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.”

UNLV ‘very excited’ to share Las Vegas stadium with Raiders

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The biggest news of the day in the NFL has a decidedly college football connection.

By a 31-1 vote, NFL owners approved the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas later this decade.  The new stadium that will eventually serve as the home for the NFL club is expected to be ready for play for the 2020 season.

As expected, it will also serve as the new home for Sin City’s FBS team, a fact that UNLV’s hierarchy was quick to point out and highlight in the hours after the vote was officially confirmed.  Below are the statements from the three main characters involved with the football program.

Len Jessup, UNLV President
UNLV and the entire Rebel family welcome the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Raiders and the Stadium Authority Board to give UNLV football access to a world-class stadium and accompanying game day experience that will rival the best in college football. We also recognize and thank the numerous stakeholders – including the Adelson family – who invested their time and energy toward this vision. This is an historic day for Nevada and another example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletics Director
We are very excited to welcome the Raiders to our great city of Las Vegas. Our community is on the rise and that has clearly been recognized by the NFL owners with today’s vote. We can’t wait for the day our UNLV football program has a new home, sharing the new world-class stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders. What a great day for the NFL, our city and our university.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV Football Head Coach
Today is a huge development for UNLV Football and the city of Las Vegas. Sharing a state-of-the-art stadium with the Raiders is another thing that will allow us to recruit at a high level. The combination of an NFL stadium and our upcoming Fertitta Football Complex brings so much energy to this program and campus. As someone who has lived here for eight years, I’m also excited for this community. This is a great place to live and the pride of being an NFL city will make it an even better place.

In addition to being tenants in a new state-of-the-art stadium, the university will soon begin construction on an on-campus football practice facility.

There are five FBS teams that will share stadiums with NFL teams on at least a part-time basis in 2017 — UMass (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium), Miami (Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium), Temple (Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field) and USF (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium).  Georgia State had shared the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons but are moving to the new Turner Field this season, while San Diego State will still call Qualcomm Stadium home even as the Chargers have bolted the facility for Los Angeles.

There has been chatter that both Temple (HERE) and USF (HERE) could find themselves in a position to build an on-campus stadium at some point down the road — although the latter could extend its agreement with its current home as it continues to evaluate its long-term plans.

The Los Angles Rams are also temporarily crashing at the home of the USC Trojans, Memorial Coliseum, until their new stadium is completed.

Kaylee Hartung leaves ESPN sidelines for CNN

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ESPN’s roster of college football talent has taken a bath lately. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman broke up their critically acclaimed team for NFL work at different networks. Brad Nessler left for CBS. Brent Musuberger left for Vegas. Samantha Ponder has joined McDonough on the Worldwide Leader’s NFL team and, now, Kaylee Hartung is leaving the network as well.

Hartung confirmed her departure from ESPN on Monday. Though she did not name her next employer, it’s been an open secret within the industry for nearly a month Hartung will leave for CNN.

“Last night I worked my final event with ESPN,” Hartung announced on her Twitter page. “The decision to leave a job I love and take on a new challenge has been incredibly emotional but the overwhelming feeling I have today is gratitude. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had within the ESPN family for 5 years. I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with who have supported me, made me a better reporter, made me a better person and became my friends. I’m grateful for the coaches, athletes, staffers, and university officials who’ve shared their stories with me and let me be a part of their magical moments. I’m grateful for the fans who have embraced me and shared their passion with me. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my life during this incredibly fun and exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter has in store… Now I get to be a fan of you all!”

Hartung started with Longhorn Network and since moved to SEC Network and the mothership. Her final event for the network was Sunday night’s Women’s Elite Eight match between Mississippi State and Baylor. Hartung worked in the political media prior to landing with the Longhorn Network as an associate producer for the CBS program Face the Nation.

Final Four forces South Carolina to postpone indoor facility groundbreaking

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File this one under the most first world of all problems: the South Carolina football program is having to adjust its plans because the Gamecocks’ basketball team has been more successful than anticipated.

With Frank Martin‘s hoops headed to Phoenix for this weekend’s Final Four and taking all the Palmetto State’s attention with them, Will Muschamp‘s football program has been forced to alter what had been a big day planned.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to break ground on their announced indoor practice facility; those plans have now been postponed.

With only six days between South Carolina’s clinching of a Final Four berth and the football team’s planned Garnet-White game, the spring game will have to remain slated for Saturday. But it has been bumped forward to a noon kickoff.

Muschamp did not make the trip to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Elite Eight win (Florida’s Jim McElwain was in attendance) and Saturday’s spring game will also preclude his attendance, meaning the head football coach must wait until a possible national championship berth to support the basketball team in person.

With Brandon Harris off the board, Texas reportedly looking at former ND QB Malik Zaire

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Texas pursued former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris, but Harris is no longer interested in being pursued.

After Harris’s commitment to North Carolina, Tom Herman has reportedly turned his interests to the next logical choice in the graduate transfer market — former Notre Dame signal caller Malik Zaire.

The news comes from Chip Brown of Horns Digest who, unfortunately hid the goods behind a pay wall.

The move would be an interesting one considering Zaire’s history with the Longhorns. Zaire played like a Heisman candidate in a 38-3 crunching of Texas on the opening night of the 2015 season, hitting 19-of-22 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. As we know, Zaire was lost for the year to a broken ankle one week later, but managed to win back the starting job in training camp before the ’16 season.

Zaire didn’t last long, though, hitting 2-of-5 passes for 23 yards while being credited for no gain on three rushes, giving way to DeShone Kizer in an eventual 50-47 double overtime loss to the Longhorns in Austin to open last season.

Zaire would toss only 18 more passes as a Fighting Irish quarterback.

If Zaire reciprocates Herman’s interest he would immediately join an open quarterback battle with incumbent Shane Buechele and true freshman Sam Ehlinger. At the time of his South Bend departure Zaire was reportedly considering Wisconsin, Baylor and recently off-the-market North Carolina.