On a day when huge crowds of fans showed up for Alabama coach Nick Saban and Crimson Tide players Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy and Dylan Moses, it’s not surprising that the air got sucked out of the room for the coaches and players who followed.
That doesn’t mean that those other teams – Arkansas, Mississippi State and South Carolina – didn’t come to SEC Football Media Days 2019 with high expectations, lofty goals and optimism for the upcoming season.
Arkansas coach Chad Morris expects new culture to take hold
Chad Morris, coming off his first season as the Arkansas Razorback head coach, is looking forward to an improved record for his team. An offseason program and other measures he has put into place should pay dividends in his second year, he said.
“When you take a head football coaching job, you know that establishing and enhancing a culture is your top priority, and it takes time, and it takes consistency, and there’s a certain process to follow to develop the results that you’re looking for,” Morris said. “You can look at examples for guys that I worked for. Coach (Dabo) Swinney, guys in this league, Dan Mullen and Mark Stoops. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Morris acknowledged it’s a work in progress in Fayetteville.
“My focus as a head football coach at the University of Arkansas is about building a program that’s a consistent winner,” Morris said. “Year in, year out, we want to compete for championships, but to win championships first, you got to develop champions and our staff is doing a tremendous job of doing that and recruiting that way and turning young men into champions. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Morris said one word kept coming up as he prepared his team.
“Our vision is ‘Every,’ the word ‘Every.’ ‘Every’ matters,” Morris said. “Every rep. Every day of those 235 days [since the Razorbacks’ last season ended], that day one really does matter. What we did on that first day matters and what this year looks like. Everything matters and everything counts.”
Getting into more particulars about their game plan, Morris detailed the team’s offensive mindset.
“We want to be a fast-paced, hurry-up, no-huddle football team, and we’ve made tremendous strides by developing our young men on our roster, by recruiting the way we recruited and attracting the right transfers,” Morris said.
“Offensive line is an area that we have to improve,” Morris added. “We knew that. We played with eight scholarship offensive linemen the entire year last year. A lot of cross-training took place. We knew this had to be a focus going into year two in how we developed and how we recruited in bringing in six, signing six offensive linemen and expecting some of those guys to contribute.”
The Razorbacks will be debuting a new throwback style uniform this season.
“To me, that was a traditional look,” Morris said. “But the way the process happens is you have to order things a year, year and a half out. And so, to be able to unveil those uniforms this year and wear the red over the white, we’re going to wear them every opportunity we can get. And as we move forward in our program, as long as I’m a part of it, that’s the look that I want to have.”
Mississippi State coach knows the Bulldogs can do better
Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead wants to continue building off his successful – though some might say disappointing – first season in Starkville, going 8-5 as a first-time SEC head coach.
The Pittsburgh native and former Penn State offensive coordinator was ultimately proud of last year’s accomplishments.
“I think we set a solid foundation for this fall and also one for our program as well,” Moorhead said.
Moorhead did take time to reflect on a year ago.
“Final poll ranking of 25. Qualified for a New Year’s Day bowl. Won a game very important to our players and to our state and to our university. Won the Egg Bowl 35-33, 6 and 1 at home. Undefeated nonconference record,” said Moorhead. “Five draft picks, three in the first round. And had high semester GPA for the fall and for the spring in program history and put 27 guys on the SEC academic honor roll.”
A big part of continuing the success from last year is recruitment, which yielded a top 25 ranked class.
“I think with recruiting, we have to do a great job identifying, evaluating and developing relationships,” Moorhead said. “I think when you look at last year’s class, I think we had a bunch of in-state, highly recruited prospects. Those are players who wanted to stay home that could have gone really anywhere in the country, Jarrion Jones, Nathan Pickering, De’Monte Russell and Brandon Cunningham.”
The culture of Mississippi State is a point of focus for Moorhead, who wants to make them “hungry for a championship, and I want them to be a little bit upset when we don’t get it.”
That doesn’t come without challenges in year two.
“The challenge of taking over a program where Coach (Dan) Mullen had done an excellent job building it to a certain level, was taking the next step,” Moorhead said. “Year two of all the places I’ve been, you’ve seen us take that next step and understanding it’s as much about the little things, the attention to detail, the accountability on and off the field as much as it is the X’s and O’s and how we perform.”
Mississippi State’s first game is against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, a team the Bulldogs beat last year 56-10, at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Moorhead said it could be a more competitive outing this year.
“We’ll anticipate a great game,” he said.
South Carolina coach won’t use tough schedule as excuse
Will Muschamp enters his fourth season as the South Carolina Gamecocks head coach.
Muschamp has won more games in his first three seasons as South Carolina’s head coach than any coach in school history, including Steve Spurrier.
The new year brings with it new facilities, which Muschamp believes will help further the success of their recruitment efforts and the current team.
“In January we moved into the Ken and Cyndi Long Family Operations Center. It’s made a huge difference,” Muschamp said. “From a recruiting standpoint, when a young man and his family come to campus and they see the investment that we’re making to have a championship atmosphere at our place, they see it. It has the wow factor and what every recruit looks for. What I’ve also seen is how it changes the culture on our campus with our players. In January, when you walk in the weight room and you have official visits in our town and you have 25, 30 kids walking around the weight room on their own working out, that says a lot about the culture of your football team.”
Muschamp reiterated the core values of the culture of the team during the offseason.
“I really challenged our players in terms of leave no doubt about the things that take no talent, effort, toughness, discipline, competitive edge to earn what you get every single day and have a team-first mentality,” he said.
South Carolina faces a tough schedule ahead this year, but Muschamp said you can’t complain or use that as an excuse in the SEC.
“Hell, the schedule’s hard every year. That is the way I look at it,” Muschamp said. “We have a great opportunity to step forward as a program to be in the limelight on both Saturdays in the Southeastern Conference and take advantage of the opportunities we have in front of us. In my opinion, we have our best team coming back in South Carolina since I have been there, and we’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
For Muschamp, South Carolina still has plenty to prove.
“Our goal every year is win the East, which gives you an opportunity to play in Atlanta; and if you win in Atlanta, it gives you an opportunity to play in the College Football Playoff, in my opinion, and to win our state,” Muschamp said. “And we haven’t done either one in three years. That’s something we’ve got to be able to accomplish. And that goal is not going to change, regardless of the situation or the circumstances at our school. We’re striving to win a championship at South Carolina.”