SEC coaches digging a deeper hole with recent remarks

The bowl season went badly enough for the SEC.

The way Ohio State owned Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff hurt the perception of the conference. Thanks to similarly lackluster performances from its next two highest-ranking teams, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, the conference as a whole looked to be a step slow. For the first time in a long time, the SEC appeared weak.

Then the offseason came. And as so often happens, memories faded and people forgot.

Maybe the SEC wasn't the favorite to win the playoff this coming season, but the conference still had a bevy of talent and a handful of championship contenders. For months, we marveled at how more than half of its teams were legitimate preseason top-25 programs. New commissioner Greg Sankey was introduced to much applause, and everything in SEC country felt good again.

But then for the first time since January, coaches opened their mouths in front of a national audience, and what flew out was a list of excuses, complaints and opinions so numerous and so tone-deaf that it defied explanation. When South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier called an impromptu news conference to quash any retirement talk and fight back against his perceived "enemies" Wednesday, a weird week for the SEC took an even more perplexing turn. It felt as if everything was going off the rails.

It began with SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, last week when Nick Saban was the first to put his foot in his mouth.

The four-time championship-winning coach at Alabama did what no championship-winning coach is supposed to do: He made excuses.

"I just felt like, in our experience last year, our team chemistry from the SEC championship game to the playoff game was affected by something," he said.

And of course that something was beyond his control.

Saban didn't like the current Dec. 15 deadline for when a junior can submit for a draft grade from the NFL. He said that having the assessment come back during bowl preparation was a distraction.

"We had six guys in this situation this past year and 11 the year before," he said, pointing out two instances in which Alabama had juniors interested in the draft and ultimately lost their bowl games. When Alabama went undefeated in its previous four bowl games and sent double-digit underclassmen to the draft, not a word was said about it, however. "So we're trying to get ready for a game, and all of a sudden, a guy finds out he's a first-round draft pick, or a guy that thought he was a first-round draft pick finds out he's not a first-round draft pick, and we're trying to get ready to play a playoff game."

Shortly after, former wide receiver Plaxico Burress took to Twitter to say that his former coach had no room to talk.

But Saban wasn't the only one taking heat while offering up ammunition to an anti-SEC crowd.

All week at media days, we heard how the conference was still the biggest and baddest in college football. One coach proudly called it a "man's league," despite its poor showing in bowl games last season.

When the series of congratulatory speeches in Hoover was over, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel traveled to ESPN and provided even more cannon fodder, this time for all the non-Power 5 programs.

"I think all independents should join a conference, as a general rule," Pinkel said on Monday. "I didn't say Notre Dame in particular -- everybody. You don't have independents in the NFL. Leagues are leagues. I just think it's difficult to assess a team that's not in a league. It's nothing against Notre Dame; it's just my opinion."

The next day, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn arrived at ESPN toting his own opinions, ready to put an even broader target on the conference. This time it was concerning the SEC's role in the playoff.

"Compared to everyone else? Yeah [we're disadvantaged]," Malzahn said. "Look at the SEC West. All of the teams are in the top 25. What other conference can say that? Then, if you win that, you've got to play another really good team from the East. And then you're in the [playoff] semi, having to win two more games. That's why I think it's critical that we move to eight teams."

There's politicking, and then there's what the SEC's coaches have been doing.

There's explaining a situation, and then there's making excuses.

But if all that wasn't enough, there was the usually affable Spurrier simmering underneath the surface at media days and at ESPN. And almost as soon he got home from Bristol, Connecticut, he called a news conference to vent his frustrations with people questioning his age. During his roughly five-minute remarks, he quoted Attila the Hun and referred to nameless "enemies."

"Listen to the Gamecocks; don't listen to our enemies, and we're going to have a good team this year," he told the media in South Carolina.

That may play well in Columbia, but the rest of the country wasn't cheering the overtly defensive maneuver.

In fact, after two weeks of talk from SEC coaches, maybe it's time for everyone to give it a rest and regroup.

It's bad enough for the conference that it hasn't won a national championship in two years. What needs to happen now is for the league's coaches to put down the shovel, quit digging the hole deeper and start climbing out with some victories.