And it was a whale of a start. The conference’s annual SEC Media Days began with Urban Meyer’s first trip to this event, Philip Fulmer’s reappearance after a court-induced absence of a year, and the return for Steve Spurrier.
The conference pre-registered more than 600 media members, easily a record, for the event and expected that number to grow higher as walk-ups arrived.
The event continues today at the Wynfrey Hotel as the Bulldogs, who have been in the headlines all summer due to off-field incidents, take their turn at the microphone. Georgia coach Mark Richt and players Max Jean-Gilles and Gerald Anderson will represent Georgia.
Wednesday, though, was clearly the marquee day for most of the region. Meyer’s news conference was first, and he quickly expressed concern about his Florida team’s toughness.
“Athletes like we have at Florida can run away with the game,” he said. “I want to know what’s going to happen when it’s 13-13 and 90 degrees. I think that’s the question.”
The first-year Gators coach gave way to Fulmer, the Tennessee coach who skipped Media Days amid much fanfare last year because an Alabama attorney had threatened to subpoena him if he entered the state. With his legal issues mostly behind him, Fulmer came back and got some things off his chest.
“Obviously there’s a lot of interest in the last year that was swirling all around the trial stuff and a lot of intense media coverage, especially here in Alabama and theatrics that were worthy of the Oscars,” he said, reading from a prepared statement. “Legal battles went on and (there were) even some threats of harm to some of the people involved and their families, including mine. And I do not take that lightly, and I am not well over that yet as far as being angry about that.”
Fulmer was accompanied by a Knoxville police officer who often provides him with security, but he got out of the hotel without incident. After addressing last year’s events, Fulmer turned his attention to new business and admitted his first thought upon learning Spurrier was going to be South Carolina’s new head coach was, “Oh crap.”
Later, he couldn’t help but take a little swipe at Spurrier.
“I’m not going to give any advice to Steve,” he said. “He’s got all the answers anyway.”
Spurrier ended the day by promising he was a changed man. No longer, he said, is he going to fill reporters’ notebooks with snide comments about his opponents.
“I wasn’t quite as loud and arrogant as all of you thought because all of my cute comments usually occurred at the Gator clubs in the middle of the summer,” he said. “When you are talking to your booster people, they want to hear something funny. Bobby Bowden has told Gator jokes for year, and we don’t think a thing about it. But, you know, I go to one of these things and tell something and it gets all over the country.
“I’m learning it doesn’t pay to make cute remarks even though it’s just in fun or jest with your booster people.”
The effect Spurrier has on the SEC hasn’t changed, though. He’s still the star of the show. At one point, 20 television cameras followed the former Florida coach as he walked 30 feet from one hotel ballroom to another.
“I ain’t ever traveled with a rock star, but yeah I guess that feels like it,” South Carolina linebacker Lance Laury said.
“You step back and you’re like, ‘Man,’” Gamecock tight end Andy Boyd said. “It’s hard to believe. You ride down on the plane with the guy and then 10 people are on his back every time you see him here.”