Wrapping up Day One of SEC Media Days

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The SEC brought out their two biggest coaching guns on the first day of the SEC Media Days, and neither Nick Saban nor Urban Meyer disappointed.  Especially — especially — the former.

Needless to say, the major hot-button issue was rogue agents and the burgeoning scandals on four conference campuses, but there were other highlights — Dan Mullen‘s head-scratching and out-of-nowhere shot at Saban, anyone? — as a total of four coaches and 12 players made their way to the dais.

So, join me as we wade through some of the highlights from the league’s first day in Hoover, Alabama.

— “How are they any better than a pimp?”

Those eight words, uttered so eloquently by Saban, are now and forever a hi-larious part of the storied and colorful lore of the SEC.  When you get past the humor of it, though, there’s a very salient point, one that Saban and then Meyer attempted to hammer home throughout their time with the media.

While saying that players should shoulder some of the blame and responsibility — that point needs to be stressed more, incidentally — if they accept illegal benefits, Saban saved most of his venom for player agents and their associates who, for lack of a better word, stalk student-athletes.

It’s ridiculous and it’s entrapment of young people in a very difficult time of their life,” Saban said. “It’s very difficult for institutions and the NCAA to control it and it’s very unfair to college football.

“The agents should have consequences and right now they have none.”

You think Saban was done railing, right?  Au contraire as Saban was relentless in his blistering attack on the rogue seeds in the profession.

“I don’t think it’s anything but greed that’s creating it right now on behalf of the agents… I have no respect for people who do that to young people. None. How would you feel if they did it to your child?”

— Meyer didn’t rail as emotionally — guess those sabbaticals took, eh? — against agents as his ‘Bama counterpart did, but he was nonetheless very precise and surgical in conveying his feelings for “pimps” preying on the college football world.  Calling them “predators”, Meyer said what’s going on now is an “epidemic” and trusts that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will be a part of a solution to the current situation.

The UF coach, even while offering praise for Goodell, also aligned himself alongside Saban’s idea of possibly putting out a “Not Welcome” mat out for NFL teams if things don’t change agent-wise.

“I’d be willing to listen,” Meyer said. “I’d be willing to align with something to make a change because it’s not right. It’s a dirty, dirty part of our business that’s unfortunately becoming more well-known. You think this wasn’t going on 10 years ago.”

Meyer added that’s he’s “kind of tired seeing student-athletes getting penalized by predators.”

— SEC Commissioner Mike Slive says it’s time to start over and lay down a new set of rules as it pertains to student-athlete’s interacting with agents.

“I think we need a national strategy for dealing with agents in college athletics, and in order to get there we need to sit down with a pad and a pencil and start from scratch. And the goal should be to provide our student athletes with the most information, the best information, honest information about the profession they have chosen to go into. If you’re going to go to law school or if you’re going to go to medical school you’re going to find out everything you can find out, including how much financial aid you’re going to get. And I think our kids to know those same things before they make a decision.”

Lane Kiffin has been out of the SEC’s hair for over six months, but the acrimony he left in his wake was still very much being felt by at least a couple of the people taking part in the proceedings.

During his time with the media, Commissioner Slive took a not-so-subtle jab at Kiffin without mentioning his name while praising his successor.

“(A) head-coaching change took place at Tennessee when Derek Dooley‘s predecessor left to return to his western roots. I want to welcome Coach Dooley back to the SEC.

And when I say welcome, I mean welcome.”

Then, during Meyer’s allotted time, he pulled a Slive when praising Dooley.  

“I have a lot of respect for the new coach at Tennessee, and I spent a lot of time talking to him in Destin (at the league’s spring meetings). You can tell he has everything in order. He’s a high-character guy, and that’s nice to see. I have a lot of respect for that coach.”

— In a roundabout way, Commissioner Slive confirmed that the SEC had talks with both Oklahoma and Texas A&M during the conference-apocalypse-that-wasn’t month of June.

We had conversations with folks. But I’m going to avoid getting into talking about schools. I think the point is made — after all that activity, here we are.”

— You want Sign No. 1,478 that the times, they are indeed a changin’?  Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips was asked what the number one thing new UK wide receivers coach and former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin brings to the team.  Phillips’ response?  “He understands Facebook. There’s a bunch of us who don’t understand it.”

— In between his diatribes against agents, Saban seemed to intimate that the spread offense can hinder a quarterback’s preparation for success at the NFL level.  Dan Mullen was asked about Saban’s thoughts, and the Mississippi State head coach took a jab at the reigning national champion.

I’ve had more first-round quarterbacks drafted than he’s had,” Mullen chirped, referring to Utah’s Alex Smith and Florida’s Tim Tebow.

— Speaking of going over like a fart in church, Mullen was the author of the WTF moment of the first day of the meetings.  Harkening back to the decision of the SEC at the spring meetings to allow MSU’s famous cowbells to ring at specified times during the course of a game, Mullen opened his time with the media with the following:

“For the next 10 seconds it’s legal to ring your cowbells,” Mullen said. “After that we’re going into a cowbell-dead zone.” 

