is the morning practices.
Again, the thing about them, they understood when they got practice over with they could relax and really enjoy being college students a little bit more than having to wait all day long, go to classes all day, then having a long practice session and meetings that night. The next thing they had to do was go to study hall, go to bed, had no free time.
Again, a football team that's got a smile on their face got a lot better chance to win than if they don't.
Q. Can you talk about what you've seen from Brad Lester this off season and if you think he has the kind of potential to be the kind of back that Kenny was for you?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Kenny Irons was a very tough physical runningback inside and outside. You have to be that way if you're going to be in every down back in the conference that we play in.
Can't be a situation where if you go in, you know, that play's not going to fit you. Brad Lester last year, year before, probably a little underweight. We've tried to put a little more weight on him where he can be a guy that can carry the ball 20 times, 22 times a game.
If he can do that, I think he can fit into the mould of Kenny Irons or Ronnie Brown or Carnell Williams or Rudy Johnson. Right now that's still out there to be seen. Over the years, we've tried to make him a starter. He'd get hurt. That's what he and I have talked about over and over in the off season as he's worked out, stretch, lift, try to make himself stronger physically to be able to take the pounding that you take.
But Brad, he's got quickness to get it done. Again, the thing that he's got to do is be able to make it physically. If he can do that, I think he can be a heck of a runningback. Again, that's the thing that's just hung with him the few years he's been with us.
Q. What have you thought of the kind of intense focus on Nick Saban across the state? Have you got a chance to talk, and what did you talk about?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Yeah, Nick and I have known each other for a long time. He's a good football coach. It's been good for us because we've been kind of under the radar. Any time you have two teams really in the state that people pay a lot of attention to you know, we've been at Auburn now nine years. People pretty much know us, know our program. We've had success, won games. I think people for the most part think we know what we're doing.
If you've got that kind of going for you, you really don't need a lot of publicity. It will all show up in the wash, so to speak. But a change in coaching staff, you're going to have a new guy that people want to talk to, get philosophies, see how they're going to do things. Assistants, make changes, offense, defense.
It's been good for us. I know Nick's probably had a tough time, as I did my first year at Auburn, having to answer all the questions about this and that. Again, that's part of it. But I've kind of enjoyed being underneath the radar for the last six months.
Q. You were kind of unpopular with Ole Miss fans right after you left Ole Miss. Do you think Nick is getting more of that from LSU? What do you think he's in for when he goes to LSU, plays those games like you did against Ole Miss?
COACH TUBERVILLE: It's always tough. My first time back was going back to Ole Miss I have so many friends, and I'm sure Nick has the same thing at LSU. A little bit different the fact he's been gone a little longer, not as many of the players around. I guess they play at home this year. They don't go to LSU.
But my second year, Ole Miss, I knew a lot of the players. Deuce McAllister. All the guys we recruited, had laid it on the line for us. We weren't a very good team when we got there. The coaches and players really got along well. We were a true blue collar team. We persevered, we sweated, we bled, we cried together. When you make changes like that, go back, you have a lot of emotions involved.
I'm sure there's going to be emotions there. A little different again from my standpoint because it was so early that I went back. There's always a soft spot in your heart for where you've spent a lot of time, done a lot of hard work, especially the players that have laid it on the line for you are still there and you've got to go up against them and try to beat 'em, try to do things to make yourself a little bit better than they are.
Q. Houston Nutt went through an off season of people prying into his personal life, phone records. Not that specifically, but for a coach, how did you react to that kind of level of intrusion, and how difficult is it to get used to the fact that people are that interested in having a say in your future perhaps?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Well, we're all in the limelight. You can expect anything to happen. Everything is escalated more and more every year of communication. Sometimes we as coaches are not as educated as what we should be of what can be looked at and can't be looked at. But we learn. We live and learn, as we all do in this room.
I sat by Houston three days at the SEC meets. He's been through a long year. His family has been through a long year. Looks like he's coming through it pretty good. Only he knows, and his family. Of course, he's got a tough job, as we all do, coaching in this league, of expectations. He's coming off of a very good year in terms of winning games, but not a very good year in terms of the positive publicity.
I've gone through some of those. I had a tough time a few years ago when it come close to not being around at Auburn in 2003. But, again, you know, you just got to persevere, be strong about it. You've got to look at it in the right direction. Again, this is the nature of our business of just understanding what's out there.
You've got to just again, I don't do anything at Auburn, from family or anything, that's going to get in the way of what's best for Auburn. I think that's what all of us try to do at our individual schools because we're looked at in a different light. We're on a 24 hour clock in terms of public perception. You know, we've always got to keep that in mind.
Sometimes you let your guard drop. I probably let it drop a couple times, but, again, you learn a little bit more even from Houston's situation or some other situations that have happened. You just take it and you learn and hopefully things turn out for the best.
Q. Before January you were probably the coach that got under LSU fans' skin the most, if I could say so. I wonder how you feel about maybe passing that baton on to somebody across state?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Has it passed (smiling)? Probably has, huh? Y'all take me off the billboards down there (smiling)?
Again, it's just so competitive in this league. You look for rival games. You don't look for you know, of course the fans at all the schools get fired up when they play anybody, but there's always certain situations you walk into that are a little more difficult.
We've obviously, you know, had some good games at Ole Miss against LSU, and we had some good games here at Auburn, but they've had them against us.
I think it's just a matter of respect really when it comes down to, you know, the teams facing each other. It's always hard. It's hard. But then you throw in the coaching challenges, as you mention, it makes it even that much harder. I think it's hard on your family. Your families get involved because they see so many things written in newspapers out there publicly.
