ATHENS -- First, it must be acknowledged that there were surely many a memorable moment in the early, quaint days of SEC media days. You know, back when it was a chance for every SEC football head coach to sit around a table with a few writers and talk about their summers.
Yes, a few media members. Not the thousand or so who are credentialed next week, and have been the past few years.
The annual event has long since been a circus, with intermittent moments of journalism. The result might be a distortion of the original intent -- players and coaches providing information to media -- but boy has it added to the entertainment value.
Therefore, the past decade’s most memorable moments from the annual gathering in the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.:
1. Phillip Fulmer on the phone, dodging a subpoena
The longtime Tennessee head coach was absent from media days in 2004 because he wanted to avoid being served a subpoena by an Alabama lawyer. Fulmer had spoken to the NCAA about the Crimson Tide, and a suit had the lawyer on Fulmer’s heels. Knowing that, Fulmer’s own lawyers advised him to stay out of Alabama, which he did, incurring a $10,000 fine from the SEC.
But Fulmer did speak at media days that year, albeit via a conference call. So, of course, nearly every question was about the lawsuit, Fulmer’s actions and skipping media days.
At one point, after a contentious question, the moderator tried to move on, but Fulmer’s voice could be heard: “No, no I’ll answer that.”
The most awkward moment came near the end, when a young woman near the back of the room spoke up, asking an argumentative question. It still isn’t clear to this day whether that was a media member or an Alabama fan who snuck in.
Fulmer appeared in Hoover a year later, and in 2008 he eventually was served a subpoena. The case was eventually dismissed.
2. Steve Spurrier not voting for Tim Tebow
At first, it was just a minor point of fun. The coaches’ preseason all-SEC team came out before the 2009 media days, and it turned out somebody had not voted for Tebow as the first-team quarterback. (Somebody besides Tebow’s own coach, Urban Meyer, since coaches are not allowed to vote for his own players.)
As media days began, however, more and more people wondered who had snubbed Tebow. The first coach to speak in the main media room was asked if it was him. No, he replied. Then the second coach to appear was also asked. It also wasn’t him.
Before long, it was obvious this would be the major storyline. By the second and third day, coaches knew the question was coming, and they were ready for an answer. One of the final coaches to appear on the third and final day was South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier. Surely, the former Gators quarterback couldn’t have been the snubber.
Turns out, he was. Spurrier turned his media appearance into an apology-fest, saying that he should have voted for Tebow, but he implied that his director of football operations, Jamie Speronis, had talked him out of it.
3. The colorful Robbie Caldwell
It’s considered heretical for media members to applaud when anybody is done speaking, especially at media days. But when Caldwell was done in 2010, there didn’t seem any other option.
Caldwell was only Vanderbilt’s head coach for that one season, and media days was his high-water mark. The native of rural South Carolina regaled the media with wit, self-depreciation and homespun stories. For example:
“My first hourly paying job was on the turkey farm. I don’t know if I could tell you what my job was, but I was on the inseminating crew. That’s a fact. I worked my way to the top.”
Caldwell also made fun of his weight, his anonymity and, well, whatever.
“I know y’all can’t tell it, but I do have an education,” Caldwell said.
4. Nick Saban’s dog
The same day in 2004 that Fulmer was dodging a subpoena, others at the Wynfrey were dodging a black boxer with a purple collar, the color of LSU.
It was Saban’s dog, Lizzy, who had escaped the hotel room and made its way down to the lobby. (Saban’s home phone was on the dog’s collar, and alert reporters copied it down.)
“My appreciation for Lizzy is she’s the true unconditional love of my life,” Saban said from the podium. “She’s the only fan I know who treats me exactly the same whether we win or lose.”
5. Tebow gets The Question
Tebow’s domination of SEC media days might have portended ESPN’s interest in him years later. Again from 2009: Clay Travis, then working for the now-defunct AOL Fanhouse, decided to follow up on Tebow’s vocal Christianity and ask a simple question.
Are you a virgin?
Tebow said yes, and smiled. It was media members who were more taken aback. This happened in a smaller room, for radio reporters, but word of it got out quickly, and led to a short national debate on whether it was appropriate to ask.
Then again, at the spectacle that is SEC media days, what can be off-limits anymore?