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MrSEC.com 2012 SEC Preview: Blue Horseshoe Loves Alabama

Oh, you know the scene.  Twenty-five years ago Micheal Douglas’ Gordon Gekko stands up and defends his raid on a paper company in Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street.”

 

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good.  Greed is right.  Greed  works.  Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.  Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind.  And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

 

While one can debate whether the greed of the go-go ’80s was really good in the long run or not, there’s no debating that the SEC is the new Gordon Gekko on the block.  How greedy is Mike Slive’s empire?  Greedy enough to bring home six consecutive BCS Championship trophies.  And the only SEC team to lose a BCS Championship Game during that run… obviously lost to an SEC rival.  Now that’s greed.

As a result, the little guys of the sports world got together after last season’s SEC versus SEC title clash and demanded change.  Suddenly the playoff that would never come, came.  “Details, shmetails, give us some system that might help crack the SEC’s safe,” seemed to be the cry from commissioners across the country.

Well, their new playoff — which in a sign of ultimate power looks a lot like the four-team playoff Slive himself suggested years ago — won’t become a reality until the 2014 season.  That means the SEC’s perceived strength and proven track record will continue to benefit the league for two more seasons in the voters-plus-computers BCS system.  (It also means you can get ready for “what if we had a playoff this year” hypotheticals from ESPN all season long.)

So if the game’s the same in 2012, who’s to say the SEC’s avarice and gluttony won’t lead to another national crown and another crystal football being gobbled up come January?  Here’s a better question, who in the Southeastern Conference is most-likely to capture #7 in a row?

Our feelings regarding each SEC squad heading into the season can be found by clicking the “rest of this entry” link below.  The best case scenarios and the worst.  Our predictions.  Which coaches will surprise and which ones will get the boot at year’s end (or before)?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Dooley Says He Doesn’t Expect Rogers To Return To UT

After practice today, Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley addressed the media regarding the indefinite suspension of starting receiver Da’Rick Rogers.  While he refused to talk specifics about what Rogers did or what it would take for him to come back, he did make a few things clear:

 

* He stated that the staff’s expectation is that Rogers will not return to the UT football team.

* He said there isn’t one player on the UT team who cannot be replaced.

* He said the suspension came as a result of recent actions, implying that something happened this week to bring down Rogers.  (Whether that means it was one failure or just a final straw is yet to be learned.)

* Dooley also stated that he did not know if Rogers is still on the Tennessee campus.  He has not spoken to him since informing him of the suspension yesterday.

 

For a coach trying to save his job, this is bad news.  Sure, from a team chemistry standpoint, it’s entirely possible that Rogers’ suspension/departure could unify a team that had grown weary of his me-first ways.  That said, Dooley is entering what looks to be a make-or-break season and he’s facing a team expected to challenge for the ACC title in his opener.  He’s got seven new assistants on his staff and a new 3-4 scheme on defense that’s being installed.

Most folks taking a positive view of the Vols expected Tennessee to win games with an aerial attack led by a talented quarterback and three good receivers.  Now one of those receivers appears to be out of the mix.

If Dooley finally had enough of Rogers and made the call on this, then he should get credit for doing so.  Even if he gave Rogers’ umpteen chances before finally pulling the trigger.  But this looks to be a University decision, not a Dooley decision (as was the case with former star safety Janzen Jackson who was booted prior to last season because of repeated drug issues).

Either way — whether Dooley took a stand or UT forced his hand — losing one-fourth of the quartet expected to make the Vol attack fly must be difficult for the third-year coach to stomach.

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SEC Headlines – 8/17/12

SEC West Football

1.  Which Alabama player is most like Nick Saban?  AJ McCarron.  “They’re just like brothers.”

2.  Auburn has “already put a good chunk of time” into their first few gameplans.

3.  Through 15 practices at Arkansas, safety Ross Rasner says “everybody’s a little banged up.”

4.  Nick Holt — the man filling the job left vacant by Jessica Dorrell’s departure — took on the administrative role in Fayetteville to help old pal John L. Smith.

5.  LSU’s offense put up big, big numbers in yesterday’s scrimmage.

6.  Les Miles didn’t let his team do their traditional “hit the bars after the final scrimmage” thing last night… the annual activity that led to Jordan Jefferson’s arrest last year.

