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.”

Temple adds recent NFL assistant, long-time college coach

MIAMI - 2009:  George DeLeone of the Miami Dolphins poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by NFL Photos)
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With the Cleveland Browns (again) changing regimes, George DeLeone found himself on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  A couple of weeks later, DeLeone is back on the inside, and in a familiar locale at that.

While the school has yet to officially confirm it, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that DeLeone has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff at Temple.  Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com subsequently confirmed the report.

According to both outlets, DeLeone will serve as the Owls’ running-game coordinator.

The past two seasons, DeLeone worked as an assistant line coach with the Browns.  Prior to that, however, the vast majority of his 46-year coaching career had been spent at the collegiate level.  And a sizable chunk of that time was spent in the Northeast.

DeLeone’s first FBS job came at Rutgers from 1980-83.  Two different stints at Syracuse (1985-96, 1998-2004) were sandwiched between his the job at the NFL level with the Miami Dolphins (1997).  Temple was his home from 2006-07, and then UConn from 2011-13 before the Browns called.

Demoted by BC, Todd Fitch takes over as LaTech’s OC

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs objects to a call during the first half of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A promotion in 2015 was quickly followed by a demotion a year later for Todd Fitch.  Not long after the latter went down, Fitch left town for a fresh start to his coaching career.

Friday, Skip Holtz announced that Fitch has been hired as his offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.  Additionally, Fitch will serve as the wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs.

Fitch had spent the past three seasons at Boston College, first as receivers coach and passing-game coordinator in 2013-14 before being promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015.  However, BC head coach Steve Addazio announced in mid-January that he had hired Scott Loeffler as his coordinator, effectively demoting Fitch back to receivers coach.

Three weeks later, Fitch headed south.

“I am excited to be joining a staff that is part of growing something special,” Fitch said. “This coaching staff has laid the groundwork for a program that has already done some great things and is building a foundation for future success. I am excited for the opportunity to be on a staff with Skip Holtz again and to keep growing this program.”

In addition to BC, Fitch had also been a coordinator at East Carolina and USF. Holtz was the head coach at both of those stops.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.