Greetings from the first day of SEC media days in Hoover, Ala. The circus has begun. Check here throughout the day for updates from the Wynfrey Hotel, with Monday's agenda featuring SEC commissioner Mike Slive, and the delegations from Auburn, Florida and Vanderbilt.
5:30 p.m.: SEC's only new coach debuts
Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason is separating himself from predecessor James Franklin by wearing a bow tie. Actually when it comes to that Mason is separating himself from any coach who's appeared here, at least in recent memory.
But Mason was reminiscent of Franklin in that each spent their time at the podium trying to sell Vanderbilt, using their time as another chance to recruit. Mason seems a bit less bombastic than Franklin, now the Penn State coach, and a bit more cerebral; Mason comes from Stanford, where he was the offensive coordinator.
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Mason credited Franklin and Bobby Johnson before him with laying the groundwork with their recruiting. (He neglected to mention Robbie Caldwell, the interim coach during the 2010 season.)
Now taking over a team that won nine games, Mason has adopted this mantra: "Dream big."
"We have to push past the idea of playing for nine wins," Mason said. "Nine wins is exceptional. But at the end of the day why only nine wins? Why settle for nine wins when you can have 10? Why settle for 10 wins when you can have 11?"
4:30 p.m.: 'We've got to beat Georgia'
Florida, which at one point beat Georgia 13 out of 14 seasons, is now on a three-game losing streak to the Bulldogs. And players who signed with Florida in 2011 are in danger of leaving Gainesville without ever beating their rivals.
Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves is only a sophomore, but as a Tampa native he has a pretty good feel for the history of the game.
"My first experience with that game, it's crazy, there's no other game like it," Hargreaves said. "But you know, we have to win. We've gotta win one. We've got to beat Georgia.
"That's not our main goal. But we have to do that to win the East, and that's what we're working for."
3:30 p.m.: Muschamp doesn't hide from 'hot seat business'
The media didn't need to dance around the topic with Will Muschamp. The Florida head coach brought up his tenuous job status less than a minute into his opening statement on Monday.
"There'll be a lot of chatter about the hot-seat business," Muschamp said. "That's part of it. ... The way you combat that is by winning games."
Florida is coming off a 4-8 season, with the low point being a home loss to Georgia Southern. It led to plenty of calls for the removal of Muschamp, a former Georgia safety. But athletics director Jeremy Foley stood by Muschamp, who he hired to replace Urban Meyer before the 2011 season.
Muschamp said last season "is on my shoulders." But he exuded a calm confidence, saying the 2014 team was his most "complete" since he got to Florida, in large part because it's the most offensively talented team he's had.
After a lengthy opening statement, the first question Muschamp fielded was about the hot-seat talk, and whether he ever thought he wouldn't return in 2014, and how that colors his approach to this season. He said he never doubted he'd return, thanks to a strong relationship with Foley, and as for this year the best way to combat it is to win games.
"Control the things you can control," Muschamp said. "I haven't always practiced it, but you've gotta control the things you can control."
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel demurred when asked about whether he and his teammates felt like they were playing for their coach's job.
"That's not on the player's minds. We never talk about that," he said. "We're going to play hard for coach Muschamp, but at the end of the day we're playing for the University of Florida."
Then Driskel added: "But we are behind coach Muschamp 100 percent."
3:10 p.m.: Former Georgia player joins SEC Network
The fledgling SEC Network has added a Georgia man: Matt Stinchcomb has signed on to be a color analysts for game broadcasts, the conference announced on Monday.
Stinchcomb played at Georgia from 1995-98, twice making first-team All-American, then was a first-round NFL pick and spent seven years in the pros. He will be paired with Tom Hart, a Missouri graduate.
The SEC also announced that Andre Ware, the former Heisman Trophy winner, will be a color analyst, and be paired with Dave Neal. The main crew, announced earlier this year, will be Brent Musberger and Jesse Palmer.
1 p.m.: Auburn's Gus Malzahn on Marshall, Matthews
The subject of Nick Marshall's punishment, or whether there will be any, was the immediate one for the Auburn head coach. Malzahn brought it up at the tail end of his opening remarks, saying that there will be "consequences," but did not specify them yet.
"I know he's very remorseful, and that's a start," Malzahn said.
Malzahn did say that attending SEC media days is a privilege and that Marshall "lost that privilege" last Friday when he was cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Marshall has been a "model teammate, student and citizen" since his arrival at Auburn, said Malzahn. His quarterback was dismissed from Georgia in February of 2012 after he and two other teammates were involved in a theft from a teammates' dorm room.
Later Malzahn was asked about another dismissed Georgia player now on his roster: Safety Tray Matthews, who transferred to the Plains this summer.
"We do our homework for everybody that we take in our program," Malzahn said. "We got a chance to recruit Tray before he went to the other school. Then we have a coach on our staff that knew his family, knew him well. We feel like he'll be successful in our program."
That almost certainly was a reference to Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who had the same job at Georgia prior to the 2013 season.
12:30 p.m.: The commissioner speaks
As usual, SEC commissioner Mike Slive kicked things off with his sort of "state of the SEC" address. But it was far from a parochial address.
Slive never directly mentioned the Ed O'Bannon case, or unionization, but as he has for years the SEC commissioner urged reforms "while maintaining and preserving the collegiate model."
"We are not deaf to the din of discontent across collegiate athletics that has dominated the news," Slive said. "In the words of former president Dwight David Eisenhower, I quote: 'Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.'"
Slive also quoted Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela in his 21-minute speech.
"College athletics has a unique power to change lives," Slive said a she wrapped up. "We support reform, but it's essential that reform be implemented in a way that preserves the positive role that college athletics plays in the lives of our student-athletes, other students and society at large."
Slive pointed out that he stood at the same spot at 2011 media days and urged many of the reforms now being pursued. Then he reiterated the need for the SEC and four other major conferences to have the autonomy they need to vote in many of those proposals. Two months ago Slive invoked the specter of a full breakaway (Division IV) if it didn't happen on the SEC's preferred voting terms, but Slive said he hopes to work with the rest of the NCAA for something that works for everyone. (The vote of conference commissioners is set for Aug. 7.)
"While acknowledging the angst among some conferences and institutions in Division I, I remain optimistic that working together we can create a framework that places the academic and athletic success of the student-athlete front and center," Slive said.
Slive took the podium to scattered applause, which is usually verboten at these types of things. Almost embarrassed, Slive said: "I know that applauding did not come from the media." (Unfortunately, some of it did.)
The commissioner got more applause a minute later when he wished his wife, in the back of the room, a happy 46th wedding anniversary. And what better place to spend it than Hoover?
Then he got to more serious things.
There was the usual bragging over on-field accomplishments, although he lamented that the last BCS championship game was "one minute too long."
He defended the eight-game conference schedule, saying it was done with the entire 12-game schedule in mind. Slive pointed to some of the difficult non-conference games his teams have scheduled, including Notre Dame, by Georgia.
He mentioned a "fan experience group" that will seek to enhance the in-stadium experience. He didn't mention anything specific for this season, just that it will be ongoing.
And then came the plug for the SEC Network, which is now exactly a month away. Slive pointed to the cable providers that have agreed to air it, then said that serious discussions continue with the ones who haven't.
"This is a commercial," Slive said, then urged fans to contact the cable provider holdouts. (Comcast being the major one.)