But, you know, that's the nature of the business. You just got to take it as it comes. You got to try as hard as you can, then you go to the next one.
Q. Could you talk about y'all's winning strengths against Alabama? What impact do you think Saban coming back is going to have on that?
COACH TUBERVILLE: We have a rival, and that's ours. It gets no tougher to win that game than any other. I've been in a lot of rival games. When we look at our schedule every year, we have things in our dressing room, our coaches' offices pointing to that game.
That is the one game that our fans and Alabama's fans look at more than any other game, no matter whether you're playing for a championship.
When I was hired at Auburn I was told, Hey, you know, we want you to do the best you can to win that game. Fortunately for us, you know, we've had a pretty good streak. Now they've changed coaches. I'm sure Nick was probably told about the same thing, you know, when he came. We've got to get back on the winning ways in that area.
We all have a lot of games, but there's none more important for the two coaches in this state than that game. Again, we'll continue to look at it like that. Our players will hear it from us almost daily. Normally you don't do that. Normally you just talk about the game you're playing that week.
But our players understand from the day we recruit 'em till the day that they leave, that's the game we want them to be prepared for. If they're going to prepare for any game, that's the one we want them to prepare for. Fortunately, we've been able to play pretty well in that game for the last few years.
Q. Could you give your thoughts and opinions on the rule changes this year. You talked a lot about them last year. This year going back to the clock starting after the snap, then moving the ball back on the kickoff.
COACH TUBERVILLE: You know, I was on the 12 man committee that last year we changed it over. We thought going back into this year we cut out too many plays. The one thing that committee does not want to do, it does not want to affect the quality of college football. That's the number one responsibility of the players, to the fans, and to the sport.
We thought that cutting out 12, 15, 17 plays was just too much. So we went back to the drawing board and looked at things where the clock would run a little bit more other than starting the clock at the change of possession, the kicking from the 30 yard line. That will be a major rule change. I think it will add more points to the scoreboard. I think it will be a lot better for the offenses.
I think you'll see more different things handled in the kicking game this year because of that, but it will also run a few more seconds off the clock. I think that's really the biggest change that you'll see. There's a lot of other things that were talked about: the 15 second timeout coming out after a no television timeout, I think that's going to get the play back the ball back in play a lot quicker.
But the rules are not as many, I think, but I think they're good rules. I think they're really going to help put the emphasis back on the game than on the time clock. Again, I think we just got to quit worrying about that. Television's here. They do a great job. They pay a lot of bills. You know, they're going to get all their commercials that they want. If we're out there for four hours, we're out there.
Making these rule changes and cutting back on the quality of the game that we have is not really the right thing to do. So we just need to find better ways to kind of speed it up, give the officials a better opportunity to speed it up, give them more freedom in doing that.
Again, if we can do that, cut the time down, then I think it will make it better for everybody.
Q. How have you and your staff changed your recruiting strategy in anticipation of the text messaging ban going into effect on August 1st?
COACH TUBERVILLE: I personally like text messaging because, you know, you can send out a short message and you know the young man is going to get it and you don't have to leave a message, keep calling back. I think the communication was better. I really don't understand why it was cut out. They could have put a limit on it, when we could have done it, hours and all that.
I think it was a little extreme just totally shutting it out. I think they're going to look at that again. Hopefully they will. I think the expense is greater on the universities and the time limits on the recruits is longer if you cut out text messaging.
It's just something, technology's growing so fast, it's hard to keep up with it. It's hard to keep up with the rules. Hopefully we can come to some common denominator to help the coaches make it easier for them and also for the parents and the athletes.
Q. You mentioned your time at Ole Miss. Looking back now, obviously the two Mississippi schools have kind of struggled the last five or so years, what makes it difficult as a football coach to win in that state?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Well, is it any more difficult? Maybe in some situations it is. I think, of course, they have two universities there. They have a lot of good players. I think in the past there's been a lot of coaching changes at both schools. There's been changeover. There's been some problems.
When I went to Ole Miss we had had some problems. The biggest thing when you're a football coach, whether it's one school in the state or two or three, you still got to be able to keep players in your state going to your university. I mean, you're gonna lose some, but you got to keep a lot of 'em in your state.
I think because of coaching changes over the years, the inconsistencies of coaching staffs, I think that's hurt. You know, you've got to give coaches time. Sometimes the lease is short. When you start over in any place with a new head coach or a coaching staff, you start from scratch. It's going to take that coaching staff two or three years to learn the recruiting, get it going again. That gives coaches from outside an opportunity to come in and take players away.
Two good schools there. We've had some of course, I coached at Ole Miss. We won some games, lost some. But tradition at both schools. Again, if you just go back and look, the changeover of coaches, it catches up with you. It would catch up with you at any school, not just those two schools.
Q. Back to the kickoff rule. Talk a bit more about how you think that may affect moving that back in terms of strategy in games, and you have to replace kickers? How does that affect what you're looking at?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Even if you have a great kickoff guy now, the ball is not going to go into the end zone every time. You've got to have different guys. In the past we have a great field kickoff guy last year. I'd said 90% of them were not returned.
So we could put backup guys that may be not as good as cover guys knowing normally that the ball is going to be kicked out of the end zone, you can rest your guys now. Most of the returns are going to be there. You got to have better cover guys on your coverage team.
You have to coach your kicker better, you're going to have to kick it right, left. Normally in the past, like last year, we lined up on the left hash marks, kicked it right down the left side. Very easy. Worked on it maybe five minutes a week.
