In my television career (if you can even call it that), I must admit that I had to cover more than one of what are called “Media Days” whether that be for a conference, a particular school or a single school division. Most of the time you don’t need these things at the high school level as most of the coaches I dealt with over the years were great.
Media days are largely reserved for college football and college basketball within a particular conference. I’m here to tell you that covering these events sucks. It just sucks, and I never had to endure anything like SEC Media Days in Hoover, Alabama. I honestly believe that being sentenced to cover media days is a bit like being sentenced to watch a lifetime of re-runs of Laverne and Shirley, or be permanently assigned to cover the Democratic National Convention. Please just shoot me now.
I did the Big East Media days twice, which at the time made sense as both Virginia Tech and West Virginia were part of the conference. The event was held in the press box at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It was a one-day event and you had to scramble to get the interviews you wanted, but most of the Sports Information Directors from the schools were very helpful and you could get most of the coaches in one-on-one situations. That’s probably not the case now. The worst to deal with was West Virginia SID Shelly Poe. What a train wreck she was and I’m sure remains one to this day. She left West Virginia to be the primary contact for Ohio State Football and then after all of the crap hit the fan with coach Jim Tressell and his players selling rings and getting free tattoos, she was ditched from that job and reassigned to cover like women’s volleyball. What happened to her after that, I don’t know and frankly don’t care because within the confines of the great State of West Virginia, she catered to the “big market” reporters in Charleston and Huntington, and frankly didn’t give a hoot about those of us tolling in the small markets. Then you put her in a place with a bunch of national media and what happens? You figure it out. Fortunately for us, she had an assistant who was a first class guy and very helpful and Don Nehlen – who was the coach at the time – liked us and would always take time to do interviews.
Among my experiences at the Big East Media Days in the mid-90s was interviewing then Pitt (and former Tennessee coach) Johnny Majors who was a nice guy, but I believe still half in the bag when he showed up. Dennis Erickson from Miami was also a little tipsy at the time. Either that or he had ass breath, which is also possible. Miami was the big dog in the Big East at the time and their SID – who was a female whose name I cannot remember – was awesome. She cared about letting everyone talk to her coaches and players and keep in mind at this point Miami is about the best program in the country and she didn’t have to do that certainly not for some small station in the nation’s 159th market.
Media members may hate to actually be at these events (and some crazy souls actually enjoy it), but they all love it for the same reason that I did. It’s a gold mine of stories that you can run for weeks leading up to the football season and being lazy – like all sports anchors are and I include myself in that – you don’t have to leave the office to fill your 3 minutes. When you don’t have to leave the office to cover something, the sports gig is almost like a regular job. Almost that is. I do remember being in the edit bay at WVVA one day doing a story on a Big East team to run in that night’s sports and having the Station General Manager come in and look over my shoulder and say, “no one cares about that?” Well, I know you don’t, but someone does and I don’t care about your stupid country-club golf tournament either but since you own the toy box and can play with the toys, I have to cover that as well.
Twenty years later the landscape has changed. Now there are 24-hour a day sports talk stations doing their shows from these events and they’ve expanded from simple little one-day events like I covered to, in the case of the SEC, a too-long 4-day event that more resembles a labor meeting in a union hall than a press conference. 1,500 Media members come to the SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama. That doesn’t even count the collection of Alabama fans – who apparently are all unemployed – who are hanging out in front of and around the hotel just to get Nick Saban’s autograph. I’ve never been but the place appears to be a circus. Not only that, but some of the things that happen at media days are comical. A few years ago, then Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer refused to go to Alabama for media days because he didn’t want to get served with a subpoena while within the jurisdiction of the Alabama court system. So, he appeared on the phone. Dude for real? Aren’t you an adult trying to teach your players about life and facing problems and instead you run away from them. Then again, this is a guy whose ego was so gigantic, that he had an elevated “Power-T” desk in his office. When he was fired, the first thing his replacement Lane Kiffin did was throw that out.
The SEC fashions itself as the Kings of College Football so hence the 4-day event. But, other conferences have followed that lead. The ACC media days or “ACC Kickoff” as Commissioner John Swafford insists it be called are two days. They used to hold their event at Pinehurst in North Carolina and included a golf outing as part of the event. This year, they’ve moved to a hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina and no golf. The lack of golf has created a bit of buzz among the “longtime” media members who are used to getting quotes and then 18 holes thrown in for their efforts. The talk in Charlotte won’t be as much about football as it will be about the Conference’s new television network that will reportedly start in 2019, although in a digital platform much earlier. The ACC was apparently putting the screws to ESPN – who are not going to be confused with making great business decisions (see, the Longhorn Network and overpaying for Monday Night Football for example) – to form the ACC Network because well the Big 10 has it, and the SEC has it and the Pac-12 has it, so we have to have it. I guess there’s just not enough places to see an exciting Wednesday night Volleyball match between Clemson and Ga. Tech. The ACC has some inherent problems in starting its own Network chief among them are issues with getting cable and satellite systems to carry it (ask the Pac-12 about Direct TV), and the bigger issue is its longtime affiliation with Charlotte based Raycom Sports. Raycom has rights to some ACC football and basketball games through 2027. Now the conference may have to turn its back on a longtime partner that was interested in televising ACC football when no one else was because well, the ACC has always been about basketball and never let them tell you anything different.
