By Sam Cooper and Nick Bromberg
Welcome to media day season. As the SEC gets the talkin’ season going, Dr. Saturday is your place for anything and everything important and funny from SEC media days. Below are the highlights from day three of four. One more day to go!
Was Alabama’s loss to Clemson a failure?
In the grand scheme of things, no. Making the national title game and losing on a last-second play isn’t a failure, even if you are Alabama and Nick Saban. But Saban used the word “failure” when talking about the adjustments and learning that will come within his program from the team’s defeat in January.
“I think when you lose, everybody’s much more — the mindset is much more I’m willing to change,” Saban said. “I want to learn. I don’t want to waste a failure. What could we have done better? Because everybody’s hurt by the fact that they lost, especially the way we lost that particular game on the last play of the game, but it wasn’t the last play. It’s what led up to the last play. And I think our players realize that.
“It takes a tremendous amount of accountability to be able to execute and sustain the execution for 60 minutes in the game. And we played against a really, really good team, which I think when you get in the playoffs, that should be what you expect. And we weren’t able to finish the game like we needed to. And I think there’s a lot of lessons to learn, and hopefully we won’t waste a failure.”
Alabama is still the presumptive favorite in the SEC and it’s up to the rest of the conference to challenge the Tide. There was a large gulf between Alabama and everyone else in 2016 and that gulf seems pretty large unless LSU and Auburn can rebound from good but not great years and/or a team in the SEC East can mount a threat to the Tide.
Saban also thinks the SEC’s new initiative to more closely monitor the field trespassing of angry coaches is a product of a lack of previous enforcement.
“[SEC coordinator of officials] Steve Shaw showed us a lot of examples of coaches going all of the way out to the hashmark. And I think those coaches should have been penalized,” Saban said. “And if those coaches were penalized, and we didn’t have sort of that kind of tolerance for that kind of behavior, maybe we wouldn’t need a rule like this that is really sort of a sledgehammer.
“And I hope that this is not a circumstance and situation that affects a game in the fall, because it is pretty restrictive, but it is what it is. It’s the same for everybody. We’re going to do the best we can to manage it. We have a tremendous amount of respect for the officials, and they try to do a great job of managing us as coaches on the sidelines, which can be very challenging at times, especially with the emotion that goes into the game and the passion and intensity that we all have.”
Of course, Saban — like every other coach in the SEC — has gone onto the field in anger either out of frustration with officiating or with his own team’s performance.
Our fear with the rule is that officiating crews will have varying levels of tolerance regarding the “heightened focus” of coaches going on to the field. What one coach does in a Noon ET kick could get penalized in a 3:30 p.m. game.
Hopefully there’s some consistency.
Odom: 4-8 season ‘tough on your soul’
Missouri’s defense was expected to stay one of the best in the country as former defensive coordinator Barry Odom took over for the retired Gary Pinkel in 2016.
That didn’t happen.
Missouri’s defense didn’t just slip, it tripped and fell face-first down the steps. After allowing 16 points a game (5th in the country) in 2015, Mizzou allowed over 31 a game last season (90th). While the Mizzou offense went from miserable to pretty decent, the Tigers fell from 5-7 to 4-8 and missed a bowl for a second-straight season.
“Defensively, we weren’t near good enough last year,” Odom said. “I know that’s been talked about enough since season’s end. And when you win four games, guys, believe me, it hurts your soul. And that’s where I was at. So you figure out how to fix it whether you inherited the problems or you had the problems on your watch. That’s the job of a coach. That’s why they call you coach. Go fix it.”
Missouri returns 10 starters on offense and should have one of the more productive units in the SEC. But if the Tigers are to contend for a third SEC East title in six years, Mizzou is going to need a defense replacing six starters (including first-round pick DE Charles Harris) to make a massive leap.
Stoops: Kentucky ‘getting in position’ to compete for SEC East
Mark Stoops and Kentucky had a whirlwind 2016 season.
It could not have started worse. The Wildcats blew a 35-10 lead and dropped their opener to Southern Miss at home before getting embarrassed by Florida, 45-7, the following week.
FINAL: Southern Miss 44, Kentucky 35. pic.twitter.com/l2RPoAdeLK
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 4, 2016
Things didn’t look good for Stoops, but with Stephen Johnson stepping up at quarterback, he got his team to rebound and finish the year with seven wins, including a big upset over rival Louisville on the road. Stoops hopes that finish — winning seven of the final 10 regular season games — can propel his team into the upcoming season.
“For us to finish the way we did, culminating with a big victory against a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, our arch rivals on the road against a ranked opponent, beating Louisville to propel us to the TaxSlayer Bowl. That was a really, really exciting time for us,” Stoops said.
“This year, we feel like we have an experienced football team. We’re returning 17 starters, nine on offense, eight on defense. And the maturity level of our team is getting better. They can handle more. So it will be much of the same this summer, push them harder and be more consistent.”
It took four years for Stoops to reach a bowl game, and now he feels like the next step for his team is winning on a more consistent basis.
“People were tired of hearing you’re getting better. They see the progress. They see the way you recruit. They see you the way you talk about developing players, and you see progress on the field, but it’s about wins and losses,” Stoops said.
At first, it seemed like Stoops didn’t want to raise expectations for his team as a possible contender to win a wide open SEC East.
“I know this about the league, the league’s not backing up. Nobody we’re playing is backing up. We’re certainly not backing up,” Stoops said. “We’re worried about us getting better to put us in a position to contend each and every week.”
But a few minutes later, he offered this:
“We are getting better. We’re getting in position to compete for the East. And our football team deserves that.”
Sumlin: Pressure he puts on himself doesn’t change
Kevin Sumlin knew it was coming. And he had an answer for it.
After three straight 8-5 seasons, Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward pretty bluntly stated back in May that Sumlin “knows he has to win” and “has to win this year.”
When predictably asked about Woodward’s comments, Sumlin said it doesn’t change his approach heading into the season.
“For me, my job, nothing changes for me. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself and nobody wants to win more than I want to,” Sumlin said. “And so whatever’s said, whatever the conversation, whatever’s written, it’s not going to affect how I do my job and it’s not going to affect my day-to-day operation. I’ve been doing this almost 30 years.
That’s the same approach from my first year as a full-time coach to it is now. Nothing is going to change the way I approach life, and nothing is going to change the way I approach my job. I’ve known what’s at stake ever since I got into this.”
That refrain — nobody puts more pressure on Sumlin than Sumlin — was repeated a few times during his time at the podium. But what can he do to combat four straight seasons of fast starts and lackluster finishes?
For one, Sumlin said the team needs to be tougher. He made new hires in strength and conditioning to help with that. But beyond that, he is depending on his upperclassmen to be leaders — on and off the field — for the younger players on the roster.
“You got guys who have gone through that a couple times,” Sumlin said. “And to sit openly and talk about it, here’s what we’re going to do, here’s our plan. Here’s what we’re doing in the weight room, here’s what we’re doing in the recovery, here’s what we’re doing in nutrition, here’s what we’re doing from a toughness and physical standpoint in practice. Instead of trying to point fingers and do this and that, we’re not doing that.
“That pressure, it never changed. It never changed from the first day I got here. We’re here to compete for championships. How we do that, when we do that, basically, the why, what and how, that remains internal, but that’s my job, and the pressure for that never changes.”