The annual SEC Football Media Days are this week in Hoover, Ala., which means that 13 football coaches and a few of their star players spent the last couple of weeks busily preparing.
They were hunkering down – focusing as it were – on their interview skills. They were getting their game faces on. They are not to be denied, and they know that practice makes perfect and that there’s no substitute for hard work. They know the time is now. Opportunity knocks. Once.
Most of all, they know they have to make every cliché count. Count em: One game at a time. The sky is the limit. There’s no substitute for (SEC, of course) speed.
You’ll notice the mention of 13 coaches, even though there are 14 SEC teams. That’s because there’s one coach who never leans on cliches. There’s at least one guy who won’t make the 900 or so media in attendance wish they had either (1) one more cup or coffee, or (2) the key to the room where the liquor is stored for that night’s reception.
That one coach is the ol’ ball coach, Steve Spurrier, who will always say what is on his mind.
He won’t say, as everyone else, that much depends on senior leadership. He might say he sure the heck wishes he had a few more seniors.
Let the other coaches wax on and on in monotone about how the SEC is the greatest conference in the land and how important it is to avoid injuries and turnovers. Spurrier will make a few fresh jokes, get in some digs at his peers and rivals, and give the writers something to write.
An example: Other coaches will talk about how difficult their schedule is, especially if, by some scheduling quirk, they are forced to play a difficult game early. They’ll make that early opponent sound like the 1985 Chicago Bears. Not Spurrier.
At South Carolina, Spurrier has to play Georgia early every year. When asked about it at SEC Media Days few years back, Spurrier answered, “I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could count on them having two or three key players suspended.”
Let the other coaches talk about how Nick Saban has set the standard and about how well prepared Saban’s teams always are. Spurrier will make fun of Saban’s legendary long hours. Spurrier’s theory: You can only be so prepared and then it’s overkill. In other words, get your game plan ready and then go play golf.
The old days
Spurrier is a throwback to the time before these SEC Media Days even existed. Back to when the SEC flew the media around in a plane to visit every school and see the players and coaches in their own environs. Back to the SEC Skywriters Tour, when coaches such as Bear Bryant, Johnny Vaught and Cholly Mac held court.
It was back before coaches, such as Saban, needed security to get through the fans and into the interview room. It was back before “media relations” experts officiated “media opportunities.”
Instead of standing at a podium looking out at 800 or 900 strangers, the coaches sat in an informal situation with a couple dozen writers they knew (and mostly liked). It was sometimes at the coach’s house.
Back then, sometimes a cliché might slip in. These days, amid an onslaught of cliches, an occasional truth comes out. Usually, it’s from Spurrier.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.