7.  Hugh Freeze was pleased with Ole Miss’ Thursday practice session.

8.  It’s time to shift from camp mode to game mode at Mississippi State.

9.  Johnny Manzeil’s confidence helped him win the starting quarterback job at Texas A&M.

 

SEC East Football

1.  Freshman linebacker Antonio Morrison has caught the eye of Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

2.  Quinn also likes the work of freshmen D-linemen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard.

3.  Christian LeMay is getting more reps behind Aaron Murray at Georgia.

4.  UGA’s tailbacks are all bunched together at the moment.

5.  The Dawgs’ “dream team” signing class of 2011?  Uh, yeah… not so dreamy.

6.  This writer says Joker Phillips’ seat at Kentucky isn’t as hot as Derek Dooley’s at Tennessee.

7.  New defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is allowing his South Carolina defenders to be more aggressive.

8.  After a week off campus at small Milligan College, Tennessee’s players “came back a new team.”

9.  The Volunteers’ final scrimmage today will focus on situational football.  (No surprise… Bill Belichick begat Nick Saban and Nick Saban begat Derek Dooley.)

10.  Vanderbilt’s James Franklin admitted that he doesn’t do his own voting in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, but he does look it over before a staffer sends it in.

 

SEC Basketball

1.  Florida and Kentucky will take part in a pair of hoops tournaments in 2017 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight.

2.  A little fanfare please… John Calipari has announced the number assignments for his team this year.  (Only at Kentucky would this be a news story.  Not a knock.  A fact.)

 

SEC/College News

1.  “The SEC’s critics insist that it’s top-heavy and that it’s really a league comprised of two or three heavyweights and a lot of mediocre teams after that.”

2.  Another writer — this one from Alabama! — believes Bill Curry would be a perfect fit for the imaginary role of college football commissioner.

3.  Longtime Aggie player, coach and administrator John Thornton is retiring from Texas A&M.

4.  Russ will continue to serve as a fill-in for Uga as Georgia’s mascot.

5.  Kentucky and Tennessee won’t bring back their Beer Barrel trophy, but Coach Cal will be signing more limited-edition bourbon bottles this year.  Mixed messages, anyone?

6.  Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde says the situation at North Carolina might cause “the ‘new NCAA’ to flex its precedent-setting muscles again.”

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Tennessee Dismisses Tight End Clear

Tennessee has dismissed tight end Cameron Clear following his Tuesday arrest on felony theft charges, the school announced in a release.

Clear had been suspended indefinitely on Wednesday.

“It hurts anytime a player is dismissed from the program, but there comes a time when a player’s actions dictate that his privilege of being a part of this team should be removed,” UT coach Derek Dooley said in the release. “We will continue to support Cam and his family to help him learn from his actions and become the person and player I believe he has the potential to be.”

That potential could be in the NFL. Regarded as one of the top in-state prospects when he signed with the Vols in 2011, Clear was expected to play an increased role with the team this fall after playing in all 12 games as a true freshman last fall.

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UT Tight End Arrested For Stealing… From A Fellow Athlete

For the past couple of weeks, the University of Tennessee athletic department has been denying reports from WVLZ-AM and nixing questions asked by WNML-AM/FM in Knoxville regarding Volunteer tight end Cameron Clear.  Word had leaked out that Clear had been caught stealing property from his teammates and other athletes.  A UT spokesperson even told at least one reporter that Derek Dooley was quite unhappy that such claims would ever be made in public.

Well, fast forward to yesterday when Clear was indeed arrested on a felony theft charge.  The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the sophomore was still in jail this morning needing $2,500 bond to get out.  (Charged with theft of more than $1,000, too bad he couldn’t barter his way out.)

Clear was caught by police after using the stolen Mac laptop of Tennessee baseball player Brandon Zajac.  There have been reports that Vol football players have found Clear in possession of their belongings, too.

The same UT spokesman who’d been denying that Clear had stolen anything from his teammates had this to say yesterday: “We are aware of an incident involving Cameron and are in the process of gathering the facts.”

Clear caught only one pass last year but he was a 4-star signee in Tennessee’s class of 2011.

Dooley was in Atlanta last night speaking to a Vol booster club.

The news on Clear certainly shines new light on Dooley’s decision to sign 4-star defensive back Deion Bonner this past February.  Bonner, you might recall, was one of three recruits arrested during a 2010 recruiting trip in Athens for stealing iPods and iPhones out of Georgia’s locker room.

After signing Bonner, Dooley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

 

“We do a lot of diligence when we recruit, and we certainly recognize that there are no perfect players and we all make mistakes as young people…

“He kept a great attitude and a great outlook, and I saw someone who made a bad mistake and appears willing to learn from it and to let it make him a better person. So we were willing to take a chance on Deion. Part of character is not saying ‘I only want perfect people.’ We’re all flawed and we all make mistakes. The question is: Do you have the character to learn from it and get it right?”

 

Readers of this site know that yours truly is big on second and third and fourth chances (in life, if not on sports teams).  And here’s hoping Clear is either cleared of these charges or turns his life around as a result of them.

