SEC media days opens with the feel of a redemption tour
HOOVER, Ala. (AP) Southeastern Conference media days opened with a bit of a redemption tour.
The Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t finish how they wanted last season and Tennessee couldn’t finish where many expected. LSU coach Ed Orgeron, meanwhile, is simply embracing his second chance as an SEC head coach after failing the first time around.
They all took the podium Monday to start the four-day event with the requisite summertime optimism.
The Volunteers don’t have quite the same hype as a year ago, when they were picked to win the SEC East. Instead, they treaded water with a second straight 9-4 season and wound up stuck in a three-way tie for No. 2. A late-season loss to Vanderbilt didn’t help matters.
Tennessee coach Butch Jones balks at labeling it a disappointing season, though it’s mostly semantics.
”Was it a disappointment? No,” he said. ”Did we not accomplish some of the things we set out to do? Absolutely.
”We have to learn from the things that went wrong that we could have done better. But I think all you have to do is look at it’s difficult to win and it’s difficult to win championships. And I think this league really exemplifies that.”
The Volunteers must replace six NFL draft picks, including quarterback Joshua Dobbs and star defensive end Derek Barnett. Jones also brought in five new assistant coaches.
The program has certainly made progress since Jones’ 5-7 debut season. Defensive lineman Kendal Vickers didn’t have Jones’ aversion to labeling it a disappointing season.
”Anytime you don’t go to Atlanta – we have such high expectations for ourselves and not just from outside people,” Vickers said. ”It’s disappointing, but you can’t look (at the) past and say, `What if?’ You’ve got to look forward and right those wrongs. We’ve been working hard this offseason, so we’re just going to go out July 30 and get camp started and try to right wrongs from last season.”
Ditto for the Razorbacks, who took a small step back with a 7-6 record. The main culprit was season-ending collapses against Missouri and Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl after building big halftime leads.
Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said the players have ”owned and embraced” what went wrong in those two games.
Quarterback Austin Allen said the collapses supplied plenty of motivation during offseason workouts.
”We might think we are done, but then we run another four or five sprints and things like that,” Allen said. ”We are putting in a lot of extra film work, especially in the summer when it is a lot of player-led stuff. Going back and watching the second half of the Missouri game and the Tech game, it just steams me and really has driven us this offseason.”
Then there’s Orgeron, who was driven to claim another head coaching job after getting fired at Ole Miss in 2007 after three losing seasons.
A successful run as interim coach – and LSU’s failed courtship of Tom Herman – landed him another crack at one of the toughest divisions in college football.
The time in Oxford, Mississippi, was clearly a learning experience. Orgeron also went 6-2 as an interim basis at Southern California.
”Although I recruited well, the day I left Ole Miss, I looked at myself, and I called my mentor and said, `Hey, there’s some things I have to change. I’m going to be a head coach again,”’ Orgeron said.
Now, he’s got his chance at redemption.
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