HOOVER, Ala. – The third, and final, quarter of SEC Media Days began with LSU coach Les Miles speaking of hyperbaric oxygen therapy and concussions – no one saw that coming – and also included Miles talking about the language barrier with his Australian punter.
“You can’t just speak to those guys,” Miles said. “You have to know how to speak Australian.”
No, you could never script Les Miles. Nor tame him. He finished his opening remarks by saying, in so many words, they had as good a chance to win the SEC championship – and perhaps the one over the next horizon – as anybody else.
“Our culture, bring it on,” the Mad Hatter said. “It’s what we do … I like us in any game.”
So, well, game on.
But the featured attraction on Thursday was two-time defending national champion Alabama, coach Nick Saban, and quarterback A.J. McCarron. Hours before the Crimson Tide’s scheduled appearance at the Hyatt Regency Winfrey Hotel, Bama fans packed out the lobby. Held back a black stretch rope – that’s about the only thing that apparently can hold back Bama – they were hoping for autographs, high-fives, or maybe just a little eye contact with their heroes.
Shannon Villa, 23, was there decked out in a Bama jersey and a gold foam replica of the 2009 national championship ring perched atop his head, an item for which he said he paid $300 on eBay. He wore a Big Al elephant necklace and buttons that read “Roll Tide” and “Beat LSU” and carried a football he was hoping to get signed. But autographs or no, Villa said the day would be worthwhile.
“Just hoping for anything,” he said. “Just enjoying the experience.”
Saint Nick, that jolly old elf, does not suffer these experiences well. Dressed in suit and tie, he marched past his throng of admirers and accepted a young boy’s high-five. Once on the stage in the main ballroom before hundreds of credentialed media members, Saban said he had a great summer vacation but that he was happy to be here to see “1,200 of my very closest friends.”
Who says the man doesn’t have a sense of humor?
More seriously, looking toward to this season and seven returning defensive starters, he said, “One of the concerns is who will step up on the defensive side of the field and provide the leadership? That’s going to be very critical how players respond and come together on defense.”
Given that Alabama has won three of the last four national titles, the “D” word – Dynasty – is being thrown around. The quarterback threw it back.
“Coach Saban doesn’t say it’s a dynasty so I’m not going to say it’s a dynasty,” McCarron said.
Asked about scheduling and Miles’ comment that not every team has an equal path to the championship, Saban said he believed it important that a player have an opportunity to play every SEC team at least once in his career. He also said rivalries with teams in the East are important, noting, “Our Tennessee game is a big game for our fans.” Also a game Tennessee hasn’t won since 2006.
Saban deflected a question about comparisons to Bear Bryant now that Saban has won three national titles at Alabama (plus one at LSU), saying Bryant is the greatest coach in college football history. Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith might disagree, considering his answer to a question about the difference between the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide in the SEC title game boiled down to two words: “Nick Saban.”
Oh yeah, Saban also reminded media of their record in correctly picking the winner of the SEC championship over the last two decades.
“Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach I’d be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy’s gas station, which we don’t really want to go there,” Saban said, a rare smile following his words.