That said, what does it say about the character of UT’s football coach and his spokespeople when they choose to mislead the press — and therefore their own fanbase — when confronted with questions about things they know to be true?

An on a sidenote to Dooley: If Clear returns to Tennessee’s team, it might be best if he and Bonner not room together.

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UT’s Dooley Says New A.D. Hart Has Re-Energized Him

When a new athletic director arrives on campus, coaches tend to pucker up a bit.  That’s because ADs — like most new bosses — often like to put their own people in place around them.  In the case of Derek Dooley at Tennessee, it would seem he’d have plenty of reasons to worry about the intentions of his new boss, Dave Hart.

Speak to those close to the Tennessee program and you’ll soon learn that even the assistant coaches believe Dooley’s job won’t be safe unless he wins eight football games this fall.  Coming off a 5-7 season, a streak-ending loss to Kentucky, and facing a further decline in season-ticket sales, Dooley’s seat is warm to say the least.

Couple that with the fact that Hart — who came from Alabama (no banjo on his knee, though) — has close ties to new Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and is rumored to be tight with Alabama defensive coordinator/up-and-coming coaching prospect Kirby Smart and you might expect Dooley to be looking over his shoulder these days.

Not so.  At least not according to the coach:

 

“Dave has had a real re-energizing effect on me in a positive way.  He, of course, has a great background of understanding big-time college athletics.  He was the son of a coach, so he gets coaching.  He gets the day-to-day problems that come with coaching, and he’s just been incredibly supportive of everything we’re doing.

We have a lot of dialogue.  We talk at least every week, and he’s very much in tune with our issues.  My only hope is that we allow Dave to do his job, and that’s the only hope I have.  If Dave’s allowed to do his job, then we’re going to have success as a department…

I think we’re on the same page (regarding expectations), and I think what I appreciate about Dave is that he also understands the world of coaching.  He understands that (there’s) things you can control, and certainly we need to show significant improvement on that. He understands things you can’t control that you have to learn to manage day to day.

We’re on the same page, and I’m appreciative of Dave’s kind of taking on this role.  I think he’s going to be great for Tennessee.”

 

Sounds good.  But Dooley better get off to a good start this fall and provide proof of progress if his relationship with his new boss is to remain positive.

As for the coach’s odd comment regarding Hart being allowed to do his job, rest assured that some UT fans will wonder if Dooley might be targeting Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek with that remark.

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Saban’s On Top Of TSN’s 124 Football Coach Countdown

Earlier this week, Matt Hayes of The Sporting News posted his rankings of the SEC’s 14 football coaches.  Nick Saban was on top, Derek Dooley was on the bottom and second-year coach James Franklin was ranked all the way up at #5.  You can find that list here.

But now The Sporting News — Hayes with fellow writer Steve Greenberg, in fact — has ranked all the college football coaches in the country from #1 all the way to #124.  Some anonymous coaches also weigh in on their colleagues in some of the breakdowns of each.

Below we’ll show where each SEC coach fell in their rankings as well as who is above and below each coach:

 

1.  Nick Saban, Alabama

Just above him: No one

Just below him: Chris Petersen, Boise State

 

4.  Les Miles, LSU

Just above him: Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Just below him: Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

 

8.  Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Just above him: Gary Patterson, TCU

Just below him: Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech

 

14.  Mark Richt, Georgia

Just above him: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Just below him: Bronco Mendenhall, BYU

 

25.  James Franklin, Vanderbilt

Just above him: Brady Hoke, Michigan

Just below him: Gary Pinkel, Missouri

 

26.  Gary Pinkel, Missouri

Just above him: James Franklin, Vanderbilt

Just below him: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

 

36.  Gene Chizik, Auburn

Just above him: Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

Just below him: Bo Pelini, Nebraska

 

46.  Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Just above him: Mike London, Virginia

Just below him: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

 

47.  Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M

Just above him: Dan Mullen, Mississippi State

Just below him: Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

 

59.  Will Muschamp, Florida

Just above him: Dave Christensen, Wyoming

Just below him: Paul Pasqualoni, UConn

 

74.  John L. Smith, Arkansas

Just above him: Mark Hudspeth, Louisiana-Lafayette

Just below him: Todd Graham, Arizona State

 

77.  Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss

Just above him: Terry Bowden, Akron

Just below him: Larry Coker, Texas-San Antonio

 

90.  Joker Phillips, Kentucky

Just above him: Doc Holliday, Marshall

Just below him: Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State

 

99.  Derek Dooley, Tennessee

Just above him: Norm Chow, Hawaii

Just below him: Garrick McGee, UAB

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Dooley Says Staff Exodus At UT Was “A Good Correction For Me”

When a head coach loses seven of his nine assistants in one offseason — an offseason heading into what many view as a make-or-break season, for the matter — it’s hard to put a good spin on the turnover.  But that’s what Derek Dooley has been faced with at Tennessee since last November.  And with each coach who’s left for a lateral job elsewhere the mass exodus has been viewed more and more as a case of rats scurrying to find an exit from a sinking ship.

