I won’t spend a lot of time on Johnny Football and the circus he brought with him to SEC Media Days, promise. You can turn on the TV and listen to that ad nauseam. I was more interested in how the media absolutely mobbed the guy. I took the picture above after climbing onto a TV platform in the main room, and you can only see half of the guy’s face. Johnny Football has dominated the conversation at media days, and regardless of your views on his off-the-field antics, I think we can all agree that the kid has made some stupid mistakes this summer. But, didn’t we all at age 20? The difference is the spotlight, which you can get a sense of in this video I took of Manziel sitting down to speak to reporters:
After watching the Johnny Football saga play out on about 50 different stages today, I’ve concluded this: if you want to be a successful athlete without the drama, just stay off social media. South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney put it best yesterday when he described how he stays out of trouble: “Just stay out of bars and stay off Twitter.” It’s really that simple, kids.
Of course, that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, would it?
Hopefully that’s the last I have to hear about Johnny Football until football season actually starts. I’m sure it won’t be.
Now, news and views from my brother’s house in Birmingham…
— The Lexington media, including yours truly, met with Mark Stoops, Donte Rumph, Avery Williamson, and Raymond Sanders bright and early Thursday morning before they descended into the chaos of Media Days. This was my first time meeting Mark Stoops, who was already started taking questions before I walked in at 8:04 a.m. This was the first of many signs that Stoops doesn’t mess around. If you’re four minutes late (I blame the hoards of Tennessee fans in the lobby), you’re left to squish against the TV cameramen in the back, and hope your iPhone picks up the audio of what he’s saying.
I wrote full recaps of his remarks in the early session and his session in the main room, but for the sake of not sounding like a parrot, I’ll give you just a few of my impressions from his first Media Days appearance:
Mark Stoops was a little bit nervous
It’s understandable that Stoops was a little nervous for his first Media Days. I cannot stress it enough, but this place is a zoo. The word around the hotel is that there are 1,200 media members credentialed this year, which is an all-time record. I’d estimate that roughly 350 writers were in the main room when Stoops spoke, which is like a postgame press conference on steroids. Stoops didn’t mess around with a grand opening statement like some of his other SEC colleagues (cough, Muschamp, cough), simply telling reporters that he’s excited about the opportunity at Kentucky and that they’ve got a lot of hard work ahead. Right away, he praised the support his staff has received from fans and the administration, and said he was encouraged by how recruiting was going. From there, he opened it up to the media.
He couldn’t find me in the crowd
Even though my nerves made my hands shake the microphone, I got up the courage to ask Mark Stoops (and 350 media members AND ESPN, who was apparently filming it live) how he was tempering recruits’ expectations during the rebuilding process. Despite the moderator pointing out where I was (back row, left corner), Stoops searched the auditorium aimlessly before giving up and just answering the question. His response? Stoops admitted that he’s gotten caught up in the momentum in recruiting, but that he feels the recruits coming in have a good idea of the current state of the program and how far they have to go. Stoops doesn’t sugarcoat things either: “I just try to be very honest with those recruits and tell them where we’re at and where we plan to go.”
Let’s try to be “educated fans”
Likewise, Stoops said balancing the enthusiasm in the fan base with realistic expectations for the season has been “an uncomfortable situation” for him because tempering expectations isn’t his style. However, he just hopes that fans realize the breadth of the rebuilding process:
I think the educated fan knows where we’re at as a program, knows we have a lot of work to do. But the flipside of that is I want the excitement. I want them there. I want them to support our players that we have on our team right now. I want them at all of our home games.
Stoops thinks UK football can have just as rabid a fan base as UK basketball
Of course, someone asked about basketball. It’s Kentucky, after all, shrugs the media members. While the question is more played out than the Harlem Shake, it did give Stoops an opportunity to thank Coach Cal for embracing and supporting the football program. Stoops said Cal “could not be any better” about helping out, and that the support the basketball team gets only strengthens the case for a “rabid” football fan base. More so, he says that he feels Kentucky fans “are starving to have a good football program.” Keep bringing the meat, Stoops.