Now we're going to have to line up and kick long kicks left, long kicks right. Your guys are going to have to learn coverage lanes. There's going to be a lot more coaching to your kickoff teams.
Other side, return teams. A lot more returns. You're going to have to put a lot more returns in. Probably last year we had three returns for the entire year. Now you've got to have your front guys prepared to return kicks because there's going to be a lot of pooch kicks down to around the 20, high kicks to where you try to get them to fair catch. You're going to have to coach that, try to get returns off of that.
There's a lot of scenarios to where people are going to try to attack you in different areas of kicking off other than just slamming it down the field. There's going to be squib kicks, things like that. There's going to have to be a lot of coaching on both sides. Field position will drastically change.
I think field position is going to be more outside the 30 yard line than the 20 yard line than it has in the past, and of course offense's shorter distances. We worked on it very hard in spring practice. We didn't know the rule was going to pass at that time, but we still worked on it.
We still need a lot of work because there's so much more time that you're going to have to spend on it. That will be an area this year that you'll see a lot of mistakes, probably a lot of turnovers, again different guys catching the ball. You'll have to have more receivers back there, guys that have hands that can catch. A whole different train of thought for coaches when it comes to those two parts of the kicking game.
Q. Talk about the losses you had on your offensive line and also your backup quarterback situation.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Offensive line we lost four starters. We have King Dunlap back, our left tackle. Most of the guys that played that are going to start for us this year, Jason Bosley started four or five games last year at center. He'll be our heir apparent there. Leon Hart, right guard started three games. Green started left guard maybe two games. Andrew McCain did not start. Redshirted last year at right tackle.
Even though we don't have a lot of experience it's the depth we have. We've got some good depth with a little bit of experience plus five new guys that we brought in as true freshmen, as good a class that I've been around in a long time.
So probably it won't be the strength of our team going into the season. I would say by mid season, it could be one of the best strengths that we have because we have so much talent there, but a lot of those guys are going to have to get some experience to bring that talent to a new level.
It will be exciting for Hugh Nall. He's done a great job for me for 13 years as offensive line coach. The techniques haven't changed. They grow up in the system. Again, it goes back to keeping your staff together to have that consistency, to keep those guys going in the same pace.
Q. Take us back in time to your senior year in college and talk a little bit about that season's four games compared to today's freshmen.
COACH TUBERVILLE: You better repeat that again (smiling).
Q. Take us back in time to your freshman year in college playing college football.
COACH TUBERVILLE: All right.
Q. How does that period of time compare to playing college football today, and is there a chance freshmen will go back to I think it was four games per year?
COACH TUBERVILLE: I don't think it will change. I think the biggest thing we're trying to change is go to five years of eligibility. We're getting closer and closer to that every year. Not having redshirts, not having medical redshirts. When you start, you've got five years to play, play at any time.
Back when I played, of course, the team I played on, we only had 33 scholarships. You didn't have any choice to play when you were a freshman. You had to play on something.
I think that's good to some degree. But I think, you know, the ability for coaches now to have the opportunity to play all 85 of their scholarship guys, as we all have asked to do, most of the coaches across the country, for the last two or three years, so our (indiscernible) would really help us a lot in areas such as depth on special teams and that. I think it would really help college football.
But, again, that's a long ways away. We can't get enough people swayed our way on that, but we're still working on it. Hopefully it will work out for us in the future.
Q. This still may be a couple years down the road, but what do you think of the possibility of the SEC having its own television network? Do you have any concerns or what do you think it could add to the league?
COACH TUBERVILLE: About the possibility of having an SEC television network televising games?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Well, if you just look at the climate out there, it looks like that's what a lot of people are getting into. Again, it's all about money. You know, budgets are going up and up. You saw with some of the athletic budgets in our conference we're getting close to $80 , $90 million this year. The money's got to come from somewhere. The fans can only pay so much.
The conferences are doing a lot with technology trying to push their teams, get their teams more on television or radio. Our conference is no different.
I hear talk of the SEC TV networks. Mr. Slive has talked to all of the coaches about it. Again, it's all about sales. We're in the business of sales. Big 10 started it last year. I don't know whether it worked or not or helped. I'm a football coach. I'm not a business guy.
Again, if you're out there and you're on television, you're in front of the public, all these recruits, it gives you a better chance. I would probably say in the future you're going to have most of the big conferences have something in the way of a television station.
In the future, you might have your own conferences televising the games. That could be interesting. Again, that's probably something that's past a lot of us. You know how things have changed over just the last four or five years. There's a lot of possibilities when it comes to television and all the networks we have now, the capabilities of technology.
Q. Can you talk about getting Tray Blackmon back, the importance of his role this year for you guys?
COACH TUBERVILLE: Tray Blackmon is one of the most productive defensive players that I've been around in a long time. Kind of reminded me of Ray Lewis when I coached Ray at Miami. He has a nose for the football. Sometimes you just find defensive guys that on every play, they're around the ball.
They've got a hand on the runningback or they get a hand on the football, they're in the quarterback's face. He's one of those guys. He just plays by instinct. He's fun to watch play.
He got into a little problem last year with me. The one thing that I do is make sure that we play as a team, we do things as a team. If you do something different, then you're going to pay the price for us. I made him I suspended him from the team, from the Bowl game. I suspended him from going through spring practice. I made him get everything in order personally through his mom back home. A lot of different things. Mostly weren't major, but there were a lot of little things that were just distracting him from making him a better player and taking away from what we were doing.