Wrote Joe Person of The State in the aftermath of Mullen’s clumsy attempt at humor: “There were no cowbells clanging. And no laughter, either.”

Joker Phillips refused to identify a leader in UK’s three-headed race for the starting quarterback job heading into summer camp.  His best player on the offensive side of the ball, however, had no problem identifying who he prefers out of challengers senior Mike Hartline, sophomore Morgan Newton and redshirt f
reshman Ryan Mossako
wski
.

“Honestly, I feel like Hartline is the guy,” running back Derrick Locke said. “He had a great spring and he made plays. I’m not saying we can’t win with the other guys. But Hartline’s a senior, and he’s got more to play for. He’s going to go all out for the team, and he’s going to make plays. I’m putting all my faith in him. If we’re going to win, I feel like he’s going to be our guy.”

Michael Oher: Hugh Freeze is ‘man of God, man full of integrity’

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Hugh Freeze may have been blindsided by his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, but at least one of his former players has his back.

Homeless for stretches of his teenage life, Michael Oher was taken in by the Freeze family — a 2014 Bleacher Report article notes that “Oher spent one to two nights a week at their house” — while Freeze was the head coach at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis.  Oher went on to play football for Freeze in high school, with his compelling life story forming the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side.”

The player and the coach have formed a deep bond that stretches back more than a decade, a bond that hasn’t been broken despite the latter’s resignation as Ole Miss head coach under a cloud of controversy.

“He is a man of God and a man full of integrity,’’ Oher told USA Today Sports of his former coach. “I don’t know the full story but I’m willing to bet that everyone in the world had made a mistake that they have wanted someone to forgive them for.”

The offensive lineman added that without Freeze, “there is no Michael Oher and no “The Blind Side.'”

The news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.  Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze said earlier this week in his first public comments since his departure. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” he added.

On the same day Freeze resigned, coincidentally, Oher was cut by the Carolina Panthers.  Earlier this offseason, Oher was arrested after an altercation with an Uber driver in which the player allegedly bit the driver on the back.

LSU still can’t say Arden Key will be available for opener vs. BYU

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The Magical Mystery Tour that has been Arden Key‘s offseason continues.

In mid-February, LSU announced that Key had “decided to take some time away from football… for personal reasons.” Four months later, the football program announced the defensive end had rejoined the team; at the same time, it was announced that Key had recently undergone shoulder surgery.

Thursday, first-year head coach Ed Orgeron indicated that Key will not be available for the start of summer camp because of the ongoing rehab — and couldn’t commit to the player being available for the opener as well.

“We don’t know when he’s going to be ready, but obviously we expect him to play this year and have a great year. We won’t know (his playing status) until the end of camp,” Orgeron said according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I’m going to listen to the doctors. Some days he’s able to get into uniform and practice, he’s going to do that, but I don’t see that happening in the next couple of weeks.”

When it comes to playing against BYU Sept. 2 in Houston? “There is a chance,” Orgeron allowed.

A four-star 2015 signee, Key was a consensus Freshman All-American his first season with the Tigers after starting nine games.  Last season as a true sophomore, he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.  The latter total set a school record.

Following that breakout campaign, he was named second-team All-SEC.

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano progressing from foot surgery, but might miss Oregon’s opener

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There was good news and potentially not-so-good news on the Scott Pagano front Thursday for Oregon.

A transfer from Clemson this offseason, Pagano suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Tigers’ mid-November win over Pitt that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season.  After moving on to the Ducks as a graduate transfer in mid-April, UO’s medical staff decided he needed to undergo surgery to repair the damage in his foot.

First-year head coach Willie Taggart Thursday declared the defensive lineman ahead of schedule in his recovery from the medical procedure, but didn’t guarantee he’d be on the field for the 2017 opener.

“Something he had that he needed to be corrected,” Taggart said of the surgery according to oregonlive.com. “He’s ahead of schedule right now. I don’t like putting certain weeks on guys because everybody heals differently.

“He’s one of those kids that has been rehabbing his tail off and is itching to get back out there. He’s ahead of schedule right now. Hopefully he’s there for the Southern Utah game.”

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. He started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Before opting for UO, Pagano had taken an official visit to Oklahoma as he had whittled his to-do list down to those two. Arkansas, Notre Dame and Texas were also among the lineman’s five allotted official visits in his second round of collegiate recruiting.

CB Ryan Mayes no longer part of Miami football team

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There’s been a slight tweak to Miami’s defensive secondary ahead of the start of summer camp.

In a press release that consisted all of two sentences, the Hurricanes announced that Ryan Mayes is no longer a member of Mark Richt’s football program.  No reason was given for the separation, nor is it known whether the move was voluntary or involuntary.

A three-star member of The U’s 2014 recruiting class, Mayes was rated as the No. 48 cornerback in the country and the No. 92 player at any position in the state of Florida.  He held offers from, among others, Boston College and Syracuse.

As a true freshman, Mayes played in three games, then saw action in just one game the following season as he took a redshirt.  In 2016, the defensive back played in 11 games, mainly on special teams.

Prior to his departure, the redshirt junior was expected to fill a reserve role in the Hurricanes’ secondary.