Butch Jones won the buzz over Stoops today
It’s probably not fair to compare Stoops and Jones’ appearances, but “fair” might as well be a four-letter word to reporters. Stoops had the unfortunate pleasure of going right after Johnny Football, which means some media were probably still uploading videos and pictures of the mob to hear his comments, but from listening to the talk around the hotel, Jones had more buzz. A lot of this is due to the differences in style between the two: Stoops is no-nonsense, get to the point, while Jones is more of a showman, raving on about restoring the Tennessee tradition. Both are excelling in recruiting right now, and because of that and the exciting, up-tempo offenses both plan to run, I have a feeling that the Kentucky/Tennessee rivalry will be much more fun in the coming years.
“We don’t want to be the punching bag of the league or get pushed around.”
Donte Rumph, Avery Williamson, and Raymond Sanders were excellent ambassadors for their program, handling the chaos of Media Days like seasoned pros. All three said that they’re excited about the changes in the program, love what Stoops is doing, and look forward to shedding UK’s prior reputation as the SEC’s doormat. Each of them gushed about the swell of fan support, most notably the crowd of 50,000 for the Spring Game. Things had gotten so depressing that Donte Rumph said he looked up during the Spring Game and marveled at the fact that the fans doing the wave: “The wave lasted fifteen minutes! I was like ‘Oh my God.’ I was just loving it.”
You know things had gotten bad if the players are excited about fans doing the wave. Just saying.
The seniors are READY for Western Kentucky
A common theme amongst the three players was how ready they are to get on the field and play Western Kentucky. Raymond Sanders started the Hilltopper talk when he told reporters that he felt Western “disrespected” Kentucky and Commonwealth Stadium after beating them last season: “They disrespected our field celebrating that they won. We hear a lot of tweets and different things, so August 31 is the date.” Rumph echoed that and made a vow: “I’m making sure we will never go through anything like that again as a senior.” Avery Williamson agreed, telling reporters “[Western] didn’t respect us and they still don’t.”
Is it August 31st yet?!?
— The rest of Day Two, summarized:
Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin): Johnny Football has been bad.
Mississippi State (Dan Mullen): Just keep typing about Johnny Football, y’all
Tennessee (Butch Jones): FOOTBALL!!!!!!
Auburn (Gus Malzahn): Bret Bielema is funny
Arkansas (Bret Bielema): Guz Malzahn sucks. But I am funny.
I had a full recap of Bielema’ remarks earlier, but he gave Andy Staples a great quote about Mark Stoops after his session: “What kind of player was Mark Stoops? He was short, red-haired and angry.”
Just how I like them.
And now for the rest of the news. For those basketball junkies who scrolled past all the football stuff, welcome back.
— Ryan Harrow finally has a new home. On Wednesday, the NCAA cleared Harrow’s transfer to Georgia State. They also granted his hardship waiver to be closer to his ailing father, so he will be able to play immediately. Best of luck to Ryan.
— Where in the world was John Calipari on Wednesday? Washington D.C. for the Nike Global Challenge, which features teams from America, Africa, Brazil, Canada and France. UK targets playing in the event include Stanley Johnson, Tyus Jones, Rashad Vaughn, Devin Booker and Angel Delgado. We’ll have more on Delgado later this week, but a source tells KSR that Kentucky is his favorite by far, which makes sense when you consider UK’s connections to the talented Dominican.
— 2014 small forward Kelly Oubre trimmed his list of schools to eight, and Kentucky made the cut, along with Kansas, Florida, Georgetown, Louisville, Oregon, UConn and UNLV. The fro-hawked prospect plans to take five official visits this fall, one to Kansas and the other four still unknown. He got an offer from the Cats last week after impressing the staff at the Peach Jam.
With that, I am done for the night. Matt and Ryan will be live from Verlie’s Restaurant in Morganfield in the morning for the KSR Tour of Affiliates, while I’ll be back at SEC Media Days for the last day of madness before heading back to Nashville. See you then.