SEC Media Days is starting to take on a familiar look. Like many of the dozens of midsummer music festivals across the land, the SEC will present 14 big acts — the head coaches — and a broader range of young up-and-comers — the players — doing 45-minute sets that are sure to include some familiar hits. The audience — a horde of media members unequaled this side of the Super Bowl, since the SEC hands out credentials for this event in the good old free-festival spirit of the 1960s — will look similar to the crowds at those amphitheater shows, for the most part.
For 2017, there aren’t any big changes on the bill. Nick Saban remains the headliner, the one who attracts the attention, like having U2 or Radiohead atop the Bonaroo bill. As for the rest, there is only one “new” coach, and he’s actually an old coach, Ed Orgeron. Coach O is always interesting and usually intelligible, and he’s returned to his Louisiana roots.
There is also going to be plenty of interest in Hugh Freeze, who’ll attract attention in the same way that the mid-level act who’s suddenly on TMZ all the time does. Scandal sells. Ole Miss’ NCAA problems may not dominate Freeze’s session in Hoover — at this point, what more can he say? —but the “cheating” whispers will at least provide background buzz for the Rebel show.
For the most part, though, the song remains the same. A tedious but perhaps revealing post-Media Days research project will be to see if any of the 13 returning coaches (we will miss you, Les Miles) are asked the same question as last July and if so, will they give the exact same answer, allowing for the variable that the players might have different names.
Why is that the case? It’s an intriguing question. One assumes that the answer cannot simply be that most programs are happy with the status quo, when the status quo is that Alabama wins the conference every year. Or is it?
There might be some of that quasi-complacency at work. Every coach is going to say his goal is to win the SEC and, if asked, every athletic director is going to say he is confident that his coach can do that. On the other hand, there seems to be a certain tolerance in place in which consistently stringing together 8-4 seasons (a .500 record in the league, or a game over, and a 4-0 or 3-1 record against a non-conference schedule consisting of a Power Five opponent and three breakfast pastries will do the trick) won’t get you fired. Surely, not all the other league programs are happy with that. So what is the strategy?
Auburn, which has won two recent SEC titles, at least seems to have a plan consisting of fielding a good team and hoping to hit the transfer quarterback lottery. It’s happened twice (under two different head coaches, to be fair) and certainly seems to be in play for 2017. For the rest, though, is the idea simply to push ahead and hope for the uncertain world of recruiting to tip the balance? That might work, if a program improves its own recruiting and Alabama’s gravitational pull on talent lessens. But how long does that take? Does it come down to waiting on Saban to retire? One can see that Will Muschamp needs more time, or Jim McElwain, or Kirby Smart. But how much sand remains in the Kevin Sumlin hourglass, or Bret Bielema, or Butch Jones? At those places, recruits have come in, and cycled through, departing without hardware of a non-consolation nature.
The word for Media Days 2017 remains “patience.” One wonders if the word for 2018 will be “change.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.