But don’t tell that to the Vols’ third-year coach:

 

“Is it normal to have seven coaches transition in a year?  No, it’s very rare for something like that to happen.  But I kind of view it as sort of a correction.  When you start a company, when you start anything, you always have that little initial correction to kind of fix all the things maybe you didn’t get right in the beginning.

I think it was a good correction for me, and I think it’s going to be for the team…

I think some left because the fit wasn’t right.  I think some left because they maybe allowed the fear… the fear made the wolf a little bigger than it was. I think some left just because professionally they thought it would be a good growth situation.

Each coach was unique in why they left, and it’s part of the profession.”

 

Uh, sort of.

Yes, coaches move.  But not in droves as they did from Knoxville over the past few months (as Dooley freely admitted).  Part of the problem for Dooley’s staffing issues might have resulted from a miscalculation — or a signal sent — on the part of his boss, new AD Dave Hart.

Several of Dooley’s ex-aides were looking for some type of contract extension this past offseason to insure that they wouldn’t be left without a seat in the coaching game should things go poorly for UT this fall.  But Hart wasn’t interested in giving extensions to coaches who had led the Vols to an 11-14 record in two years and who had just blown a 26-game winning streak over Kentucky.

Several of the ex-coaches realized it was better to make a lateral move for a two-year deal than to stay in place on a “you-could-be-done-at-year’s-end” type of pact.  Heck, that’s just smart business.  The bad part for UT, however, was that the school found in order to hire new assistants — many from smaller schools like UCF, The Citadel, and MTSU — Hart and Tennessee wound up having to offer multi-year contracts anyway.

Whether this was a miscalculation on Hart’s part or a message to Dooley that he’d better put things together quickly is anyone’s guess.  In fact, a bit of both could be true.  But the bottom line is this: Dooley’s heading into a key season with seven new assistants and he’s implementing a new 3-4 defense as well… a move that usually works better in Year Two than in Year One of such transitions.

At this point, Dooley’s not willing to compare his last staff to his current one.  He told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that “it’s a little premature” for that kind of call.  He did say, however, that he believes “this group has a real good understanding of Tennessee, the SEC and what it takes to be successful in this league.”

For his sake, he’d better hope so.

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UT’s Sunseri Prepared To Go To Bat For Bama’s Sunseri

As we noted last week, the closer we get to football season — especially the Alabama-Tennessee game this October — the more you’ll be hearing about new Vol defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and his relationship with his son, Tide linebacker Vinnie Sunseri.

Another dose of The Suneris was published today, this time with the father explaining just how difficult it was for him to leave his son in Tuscaloosa for a better job title in Knoxville:


“When I made this decision, I sat in that office down there, and both of us looked at each other, and we both cried.  And it was hard.  It was really hard.  But the bottom line is everybody has to go and do what they’re supposed to do in life and fulfill their dreams.  He’s fulfilling his dream, and I always wanted to be a coordinator, and I’m thankful that Derek Dooley gave me this opportunity to come up here…

(My son and I) love each other to death.  And it doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing orange or you’re wearing crimson and all that — that’s my son… I’m a parent first before I’m a coach on another team.  That’s what everybody has to understand.  That’s my son.  I will got to bat for him.  I’ll do everything I need to do.”


No fans on either side should hold one thing against either the father or the son in this case.  The son loves life at Bama.  The father got career advancement at Tennessee.

Life trumps football.

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UT’s Sunseri Preparing His Players For Everything

When Justin Wilcox left for Washington and Derek Dooley hired ex-Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri to head up Tennessee’s defense, the third-year coach said his Vols would be more “multiple.”

Sunseri’s approach this spring has been just that and he hopes it pays off for his team this fall:


“The game of football right now is a bunch of changes, strength, motions, different looks and all that.  You have to give them the tough things early so they adjust to the tough things early, because when the easy things come, it makes it that much easier.

We’re going to prepare them for every situation.  That’s our job as coaches.  We’re going to get them right, and they’re going to fly to the football, and they’re going to know what they’re supposed to do.”


With his neck most likely on the line this season, Dooley’s squad is switching from a base 4-3 defense to a base 3-4.  How well his players pick up Sunseri’s system could decide both men’s fate.

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