He's come back to us in the middle of May. He's been in summer school. He's done well. I have not decided and won't decide until after I watch him. Again, it's really not going to have to do anything with ability. We're going to win games whether he plays or not. I'd love to him there. Obviously you'd love to have more of your better players play, but, again, they have to be team players.
I think he's changed. I've looked at his attitude. I've talked to people. Again, sometimes when you lose something that you had for a short period of time, which he did for five months, it brings you to reality of, you know, what's going to happen to me now. I think that's a little bit of what's happened to him. He's matured. Hopefully he's gotten all of his ducks in a row.
If he has, he convinces Coach Muschamp, Coach Willis, the linebacker coach, and myself he's going to be a team player, then he'll be playing the Kansas State game in about 35 or 36 days. If not, he'll be on the team because he's doing things he needs to do, but he's got to earn his way back into the team, the seniors, show he can be productive not only as a player but also as a team guy.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH TUBERVILLE: Thank you.
Quarterback Brandon Cox:
On playing at LSU:
"Well, I have played there before, but I am looking forward to it. It is a very hostile crowd but like I said, I have played there before and with my experience and our team's experience, I am looking forward to it."
On not making the Pre-season All-SEC Team:
"I really did not have a great season last year. I was injured, but I did not put up the same kind of numbers the other guys did, but it's just pre-season. I hope that by the end of the season things will be different."
Can you finally say that you are 100 percent?:
"Yeah, I can say that."
On his heroes growing up:
"Football wise, Joe Montana and Jay Barker if you can believe that, he played at Alabama but we went to the same high school. "
What do you like about the fans?:
"Just the support, bad games, good games, they always come out to support us and without them, there would be no games."
On the loss of Kenny Irons:
"Yeah, we lost Kenny, but we've got Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Mario Fannin, Tristan Davis. Even Carl Stewart can play some tailback so we have the talent. Kenny was a great player, but we are loaded in the backfield."
Defensive End Quentin Groves:
On getting ready for the fall:
"It feels great. It seemed like only yesterday that we were getting ready to play in the bowl game, and now we are ready to start the season. I'm excited to just get out there and play."
On the team's goals:
"Our goals are really the same every year. We just want to compete and win games. If you do that, then hopefully the rest will take care of itself."
On Auburn's road schedule:
"We have a very tough road schedule. We are at Florida, at Arkansas, at LSU, and at Georgia. Hopefully we can start the season out on the right foot and be 4-0 going on the road. We are a young team, and if we start out with confidence, that will help our team on the road. We just have to take care of business."
On opening the season with Kansas State:
"Kansas State is similar to us in that they run the west coast offense. It's a similar scheme to ours. They have a great quarterback, a freshman All-American at that. I think he is 6-5, 220, but he can throw the ball well and he can run. He kind of reminds me of JaMarcus Russell. I know that they have a great offensive line, good running backs, and speed at the wide receiver spot. We are going to have to play well and get the crowd involved. If we take care of business against them, then we can beat them. But you can't overlook them either."
On coming back for his senior season:
"It was kind of disappointing watching the NFL draft and knowing that I maybe could have gone ahead of this guy or that I was better than that guy. But my wife reminded me of what I said when I made the decision to come back, that I was going into the season at full speed, and I will end the season at full speed. I'm blessed to have her in my life to ground me."
On closing in on the school's all-time career sack record:
"It would mean the world to me to break that record. When I came to Auburn, my goal was to become the best player at my position. I wanted to be the best defensive end on the field, and lead the team in sacks. When they moved me to linebacker, my goal was to become the best linebacker on the field and lead the team in tackles. When they moved me back to defensive end, my goal became to become the best defensive end in school history. If I break Gerald Robinson's record, I would be honored to have him there to see it. To know that I became the best defensive end in the history of Auburn, to know that I was as good as him, that would be the greatest feeling in the world."
COACH RICH BROOKS:
THE MODERATOR: We have coach Rich Brooks from Kentucky.
COACH BROOKS: I'm back (smiling). If you remember my opening statement the last two years, my goal for this upcoming season would be that I was able to be here at this function the next year.
Well, finally got it on a little bit more solid footing, and hopefully I won't have to answer too many questions about job security this year.
I think, without a doubt, this is the best football team that I've had going into a season at Kentucky. 97% of our weapons return. Offensive production, defensive tackling, interceptions, fumble recoveries, however you want to calculate it, it almost all returns. Also the returning game, the kicking and punting, all of that.
We have more speed at Kentucky than we've had since I've been there. We obviously have some talented individuals that were able to accomplish something that hasn't been done at Kentucky very often, and that's win a Bowl game last year.
The difficulty is, looking forward, as I've seen the predictions going into this season from all the prognosticators is that they think we'll have a hard time repeating what we did last year. I can understand the arguments against us doing that, but we're going to make it an interesting year for Kentucky football.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We'll take questions for Coach Brooks.
Q. Can you talk about your running back situation, in particular the role of Tony Dixon this year?
COACH BROOKS: Well, Tony has been bothered by some nagging injuries through his career, but came up huge in the turnaround in the middle of the season last year after we'd been clubbed at LSU.
Tony and Alfonso Smith played very well on the road at Mississippi State, then Tony Dixon on the second comeback drive in the fourth quarter against Georgia. I think he carried the ball, I don't know, six of eight or nine plays on that drive and scored the winning touchdown.
Tony's I think a very, very good football player, very tough to tackle. And hopefully, after coming off of a major surgery the year before and having some nagging injuries last year, he'll have a healthy year this year and can even be more productive than he has been.
