LAST LAUGH AWARD: That goes to Tommy Tuberville of Auburn. A year ago at the SEC Media Days he was politely dodging questions about how he had survived a coup attempt that included the school president, athletic director and two of the most prominent boosters. True to his words a couple of years before, 2004 was the big year that he had predicted. Auburn won the SEC championship on its way to a magical 13-0 season. While Tuberville didn't rub it in or gloat when he took the podium on Thursday, his confident answers were enough to let his many critics know that he was definitely enjoying the last laugh. Auburn takes a 15-game winning streak into 2005 and Tuberville more than once said that from top to bottom of the roster, this is the most talented team he's ever had.
BEST ANSWER AWARD: That would go to Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron, who past includes has a DUI arrest and some domestic battery issues with an ex-wife, all of which happened more than 10 years ago. Asked how he would handle the negative recruiting innuendos about his past, Orgeron said he would never deny what happened in the past and he would use it as a positive to show kids that you can get your life on the right track, that you can walk away from something bad that has happened in the past and turn your life around for the positive. Orgeron's poised answer came without a hint of a flinch on his part. The way he handled that tough question shows he will not have a problem handling the SEC media and critics. Now if he can only find a quarterback.
AW SHUCKS AWARD: Could anyone but Steve Spurrier win this one? Stevie Wonder stepped up to the podium and proceeded to tell all 700 or so writers how much he'd missed them, even the ones who used to write not such nice things about him. Then he proceeded to aw shucks his way through about 30 minutes or so without ever once zinging another opponent even though Phil Fulmer had earlier zinged him. Spurrier's consistent comment during his time before the media was "we haven't beaten anyone yet." After all those years of zingers that got in the heads of Phil Fulmer and Mark Richt, we were left wondering if Spurrier chose reverse psychology this year? Those were slightly nervous welcome back to the SEC remarks we heard later on from Fulmer, then on Thursday from Richt. We'll have to see how long it takes him to permanently get into their heads as he did back in the 12 years he was at Florida.
TAD ON THE HYPOCRITICAL SIDE AWARD: Phil Fulmer wins this award hands down. Answering a question posed by an Alabama writer that asked if he had any fear of being in the state of Alabama after the turmoil of the past 18 months, Fulmer answered that there was no fear at all. This, of course, was after he had talked about how both he and his wife had received death threats from people in Alabama after evidence was released that proved he had lobbied long and hard to get the University of Alabama on probation. And, this with a lobby full of Alabama fans at the Wynfrey Hotel. Fulmer was accompanied everywhere he went by a rather imposing plainclothes body guard from the Knoxville PD. In contrast, Urban Meyer's body guard was his 11-year-old daughter Gigi, who leaned against a wall watching as her dad answered questions. She tends to look more like Shelley every day.
TAD ON THE HYPOCRITICAL SIDE AWARD, PART II: The envelope please. The winner is Phillip Fulmer, University of Tennessee. Big surprise here, right? A few months ago there was a petition that circulated through the Tennessee athletic department that called for accountability with athletes, requiring that they go to class and make progress toward earning a college diploma. The petition was signed by signed by Pat Summitt (the greatest women's basketball coach in history), Buzz Peterson (now the basketball coach at Coastal Carolina), Rod Delmonico (the baseball coach who found out he couldn't screw around with the mind of Pat McMahon at the College World Series) and several other coaches on the Tennessee staff. Fulmer vetoed the petition by saying that it would take away his competitive edge. At the SEC Media Days, Fulmer talked about (1) how good it would be if everyone in college football raised the academic standards; (2) how we need to eliminate street agents that involve themselves in the recruiting process; and (3) raise the requirements for recruits to earn scholarships. This is the same Phil Fulmer who signed Dee Morley of Miami Killian --- the same Dee Morley whom the University of Florida admissions department wouldn't even allow on the Florida campus for an official visit and the same Dee Morley who LIVED with the notorious street agent Antron Wright.
BEAR BRYANT'S GHOST AWARD: When asked Friday morning about what it is like to be on the coaching hot seat this year, Alabama Coach Mike Shula responded that he's been on the hot seat since the day that he took the job, that whoever is the Alabama coach is always going to be on the hot seat. In talking to the Alabama media, they think that he will be fired if he has a losing record this year, but they believe that anything 6-5 or better will be sufficient. Most in the Alabama media believe that Shula has done an excellent job of handling the scholarship limitations that were imposed by NCAA sanctions. Alabama's full compliment of 25 scholarships this year will give the Tide 77 scholarship athletes, the most in four years. There will be depth issues since quite a bit of the depth will come from freshmen and redshirt freshmen, but if he can keep his first team offense and defense healthy, most Alabama writers think 7-4 is reasonable, 8-3 is do-able and 9-2 would be an achievement, but not totally a surprise. Most of the Alabama media people I talked to seem to think that as long as Brodie Croyle stays healthy and Shula listens to his defensive coordinator Joe Kines that there is little chance the Crimson Tide dips below the Mendoza line.
