FREEZE TIPTOES minefields during questioning.
HOOVER, Ala. — Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze steered clear of direct responses to a couple of hot topics after giving a 16-minute opening statement during his 28 minutes in the main media room Thursday.
Freeze addressed the ongoing NCAA investigation into the Rebels’ football program during his opening remarks, inviting reporters to read the university’s response to the NCAA Notice of Allegations, but he asked for no questions about the case.
Freeze also stayed away from a question about the lawsuit filed Wednesday by former Arkansas and Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, which alleges Freeze and the Ole Miss administration engaged in a smear campaign to create the narrative that the NCAA rules violations occurred under Nutt’s watch.
“I would absolutely love to share my opinion on it,” Freeze said of the lawsuit. “Unfortunately, it’s a legal case and I can’t comment.”
The Rebels have selfimposed scholarship reductions, a bowl ban this season and other sanctions in an effort to lessen penalties from the NCAA committee on infractions. Their date in front of the committee has not been set.
Freeze framed the 2017 season as one that could be remembered for a long time at Ole Miss.
“I think this has the potential to set up our staff to have our greatest hour,” he said. “We can model for a lot of people what it can look like for people that genuinely care for one another and look at what we do have as a blessing, and then set an example of how you go through difficult times.”
On the move?
SEC media days have been held in the Birmingham metro area since the event started in 1985, and in Hoover since 2001, but the operation could be on the move.
“Hoover’s been a great home for us, and it may stay here,” said SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent, a North Little Rock native and Little Rock Catholic graduate. “But after this year, we’re going to evaluate what to do, because we’ve had some other cities express interest.”
Vincent said the
SEC office isn’t ready to name other possible sites, but cities under consideration according to a knowledgeable source include Atlanta, Dallas and Nashville, Tenn.
“We’re not looking to move it permanently,” Vincent said. “We’re just looking to see if we can take the brand somewhere else in the SEC footprint, if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, then we’ll stay here. We’re just looking at other options.”
Auburn to East?
Former Auburn coach Pat Dye sounded supportive this spring of Auburn moving to the SEC East and possibly switching places with Missouri, but his idea has come across as a nonstarter this week in Hoover.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the potential move hasn’t been an agenda item in league meetings.
“It is a conversation in most large press conferences in which I appear, and that’s the extent of the conversation,” Sankey said.
Auburn Coach Gus Malzahn echoed Sankey’s remarks and added, “I like the way it is right now. The West right now is the best league in college football. It’s a man’s league.”
Malzahn went on to list the names of all the teams in the SEC West, with the exception of Arkansas, an oversight that was pointed out to him later.
“Arkansas, definitely,” Malzahn said. “I have a lot of respect for them. And of course, we go on the road this year as far as that goes.”
Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze is on board with sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson emerging as the so-called “face of the program” during the season.
“It has to happen,” Freeze said. “And I think the great thing is I think his ceiling can be really high.
“I don’t know that I can help him at all, or that the coaching staff can help him, with his release. It’s pretty good. His running around, I wish we could take credit for training him to do that, but that just comes natural to him.”
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey revealed Thursday that he shares an Aug. 3 birthday with two SEC head coaches.
Sankey and Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin were born on the same day, Aug. 3, 1964. South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp was born on Aug. 3, 1971.
South Carolina tight end Hayden Hurst started his career as a baseball player after being selected in the 17th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, but now he’s succeeding as a college football player with the Gamecocks.
He spent two years in the Pirates organization before giving up baseball and walking on at South Carolina in 2015, a month before his 22nd birthday.
Hurst caught 48 passes last season, a school record for tight ends at South Carolina, and was voted one of four permanent team captains during the 2016 season. He was the first sophomore in school history to be elected a permanent team captain.
“Having Coach Muschamp and the players respect me and feel that way about me and see my hard work, that’s just a humbling thing,” Hurst said.
“It’s about the respect you have from your peers, and to me he’s as respected a player as we have on our football team,” South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp said.