Q. The good news is you have a lot of offensive weapons to score points. But is the bad news still that you're going to have to score a lot of points because of the defense? Do you see the defense making progress in some areas?
COACH BROOKS: Well, the good news about that bad defense is that against Tennessee we played good enough defense to win and the offense didn't get it done. Three of our last five games against Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson, in my opinion, we played SEC defense. In many of the other games, we did not.
The good news is that 19 of the 22 on defense, first and second stringers, were freshmen and sophomores last year. I expect us to be much improved. If we want to be a factor in the race, in the SEC, if we want to beat teams we haven't beaten in a long time, our defense has to improve as much as our offense did last year.
I expect it to. So whether we do or not, we have to go out on the field and prove it. But we certainly have more talent on the defensive side, even though some of it will still be relatively young next year.
Q. This time last year did you see Andre' Woodson getting ready to have the type season he had this past year? How do you see him improving on that this time around?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I'd be blowing smoke up here if I said I thought he was going to go from six touchdowns and six interceptions to 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions and lead the team in quite the way he did.
I felt at this time last year I wasn't sure Andre' was going to be our starter. He was battling Curtis Pulley for the position. He totally turned around, and Randy Sanders has to get a lot of credit for that, who joined us last year as our quarterback coach.
He made Andre' focus on the positive things, not the negative. He was able to get him to focus and channel his ability, which he always had, in the right direction.
It's maybe one of the biggest transitions from production, leadership, accountability that I've seen a young man make from one year to the next in my coaching career. And thank God he did, because I'm back here talking to you (smiling).
Q. How much of an impact guys like Rafael Little and Andre' Woodson have as far as changing the approach and mental attitude, trying to create a winning tradition at Kentucky? What other things do you feel you need to do to take Kentucky football to an even higher level?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I told the team after the Music City Bowl what we did this year isn't going to be good enough, because people are going to look at us a little differently next year. To even have the same results, we have to do everything a little better next year. If we want to have better results, we have to do it a lot better.
But the senior leadership that we'll have this year is clearly superior to anything that I've had at Kentucky because we have a lot of 'em that have developed into outstanding leaders, and they were the major leaders last year, whether you're talking about Andre' Woodson, Keenan Burton, Jacob Tamme, Rafael Little.
You're talking about Wesley Woodyard on defense. These are the guys that kind of banded together and decided they wanted to change the perception of Kentucky football. They've gone about it in every way, shape, and form on and off the field to try to do that.
It takes a special group of young men to put it on the line like they did. Marcus McClinton is here and Wesley Woodyard and Kennan Burton last year did a little video, we believe. I was a little skeptical, I was a little worried they were putting themselves out there too much. We played it before home games.
I wanted to make sure they were comfortable with it because I told them if things didn't go well, this he could be ridiculed and criticized for it.
They stuck with their guns, said they were comfortable with it. They'd go out and back it up. We won six of our seven home games. They proved to be prophets, if you will.
Q. How significant do you think moving the kickoffs back to the 30 is going to be? How does that change the approach in the college game?
COACH BROOKS: It's going to be one of the most significant rule changes to come about in recent years maybe in a decade in college football. Very few teams will have a guy who can kick it into the touchback area or out of the end zone.
You're gonna see offenses starting with a lot better field position. You're gonna see scoring averages go up because of this rule change. You're gonna see a lot more gimmicks on kickoff coverage. By "gimmicks," I'm talking with pooch kicking, possible squib kicking.
There may be some people that decide want to kick it out of bounds and give it to the team on the 35 yard line rather than kicking it deep and having a return out to the 40 or 45.
Just depends on the strength of the kicker, the talent on the kickoff team. But I think you're going to see more strategy in kickoff coverage this year because of that rule change and how people kick the ball off.
If you look at us, for example, we should benefit from the rule from the return end, because we have one of the better kickoff return groups in the nation and in the league. Keenan Burton was outstanding last year. Alfonso Smith. We've got some guys that can return 'em.
But I think what we're gonna see is more teams giving us those pooch kicks and things, things that change it up, so you can't get that return going quite as well.
Q. Could you compare the potential of the 2007 Kentucky team to the 1994 Oregon team that went to the Rose Bowl, some of the similarities?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I think the similarities would have fallen on last year's team. We were a much younger team at Oregon that went to the Rose Bowl. Many of our players were sophomores and juniors on that team. We had senior leadership more like this team, some very key players like Danny O'Neill, my quarterback.
But a lot of the really good players on that team were underclassmen. It wasn't in as tough a league as we play here in the SEC.
But I think that this team potentially, from a talent standpoint, is as good as that football team was and probably better. But you've got to remember, it's also 13 years later. Everybody else is better, as well.
Q. Is it as simple, you mean your points about the 30 yard line, the NFL didn't have that same transition when it moved back some years ago. Did you find being in the league it was as simple as having a kicker that could get it back that far?
COACH BROOKS: Well, in college it has been. In the NFL you have a 46 man active roster, which that 46th guy is your third quarterback. So you've got pretty good players covering kickoffs for the most part.
Now, you look in college football, and you'll see a lot of third string guys, walk ons, scout team guys that are just headhunters that are covering. I think you'll see maybe the quality of maybe putting more of your defensive starters on the kickoff team.
In the NFL, they can't kick it in the end zone either. The ball's a little different now in the NFL. It doesn't go as far on those kicks as the college ball does.
I think you're starting to see, even in the NFL, some of that different type of kicking, not to the extent you have already seen it in college. I predict you'll see it more this year. I just think it's something that probably most college teams don't work on quite as much as NFL teams do.