The Big-12 event is also two days in Dallas, which is further illustration that West Virginia University belongs somewhere other than the geographically challenged Big 12. Morgantown ain’t near Dallas, and the best players in the Big-12 come from Texas and West Virginia isn’t going to get them, or at least not a majority of them to be anything other than part of the mediocre bottom half of the league. Of course, the Big 12 talk was less about football and more about Baylor and it’s problems and conference expansion. Apparently, the conference has given the commissioner carte blanche to punish Baylor for its issues created by its former head coach. What a crock of crap that is. The commissioner is going to punish innocent parties in some form or fashion when these kids had nothing to do with anything? That punishes the new coach as well who already has to compete in a tough conference with just 71 scholarship players, and the former head coaches’ entire coaching staff.
As for conference expansion, it’s an absolute over hyped story that just won’t go away. Oklahoma President David Boren – a former United States Senator and Governor of Oklahoma – has been a bully on expansion for a couple of years. I have no idea why because he almost took his toys and went to the Pac-12 a couple of years ago. Maybe he doesn’t like the fact that the Big-12 has just 10 teams, but the Presidents of the conference have given the commissioner the option to get two or four additional teams. Now, I didn’t go to Yale like David Boren and I wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar either, but having 14 teams in the Big 12 doesn’t make a lot of sense either. And who the hell are your going to add? Cincinnati? A nice school and a large school, but Cincinnati is a blip on the media radar in Cincinnati. Memphis? Same deal. Houston is a big market, but why does the Big 12 need another team in Texas? BYU? That has its own issues. Now the Big 12 is going to cover an area from Morgantown, WV to Provo, Utah and have you watched BYU football lately? They are dirtiest group of cheap shot players in college football so have fun with the Mormons boys and watch out for the extra activity at the bottom of the pile.
You can bet that Boren is using his bully pulpit to also get a Big 12 network because well damn it, Texas has it, the Big 10 has it, the SEC has it, the Pac-12 has it, the ACC is getting it, so we have to have it. I can tell Boren – if his Yale educated ass is even interested in hearing this – that Oklahoma football doesn’t need a Big 12 network nor does it need the Big-12. Oklahoma football is fine on its own because of people like me who grew up watching it and loving it.
When the talk actually is about football, Media days are all about coach speak. No one says more without saying nothing than college football coaches. They are all excited about their teams and like their efforts in the off-season program and their leadership and have team unity. That won’t exist when you start the season 1 – 4. Some coaches are actually a good listen so we can’t paint with too broad a brush. Nick Saban is fun to listen to in a grumpy sort of way. He’ll answer questions honestly, but won’t kiss the media’s ass because he just doesn’t like them. There is no one more entertaining that LSU coach Les Miles. His comments range from the yearly update on what’s happening with his kids to why he can’t find a quarterback that can actually play.
Rookie head coaches like Kirby Smart from Georgia have a lot to learn about Media Days. He actually thanked the media for being there. Will he think the same thing when his team is like 2 – 3 and the fans are wondering why did we hire this guy? Some coaches display themselves as masters of illusion. Count Vanderbilt Coach Derek Mason in that group. As a head coach, he’s an excellent defensive coordinator, but there he was hyping up Vanderbilt’s chemistry and proclaiming that the winds of change are coming to Nashville. Okay, so maybe they win 5 games instead of 4?
But, no coach has mastered coach speak better than Tennessee’s Butch Jones. This guy has a dictionary of terms and phrases that he uses every time he talks. First of all, he engages in the dopey action of numbering his team. Since this is the 120th year of Tennessee football, this is team 120 and team 120 hasn’t played a game yet. Last year’s team 119 did a good job, but you must be careful in comparing team 120 to team 119. At some point in a press conference Jones will talk about playing complimentary football, becoming 1% better each day, trying to be able to compete week in and week out, building the Tennessee football program for sustained success, and getting Tennessee football back to relevance. Of course, they have to take the next step, learn how to finish games, and don’t forget that the Quarterback at Tennessee is a global position, whatever the hell that means? This is a guy who showed up at Tennessee stating that he had to re-build the football program brick-by-brick. Well, he’d better win big this year or at least beat Florida or some of those bricks will be thrown at him. Then again, he’s just worried about controlling the controllables.
I can honestly say that I’m glad the days of Media Days are long behind me, but I would like to see the reaction in Charlotte this week when Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher shows up. He will have one of the best teams in the country this year and that’s not a surprise, but what will be a surprise is that sometime between last year and this year, Jimbo – who was balding – grew some hair. Ah, the perfect gift for a newly divorced man in his 50s.