Trainor on the mic
Kevin Trainor, the associate athletic director for communications at Arkansas, served as a moderator of the coaches news conferences at SEC media days for the seventh consecutive year.
“Kevin does a great job,” SEC associate commissioner Herb Vincent said. “He knows the media and the coaches and he knows how the event runs, knows the flow of it.
“He handles it just the way we need someone to handle it. He’s a veteran guy, and we like to have that here. I think he’s got a lot of good years left in him to keep doing it for us.”
CEO of defense
Auburn safety Tray Matthews has gotten the nickname “CEO of defense” as he enters his senior season.
“CEO of defense, that’s something coach Steele came up with,” said Matthews, referencing Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele.
South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp was reluctant to see running back David Williams leave his roster during the spring. Williams transferred as a graduate student to Arkansas after Coach Bret Bielema and Athletic Director Jeff Long approached Muschamp at the SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla., to ask for his intraconference release.
“David, first of all, is an outstanding person, an outstanding young man, and a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “I didn’t want to lose David. I tried to talk him into staying.
“I was in Destin and Bret and Jeff Long came up and said, ‘Hey, would you be willing to release him within the league, even though we play y’all next year?’ ”
Muschamp gave his blessing to the transfer.
“I think they’ll find they’ve got a good one,” Muschamp said.
Arkansas cornerback Ryan Pulley must have watched Missouri linebacker Eric Beisel’s appearance at SEC media days. Beisel continued his smack talking regarding the Tigers’ rivalry with Arkansas on Wednesday, calling the Razorbacks “the team down south” and referring to them as “cute little kittens.”
Pulley isn’t a fan of the antics.
“This guy ERIC BEISEL Is A Straight Clown. Somebody Give This Man A Red Nose,” Pulley wrote on his Twitter account.
Wright Waters, the Football Bowl Association chairman, touted the strength and health of bowls in his session-opening talk Thursday.
Waters said an NCAA audit revealed there was a total payout of $616.8 million for the bowls after the 2016 season, an increase of 2.1percent from the year before. With institutional expenses deducted, the net revenue was $511.4 million, Waters said.
“The great misconception is that schools are losing money going to bowl games,” Waters said.
Waters said attendance and TV ratings were down slightly during the 2016 postseason. The 4.5 percent drop in TV ratings marked the third dip in the past four years, Waters said.
Waters said a poll conducted by Ohio University showed that 93 percent of coaches and athletes were either satisfied or very satisfied with their bowl experience.
“Bottom line, people are happy going to bowl games, and we think that’s the No. 1 most critical issue,” Waters said.
There will be 40 bowls in the 2017 postseason, down one from last year as the Poinsettia Bowl has folded. Another change is that the Miami Beach Bowl has moved to Frisco, Texas, and is owned by ESPN Events.
SEC Network anchor Dari Nowkhah spoke early Thursday to promote the latest installment of the SEC Storied series.
The documentary, which will premiere Sept. 5 at 8 p.m., will be on former South Carolina tailback George Rogers, who won the 1980 Heisman Trophy.
“If you’re in my way, you’re going to get punished,” Rogers said in the preview shown to media members.
South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp did not allow Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi to get his full identification out to preface a question before giving him a jab.
“You don’t have to identify yourself,” Muschamp said. “Your voice could torture prisoners of war.”
After the laughter died down, Muschamp cracked, “I was waiting for a year to say that.”
The preseason predicted orders of finish, which are typically released on the final day of SEC media days, were pushed back this summer. The order of finish and preseason All-SEC teams used to be released together on the final morning of media days. Last year the media voting for preseason All-SEC came out the day after the event concluded, and this year both the All-SEC voting and the orders of finish will come out today.
Chuck Dunlap, the SEC director of communications, said league officials decided it wasn’t fair that the final three teams were made to answer questions about where they were picked to finish when the first 11 teams didn’t face the same questions.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey admitted during SEC media days that he has heard a lot of chatter about the possibility of Auburn moving to the Eastern Division and Missouri heading to the West, but nothing has been officially brought to him during league meetings.