The personnel you're using to cover the kickoffs is a little better in the NFL level than it is usually at the college level. You don't find a lot of teams that put their starters on kickoff coverage in college football.
Q. What do you think it means to be committed that Kentucky? Is that different at different places? Different guys react differently to being committed, so to speak?
COACH BROOKS: I think it's pretty much the same being committed to Kentucky versus being committed to Florida or Auburn or Alabama. I know even those schools sometimes lose a commitment when another school like them comes in and offers and tries to steal somebody at the very end.
It probably happens more to a school like Kentucky, that's a middle of the road team in our league, or has been in recent years, or below that.
But obviously there's a pretty strong feeling in our league that most of our coaches are not in favor of an early signing date, which I have been on record as saying I am in favor of.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your upset win over Georgia last year. Do you feel that was a springboard or landmark win for your program, starting to get you to the next level?
COACH BROOKS: Well, it had to be considered that since we hadn't beaten Georgia in 10 years at Kentucky. It followed a huge win on the road at Mississippi State after an embarrassing loss at LSU. It kept our hopes alive and I think convinced our team that these post season thoughts of ours could be accomplished.
The very next week we became Bowl eligible by beating Vanderbilt. It would have been a struggle to move forward, I think, if we had not beaten and pulled the upset against Georgia.
Q. How has you and your staff's recruiting strategy changed now with the anticipation of the text messaging ban going into effect August 1st?
COACH BROOKS: Everybody's thumbs are going to be healed starting after August 1st. You'll just be more email, which some people can get on their BlackBerries or their phones, as you know. There will be more emailing. Probably a little more correspondence, handwritten notes, those type of things.
The young people of today have gotten very, very used to texting. I'm sure they'll still be texting us, which they do on a regular basis. We just won't be able to text them back. We'll have to drop 'em a note, or when it's legal to make the phone calls in the timeframe that the NCAA allows you to do that, call 'em back, whatever.
It will complicate the process a little bit because it's something that everybody's been doing, and all of a sudden the curtain comes down on it.
Q. Coming out of last season going into spring, then coming out of spring, did you identify any specifics for Andre' to work on heading into this year?
COACH BROOKS: Just everything overall. I mean, he doesn't have, in my mind, a weakness. He just needs to continue to progress and get better at everything, understanding, making sure that he understands how much time he has to make a check at the line of scrimmage to get the play off before you get the delay of game on the three yard line in the Tennessee game (laughter). Oh, boy, that was a good one. Just things like that. You know, just overall improvement.
I'll be honest with you, if he could have the same success he had this year, the same numbers, I would consider that a fantastic year. To throw 31 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in this league is phenomenal.
Q. You touched on the loss to LSU, then beating Georgia. You went on to have a lot of success after that. What changed for your team after the LSU game, going to the Georgia win? What do you hope carried over from that season? Do you believe momentum carries over from one season to the next?
COACH BROOKS: Well, I think a couple of things happened to us going into the LSU game. We had just lost our only home loss of the year against South Carolina at home by seven points in a game that we felt we had a great chance to win. They got the win. Our team was very disappointed.
LSU lost a tough game at Florida, a game that I think they felt they should have won. They turned the ball over a couple of times. We were, I think, suffering a hangover, if you will, emotionally, and didn't respond the way we should with the loss to South Carolina.
LSU was getting beat up for a week and they decided they needed to come out and prove they were a great football team and they did.
I met with the team that Sunday after that game and told them that I thought we needed to get back to basics, that we needed to defend the run better, we needed to run the ball better, we needed to not be in the shotgun as much as we had been, because I thought it had made us a little soft as a football team.
We went out to practice and tried to get more physical. They didn't hang their head. They didn't question it. They rolled up their sleeves because they wanted to get to post season play. They bought into it and we got better.
We ran the ball better. We defended the run better in the latter half of the season. And we also were able to throw the play action pass better because we had a semblance of a running game.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, coach.
COACH BROOKS: Thanks, guys. Hope to see you next year (smiling).
Quarterback Andre' Woodson:
On last season:
"It was fantastic. We've come a long way since I first came here as a freshman, from knowing where the program was going, to where we want it to go now. This season, there's a chance to make a big statement about where our program is headed for the future. We think we have a chance to be an SEC contender and go to a BCS game."
On the transformation he's seen while at Kentucky:
"I came to this university to help turn things around. We'd been a doormat for so many years, and now, we want people and teams to know that we are a contender and want to be a contender year in and year out."
On Quarterbacks Coach Randy Sanders:
"Randy has done a fabulous job. He's made me understand how important practice is and given me a great understanding of what it takes to be a great SEC quarterback. Last year, it began to show in my game just what I was learning and what I could do."
On the East Division:
"We're very excited about our schedule. We have three BCS home games, and we're excited to get out there. We start the season with Eastern Kentucky, a school about 15 miles from here, and we want to get the season started in the right direction and not look past anyone and the best way we can do that is to go out and play Kentucky football."
"We just want to contend and win games. Last year was great, but it was last year, and we have to stay humble and move on. We've done a great job this summer, and we're ready to get out there this year and get after it."
On the importance of last year's Georgia game:
"I think the Georgia game was a big game, but the bowl game win was the most important win. It was our first bowl win in 22 years. Coach Brooks has done a great job bringing in the talent we need and we know we've got to be ready because we've got some good teams coming in this year."
Free Safety Marcus McClinton
On playing big games at home:
"Well that is the only place I would like to play these big games. I feel comfortable at home, as well as the team. We will play in front of our fans which allow us to play more loose and better."
