It's over. The four-day gauntlet of press coverage from SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., came to a close on Thursday afternoon. And now what's left is to look back and determine what we learned from the time spent with the 14 head coaches and 42 players.
With that in mind, we asked the three SEC writers who attended media days to give their biggest takeaway from the event.
Greg Ostendorf: We’ve harped on the off-field issues all week. My biggest takeaway from the event was the lack of star power. This is supposed to be the best conference in college football, and yet, it didn’t feel that way with the players who came.
I understand that both Leonard Fournette and Chad Kelly attended on the last day. Fournette is one of the front-runners to win the Heisman Trophy this year, and if you ask Kelly, he’s the best quarterback in college football. But it just didn’t feel the same as it did when Johnny Manziel made an appearance in 2012 or even when Jadeveon Clowney was there in 2013.
Myles Garrett is the No. 1 player on Mel Kiper’s Big Board for 2017, and he was about as memorable as his Texas A&M teammate, Ricky Seals-Jones. It’s not for a lack of personality, either. He’s actually one of the more interesting players in the SEC.
Maybe it was the off-field issues that overshadowed some of these “star” players. Maybe it was the fact that only three of the league’s quarterbacks were on hand. Or maybe it was the absence of some of the top skill guys -- players like Nick Chubb, Jalen Hurd, Calvin Ridley or Christian Kirk.
But ultimately, it just seemed like the players took a backseat this year.
Edward Aschoff: Outside of the fact that there were some diehard South Carolina and Vanderbilt fans in attendance?
I learned that there’s some tone deafness when it comes to discipline, but I also learned that Texas A&M’s offense might be in the right hands with Trevor Knight and Kevin Sumlin working together.
I was skeptical of the locker-room issues -- and I’m still weary of them -- but I think the fact that Sumlin and Knight found each other in somewhat desperate situations will make this work. Knight is the first senior quarterback Sumlin will work with at A&M and he has the intangibles and athleticism needed to lead this team.
Alex Scarbrough: It was easy to walk away from media days shaking your head, thinking how out of touch the SEC can be sometimes. Mississippi State's Dan Mullen flopped in his defense of Jeffery Simmons. Nick Saban fumed as he explained why Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones might not miss any time. Hugh Freeze, in what's become a familiar refrain of helplessness, had no answers for an ongoing NCAA investigation. And if we go back to Day 1, we get the backdrop of commissioner Greg Sankey defending the SEC's image while Auburn simultaneously releases news that four players who were arrested will be available to play against Clemson. In a lot of ways, it was a week of looking and failing to find a backbone.
But what it reminded me of more than anything was how many of us don't acknowledge the idea of constituency. Put simply: Coaches aren't looking for my support. Unless you run a 4.4 or contribute to an athletic fund, they aren’t looking for yours, either. Their constituency -- the ones they really have to please -- are current and future players (and boosters, of course). What some might interpret as weak on discipline can easily be seen in another light: a player's coach. Don't believe me? Look at what former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix tweeted after Saban got into it with Paul Finebaum. Or how about a post from blue-chip tackle Isaiah Wilson?
Don't try my man Saban. Loyalty and honesty. https://t.co/XkR2WeSAmA
— Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (@haha_cd6) July 13, 2016
I love Saban. He defended his player whole heartedly... You have no choice but to love him🤘🏽 https://t.co/v96Ifje8wA
— Zayaa™❄️ (@_LayZay_) July 13, 2016
If you don't think what Mullen did plays well with recruits, too, then you're kidding yourself. He turned the decision to let Simmons in the program into one about family. And you don't turn your back on family, right? It's calculated and effective. You might find it ridiculous, but he knew he would be asked about issues of domestic violence and he laced up those Yeezy sneakers anyway.
Mississippi State fans want the narrative to be about Ole Miss' downfall. But in the middle of an NCAA investigation, every player said it wasn't a distraction. Freeze said of recruiting, “I’m probably too candid, but we’re doing really well.”
Don't get me wrong: What's going on is important and concerning. NCAA investigations and arrests are no small matters. But after a week of trying to dig deep into those issues, what I came away feeling was a stronger sense that outside of our air-conditioned confines, our idea of what's tone-deaf can play as the right note to those who matter.