The second day of SEC Football Media Days saw three of the four head coaches who formerly worked for Alabama coach Nick Saban. We’ve already brought you what Georgia coach Kirby Smart had to say. Here are the other two, Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt and Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, along with Ole Miss coach Matt Luke.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke has eyes on post-season play
Ole Miss will be allowed to compete in the post-season for the first time in two years, a goal that coach Matt Luke, starting his second full year in the position, plans to make a reality.
“The immediate goal this year is getting back to the postseason,” Luke said. “I think that’s a huge thing. It wasn’t too long ago that this program was competing for championships.”
The lifting of the bowl ban has also lifted the spirits of the players. Luke said it’s apparent by the “energy and confidence in our building. You see it in recruiting. It’s fun to be able to walk into a living room of a recruit and not having to talk about any of that stuff. You have the opportunity to sell Ole Miss and Oxford for what it is and you don’t have to worry about all of the other garbage.”
The removal of the NCAA sanctions cloud made this a pleasant Media Days for Luke.
“I just think just the overall feel of normalcy, even coming here today and answering questions about football, has been refreshing,” he said.
Ole Miss is back to giving out a full 85 scholarships, giving the team more depth than it has had in recent seasons, partly due to a successful offseason of recruiting.
“We were able to sign 31 guys in last year’s class,” Luke said. “That’s a huge class. But it was a top 25 class, and most importantly, it gets us back to that full number of 85 for the first time since 2014.”
Ole Miss also made several coaching changes, including hiring Rich Rodriquez on offense and Mike MacIntyre on defense.
“When you hire two former National Coaches of the Year, I think that obviously brings a wealth of knowledge to your staff, but I think it also makes a statement,” Luke said. “I think it makes a statement to our commitment to winning and about what we’re trying to do at Ole Miss.”
One of the significant changes MacIntyre is bringing to the defense is the change to a 3-4 system.
“When we take the field against Memphis, I think you’ll see a fundamentally sound defense,” Luke said. “They are lined up in the right spot. Their eyes are in the right spot.”
How does the head coach feel about Ole Miss bringing back the powder blue helmets this season?
“I personally like it,” he said. “That was the helmet that I grew up watching and my brother wore. So, I think it’s a great change-up. I think you’ll see some powder blue this year.”
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt looks for a winning season in his second year
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt put together a 5-7 season in his first year leading the Volunteers. For year two, Pruett has assembled a staff he believes is ready to build on that and compete in the league.
“You know, when you look at your staff, you know, right now, that’s what we’re selling at Tennessee, the vision that our staff has,” Pruitt said. “You look on the offensive side, we had an opportunity to get Jim Chaney this offseason. He’s a very good communicator. He’s a great teacher. He’s a good evaluator. He works well with people. Having a chance just to listen to him talk to our coaches and our players, he’s very personable.”
Former Tennessee quarterback Tee Martin has also joined Pruitt’s staff to coach wide receivers. The former USC offensive coordinator is a welcomed addition.
“He came back to the University of Tennessee to be our wide receivers coach, assistant head coach and passing game coordinator,” Pruitt said. “So, nobody can really visualize and sell Tennessee like Tee Martin can. He’s lived it. He’s seen it. He dreamed it. He’s been there, he’s done it.”
Other coaches mentioned were Will Friend, who will be coaching the offensive line, David Johnson, who moved to running backs, and Brad Niedermeyer who, as Pruitt said, is “one of the young coaches on our staff that’s under 30. Great recruiter and continues to do a good job as the tight ends coach.”
Derrick Ansley has moved to the defensive coordinator position.
“Derrick is a guy that I worked with for several years at Alabama,” Pruitt said. “He was my graduate assistant, defensive back coach. He’s a guy that if I start a sentence, he can finish it.”
Look for a tougher Vols team this year, thanks to a new strength and conditioning regimen.
“Craig Fitzgerald is our strength and conditioning guy, him along with Rachel Pfister,” Pruitt said. “They had a huge challenge for them this offseason. We had a lot of big, long, skinny guys. So, we had several guys that weighed 260 pounds that went from 260 to 310 or 270 to 320 in the last eight months.”
Looking the part is just the start, though.
“Does that make you a football player? No, it doesn’t,” Pruitt said. “But I can assure you this: In this league when you start putting people up front, it helps to have large men.”
Texas A&M looks to be improved but Aggies face tough schedule
Coach Jimbo Fisher’s work laying the foundation in his first season at Texas A&M last year has him excited about the Aggies’ potential this season.
That foundation started with creating a culture.
“That’s what this is about, putting in the culture and making sure we understand how we want to do things at Texas A&M,” Fisher said. “Our players are doing a great job. Thought we had an outstanding spring, and our offseason is going really well.”
The Aggies aren’t out to play spoiler but see themselves as a team playing to win.
“We are not looking to spoil anything,” Fisher said. “We’re looking to win something and go about our business and do the things we have to do. They are great programs, but Texas A&M can be the same way. We have to go play and prove ourselves and do the things we have to do, but I definitely think we’re on that track.”
Last year’s game against LSU went seven overtimes and led to a change in the way college football will play overtimes this year. That game also sewed the seeds of a rivalry.
“You had one of the epic games in college football history,” Fisher said. “It was very unique, and I think it will butt into rivalries. Rivalries come when both teams are good. I think we are building our program to be good. LSU is establishing itself as a great program. I think that’s how rivalries are made. Just like everybody talks about the LSU/Alabama rivalry, that wasn’t a rivalry when we first went to LSU years ago. Then it evolved. Then Alabama come back. That’s how you have two good programs that evolved into that. I think that is what is happening here. LSU is established. We are establishing ourselves as a great program.”
The change in overtime rules will require teams to only play two-point plays after the fourth overtime. Fisher said he’s updating his playbook.
“I know one thing, I got to make sure I have a lot of two-point plays from now on,” he said.
Fisher, who coached at Florida State before taking the job at A&M, knows how he would rank the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I think both leagues outstanding,” he said. “We had great success when I was in Florida State. We were in the top five or 10 almost every year and won national championship, played for more of them. The SEC I think from top to bottom, and I’ve always said this, I think the — it’s just a — everybody has good players. Not that they don’t over there, but it just — the statement it means more, I think it does. I think these schools take football extremely seriously. It’s the No. 1 sport in this league, in almost every school in this league it’s the No. 1 sport and it’s very important.”