On last year's season:
"Well, last year was definitely the building block for our program. We beat good teams. We went to a bowl where the attendance was a record 50,000, and we beat a good team. We won five out of six games before that, so it definitely was not a fluke. It's going to be the building blocks of this year and having these eight homes games and being able to play in a comfortable environment gives us a great opportunity to do big things. We want to prove to everyone else that last year was not a fluke."
On the lowest point last season:
"I believe that everyone knows that we did not perform at LSU. That game was the turning point. We were embarrassed and things get worst before they get better. Since then, things have been on the up and up. Now we know we can compete in the SEC and beat some good teams."
On people's view of Kentucky this season:
"I believe people are going to look at us like we won't compete well. But, they better not look at us as a homecoming game because they will be in for a rude awakening. I mean they aren't going to look at us as just a push over team as they have done in the past. We have SEC caliber players and we have the best quarterback in the SEC. They know that our defense has experience and is playing with passion. They know that we are a threat and we can beat them. They should not underestimate the University of Kentucky."
"I don't believe that I'm talking smack. I just believe that with what we have accomplished, we can talk with a little more confidence."
COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE--
CHARLES BLOOM: We'd like to welcome you to the 2007 Southeastern Conference Football Media Days. As we celebrate our 75th year, one of the major reasons of the successes we've had in the SEC is because of the amount of media coverage that we've received through the 75 years, and we're thankful and grateful for your coverage of the Southeastern Conference.
Without further ado, commissioner Mike Slive will be here on the podium. Commissioner.
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: Thank you, Charles. Ladies and gentlemen, let me add my welcome to that of Charles, and also my thanks for all that you do for the Southeastern Conference. We think a lot about it, and we appreciate it very much.
Today, it's a little bit different for us. Not only are we welcoming in the 2007 football season, but we're going to celebrate the launch of the SEC's 75th anniversary celebration. More on that later.
As Charles pointed out, today you're part of history. This is the largest group ever to attend SEC Football Media Days. There are over 800 people in attendance, including 600 credentialed media and 25 radio stations broadcasting live over the three days. There is no other media day like it.
These are good times to be the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference. We are the first conference in history to win all in the same year national championships in football, women's basketball and men's basketball, and in men's basketball we've done it two years in a row.
As if this wasn't enough, conference teams have won five more national championships: men's swimming, women's swimming, bowling, gymnastics and men's tennis. These eight national championships were won by five different SEC institutions. This means, ladies and gentlemen, that we won national championships in over one third of the sports the SEC sponsors.
In football we sent nine teams to Bowl games, including two to the BCS, resulting in six wins. the most Bowl victories in conference history. Florida's win over Ohio State in the national championship game was the third championship for the SEC since the inception of the BCS in 1998, and our fifth national championship in 15 years, putting us ahead of all conferences.
Our fans responded as they have for the last 26 years. We had the largest total attendance of any conference in the nation. Over 75,000 fans came to each game on average, which means that 6.5 million people attended SEC football games last fall, filling our stadiums to 96% of capacity.
One of the things we take great pride in is our broad based programs, and to that end we sent 159 teams to NCAA post season play, which means over 75% of our teams went to post season.
On a personal note, 2006 and 2007 marks another anniversary: the end of my first five years as commissioner of the SEC. As I said at the outset, these are great times to be the commissioner of this great conference, as evidenced by the impressive competitive successes that we've just talked about.
But they're only part of the story. There's more to it much more. We have reestablished ourselves as the best competitive athletic conference in the country, and we did it by walking straight down Main Street, not by wandering through side streets.
When I first spoke to you five years ago in 2002, I talked about the challenges that we faced to be the preeminent conference that we were and that we wanted to be, challenges such as rules compliance, the need for more diversity, the need for shared governance, the need for more academic success, the need to continue financial security, and making sure that we had a significant voice in national intercollegiate academic and athletic affairs.
Thanks to the support of our presidents and chancellors, athletic directors, coaches, and so many others and student athletes, of course we've made progress in each of these areas while continuing to win.
In the area of compliance, I predicted that in five years, at this time next year, football media days 2008, we would have none of our institutions on probation. Will we make it? Well, there's many a slip between the cup and the lip, but we'll see.
The procedures we inaugurated those of you may remember back in 2004 when we issued our task force report on compliance and enforcement. Those principles have been instrumental in helping us achieve our goals, but we need to remain vigilant. The SEC is tough I don't need to tell you that and highly competitive, but we cannot let up. We cannot fall back in the name of winning. We are not about winning at all costs, and the ends do not justify the means.
In the other areas I am very pleased that we are more diverse, that we worked together in governance of the conference, that our student athletes are performing better in the classroom with more academic support, and we continue to implement the national academic reform package. I'm pleased that we have record distributions and that we're financially sound and that we are well represented in national governing bodies, giving us the opportunity to help shape the future of intercollegiate athletics.
An example: the SEC played a lead role in dealing with those secondary schools that were not properly educating prospective student athletes. We developed conference oversight legislation in support of this effort, and our institutions were willing to allow us to do that.
So it's been a great five years for me. It's been fun, it's been working with great people, and I look forward to more. But it's not enough to think back and sort of bask in the glow of whatever successes we've had. We must continue to think strategically and be prepared to successfully negotiate new challenges that inevitably arise, some of which we can anticipate, and when you read the newspapers yesterday and today, some of which we cannot.
Examples are television, for us post season football, student athlete behavior, and our efforts to build the SEC academic consortium to be as powerful and strong on the academic side as we are on the athletic side.