THE PEGGY FLEMING AWARD: This goes to the coach who shows the greatest skating skills and the winner, hands down, is Mark Richt of Georgia. Asked about his recruiting class of 19 which had six non-qualifiers, Richt turned rhetorical and asked "you're talking true freshmen?" Then when the questioner said yes, Richt answered "you might be right," following that up with a coach-speak response that would have had the AFLAC duck shaking his head and going "huh?" Richt skated by on the question about things being out of control in Athens where there have been numerous arrests this summer and later on when asked a similar question, he talked about how he's pro-active and how he enjoyed being in the middle of everything. Basically, Richt showed that he learned quite well from his mentor (Bobby Bowden) how to say the most words without really saying anything relevant. This performance was a double lutz followed by a triple axle. In between pirouettes, Richt did warn don't write his team off quite yet, that despite all the losses of key personnel, the Georgia program is now reloading and not rebuilding every year.
THE HUMANITARIAN AWARD: The envelope please! The winner is … his third of the evening …. Phil Fulmer, University of Tennessee. In the midst of talking about all the arrests in Knoxville during the spring and summer, Fulmer launched into a story about how he was venting to his wife about how mad he was at his players. He said his wife responded by telling him that he should think about all the players he has saved. We were all very touched. He has enough saved players on his team that he could win the SEC title. The SEC media voted Tennessee as most likely to win the SEC East and the overall SEC championship.
THE SAY WHAT AWARD: Steve Martin's stunt double, Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson, is the winner here. Asked how he sells Vandy in spite of the worst football facilities and the highest academics in the SEC, Johnson said that when it comes to facilities, instead of talking about Vandy's rotten stadium he sells kids on the fact that they'll get to play in The Swamp, Neyland Stadium, Sanford Stadium and Williams-Brice Stadium. Yep, that really is a plus when you can tell a kid that some of the biggest crowds in all of college football will be watching you get your brains beaten out. The media did agree that Vandy shouldn't be as bad this year as last. Instead of its usual place at the bottom of the SEC East, Vandy was voted to make a meteoric rise to fifth this year.
THE DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND AWARD: The hands down winner is Tennessee's Jason Allen, preseason All-SEC as a defensive back. Allen showed up in a pinstripe suit that easily would have gotten him on Mr. Blackwell's list but it was the accessories that would have put him at the top. He had diamond earrings in each ear that were every bit as gaudy as they are big. If he wears those on a regular basis, his ear lobes will sag to his shoulders by age 30.
THE IMELDA MARCOS AWARD: In the immortal words of Spike Lee, "it's gotta be the shoes" and the winner … his second award of the evening … is Jason Allen, University of Tennessee. Let's see, they were tan on the outside and they had this big patent leather stripe down the middle. I think these were part of the 10,000 pairs of shoes that were in Imelda Marcos' closet when the Filipino people stormed the presidential palace in Manila 20 years ago. Allen's shoes slightly edged out the blue and white two-tone pair that Kentucky's Muhammed Abdullah showed up in Friday. Abdullah also finished second to Allen in the best dressed category with a powder blue suit with a white shirt and yellow tie as accessories.
THE SAYONARA AWARD: The winner is Rich Brooks of Kentucky, whose opening statement proved why he won't be back at Media Days next year. In his opening statement, he took a look at the preseason All-SEC picks by the media and made mention of the fact that only one Kentucky player was on the first or second teams. It takes players to win in this league Richie, and because you don't have any, you won't be here next year. Of course, we must remind ourselves that in Lexington, losing football games reminds the basketball fans just how good they have it. Hmmm…. Wonder if Tubby Smith could coach football?
THE NO PAIN NO GAIN AWARD: We interrupt our awards to coaches with an award given to Southeastern Conference chief of officials Bobby Gaston, who was talking about how the head referee on the field will be notified that the instant replay officials in the booth want to review a play. The head referee will be wearing an electronic device that buzzes or vibrates when the people in the booth want his attention. Gaston said that the head referees on the field would be wise not to place the device in the crotch.
THE DEAN WORMER AWARD: In anticipation of double secret probation by the NCAA, South Carolina has offered scholarship reductions and has cleaned out a few people in its athletic department. Spurrier said that he thinks this will be satisfactory since they know he won't cheat. It's a fact that Stevie Wonder would rather die than cheat, but the real question is will the NCAA let yet another Lou Holtz rules-breaking binge go unpunished?
THE KEEP YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME AWARD: When asked what he remembers of that game in 1984 when he made the road trip to Gainesville with Cincinnati to play the Florida Gators, Urban Meyer responded that he remembers it was hot, Florida had a lot of good football players and there were a lot of pretty girls in the stands. "I was 19 years old," said Meyer. "That kind of tells you where my mind was." Florida won that game, 48-17.