July 24, 2009 8:55:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
If day one of the Southeastern Conference Media Days was an appetizer, the filet mignon served Thursday was a treat.
Four of the SEC''s heavy hitters -- Georgia''s Mark Richt, Alabama''s Nick Saban, Ole Miss'' Houston Nutt, and Florida''s Urban Meyer -- were on hand to give their appraisals of the upcoming 2009 season.
Each coach had a hot topic item to address, and the four programs should be the most interesting ones this season in the rough and tumble SEC.
The personalities of each man made Thursday''s media event even more appealing.
The morning started with Richt, an "aw shucks" type of coach, who opened his remarks with a touch of surprise that he was about to begin year nine at Georgia.
Richt smiled after he made the remark and then clarified it later in his session. He didn''t mean to imply he thought he would have been fired earlier in his tenure, only to highlight the volatile nature of the coaching profession often makes high-profile jobs like his in the SEC difficult to handle.
Richt could face his biggest challenge this season.
The Bulldogs, who were a preseason No. 1 team last year, have to replace first-team All-SEC running back Knowshon Moreno and second-team All-SEC quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Joe Cox, who has seen limited playing time in his career, is expected to step into the starting job.
Richt talked about how he and his players had confidence in Cox, and that he is eager to see how his team comes together in an attempt to win without its two stars from last season.
From Richt, who reminds me of a quiet uncle who sits in your recliner and watches football when he visits your family for the holidays, the conversation turned to Saban, or "Mr. Fortune 500."
Saban''s contract alone qualifies him for an inclusion in that elite category, but his demeanor fits the bill.
Saban is the only coach I have heard use the word "organization" to refer to his program. It''s one thing to use that word if you are the coach of a professional team, which Saban was most recently with the NFL''s Miami Dolphins, but it sounds unusual when used by a college coach.
Saban''s use of the word seems to fit because even though he has a calm, cool, and collected veneer, he is all business. I imagine he delivers a pretty effective motivational speech, too.
One of Saban''s primary tasks this season will be to find a new quarterback. Saban isn''t sure if Greg McElroy, Star Jackson, or someone else will emerge as the team''s starter, but he said the success of the offensive line, which lost stalwarts Andre Smith and Antoine Caldwell, will play a key role in the effectiveness of the Crimson Tide''s quarterback.
The mood took a lighter feel as Nutt replaced Saban behind the podium.
If Richt is the quiet uncle, Nutt is the louder, more gregarious uncle who lights up a room when he arrives.
Last year, Nutt rode back into the SEC on a wave of anticipation. The Rebels, who went 0-8 in the SEC under Ed Orgeron in 2007, salivated about the new-found optimism Nutt created.
The veteran coach didn''t disappoint.
Despite some ups and down, Ole Miss upset eventual national champion Florida and went on the beat Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
The bowl victory was the program''s first since 2004, and it has created a buzz around the program that had some people asking if the Rebels would be disappointed if they didn''t make it to Atlanta, the site of the SEC''s Championship game.
Like he did last year, Nutt tried -- with a smile -- to temper those expectations. He said his players are still learning to win and that he and his coaches are still assembling a championship program.
It helps having talent like quarterback Jevan Snead, running back Dexter McCluster, and defensive lineman Greg Hardy, to name just a few.
Those players are just three reasons why Nutt should be smiling in December.
Meyer and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow closed day two with a study in contrasts.
On one hand, Meyer epitomized cool. In fact, one writer described him as "often indifferent." Another likened his demeanor to a glacier.
But make no mistake, Meyer is as good a coach as there is, and two national championships in the past three years show he has a knack for getting his teams to execute at the highest levels in the biggest games.
That''s a credit to any coach, even if he doesn''t have a warm and fuzzy personality.
Meyer probably leaves most of those speeches to Tebow, his senior quarterback, who still talks a mile a minute and appears to enjoy his 110th press conference like it is his first.
Tebow said he didn''t plan on using the fact that he wasn''t a unanimous first-team All-SEC pick at quarterback as motivation. He said he had plenty of other things to motivate him, and no, beating Ole Miss this season, isn''t one of them.
If Ole Miss can beat Alabama on Oct. 10 in Oxford, Tebow just might get that chance.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Commercial Dispatch. He can be reached at [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.