All but one of our television agreements come to term at the end of the 2008/2009 academic year. Our presidents and chancellors and athletic directors have authorized us to continue to explore the viability of an SEC network. As you all know, both the Mountain West and the Big 10 have initiated their own channels. We are keeping our eye on the progress that each is making.
The concept of new media as a result of the unprecedented explosion in technology makes the matrix of event distribution interesting, to say the least. Where does the event end and where does the blogging begin? I know that's an issue that's close to your heart, and obviously one close to ours.
Charles was saying earlier, we are very interested in getting together and hopefully putting together a group of you with our people and sitting down and trying to make sure that we in the SEC develop policies that are productive for you and that are fair to everyone involved. We will begin that initiative sometime early this fall.
On the post season front, I've been asked about a story that ran a couple weeks ago, which talked about future post season college football formats. The story, quoting unnamed sources, said that support was steadily growing for a plus one format.
Last January at a media gathering of the football writers in Phoenix, I reiterated what I had said a year before: that we in the SEC are very open minded about a plus one format, and we plan to carefully evaluate it over the next year.
Some of you know at our spring meetings, our presidents and chancellors again stated they opposed a playoff. At the same time they authorized Chancellor Khayat from Ole Miss, who was our representative on the BCS presidential oversight committee, to work with me to evaluate within the structure whether a change is needed.
We will do that, keeping in mind the parameters that I have reiterated to you over and over again, which are: the importance of the regular season, our continued support of the Bowl system, and our commitment to keep college football a one semester sport.
Off the field behavior of some student athletes remains an issue of ongoing concern. Most of you know that in 2005 the conference initiated a program known as the Mentors in Violence Prevention, otherwise known as the MVP program. That program provides student athletes, coaches and administrators with a safe environment in which they can discuss sensitive matters relating to off field behavior.
We are a leader in implementing this program on a conference wide basis. It is not a panacea, but it does provide a foundation for our institutions to help student athletes better cope with their visible roles in our campuses and in our communities.
One of the projects that I take great pride in, and maybe you can tell from my comments before, is the SEC academic consortium, which is now fully operational. By vote of our presidents and chancellors, the consortium is housed at the University of Arkansas, and its leadership is provided by provost and academic vice presidents with assistance from full time executive directors.
It's a new forum. It gives our academic leaders in the SEC a chance to share information and discuss academic issues of critical importance to the growth and development of our athletes and our student athletes and students generally.
We have a training program for future academic leaders, and one of the early initiatives is a study abroad program. For example, if you have a son or daughter at one of our institutions that doesn't provide study abroad in a certain country, and another one of our institutions do it, then it's very simple for our student to go to that particular program. So that's the nature of what we're trying to do. It's something that we're very, very pleased about.
Shifting gears for a minute, taking you back in history to February 1933, when presidents of 13 institutions met in Birmingham and Atlanta to finalize plans for a new intercollegiate athletic conference. The original membership of the SEC was made up of 13 institutions from the Southern Conference. Ten of those institutions remain. The other original members were Suwannee, Tulane and Georgia Tech.
Some of you are history buffs. You might be interested to know that while these men were forming the Southeastern Conference, some of you may be old enough, though I'm not sure, was being founded, president Roosevelt was inaugurated as our 32nd president. He launched a New Deal that same year to offset the impact of the Depression. Across the ocean, Hitler became the chancellor of Germany. In sports, the first baseball All Star Game was played. We've been talking about technology. FM radio was patented, and the first electronic TV receiver was developed in 1933.
For those of you who are movie buffs, actress Faye Raye struggled with King Kong on top of the Empire State Building. The Chicago World's Fair opened, the first concrete was poured into the Hoover Damn, and the Tennessee Valley Authority was created, as was the game of Monopoly. A loaf of bread would have cost you eight cents, and you could buy a two story house with three bedrooms and two baths with a mortgage payment of $45 a month.
As we begin the celebration of our 75th anniversary, our hope is that the years ahead will continue to fulfill our mission of providing student athletes with opportunities to compete, to learn life's lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom, and to help them develop the kind of character that will lead them to a life of satisfaction, contentment and contribution to the world in which they live.
As we look back, we found SEC student athletes have flown into space, saved lives, researched diseases, developed new technologies, rebuilt cities, governed states, protected their country, rallied a trouble nation, inspired children. They have broken race and gender barriers and stood up for their beliefs. They have pioneered sports and championed causes. They have forced historical firsts and created lasting impressions.
These stories of character, ladies and gentlemen, is what it's all about. And they serve as the theme of our 75th anniversary celebration. During the year, through television, radio, Internet and print, we will feature 75 former student athletes telling their stories through the voices of esteemed storytellers, such as a former United States president and Olympic gold medalist, best selling authors and well known musicians and television and film personalities, each of whom share a passion for their SEC institution and for the stories they impart.
The Southeastern Conference is proud to celebrate 75 years of the student athlete experience and the promise of the future. So if you would, please direct your attention to the screen for a very short 60 second preview of our 75th anniversary celebration.
COMMISSIONER SLIVE: A brief summary of the 75th anniversary celebration is included in the information you received at registration, and members of our staff and the creative team are here to help you giving you any more detail you might like.
Profiles of all 75 stories of character are available online at secsports.com.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for being here and good luck the next few days. I will be here all throughout the entire three days. If there are things you'd like to talk with me about, I'd be more than happy to talk with you one on one or in a group.
Again, as we say every year, may the muse continue to be with you.
Story Courtesy: The SEC & Host Communications