Whenever you try to wrap up 10 years of anything -- whether it's the nightly news or a football conference -- you're going to miss something or somethings. But in the interests of trying to get as much as we can, here are some things we didn't get to cover as much as we would have liked in a series that already numbers 19 installments.
The Albert Means Recruiting Scandal (1999-2005). This actually began in the 1990s, when one of recruit Albert Means' coaches set a $150,000-$200,000 price tag for bringing the defensive tackle to a college near you, but it wasn't revealed until this decade. In the end, two SEC schools were punished for their roles in recruiting Means -- with one almost getting the death penalty; a booster was convicted on criminal charges for his part in the pay-to-play arrangement; and the reputation of the league (if not college sports as a whole) was left in tatters. People connected to Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia all allegedly paid at least small sums to Means' handlers during the recruiting process and Arkansas offered money or a coaching position -- all this alleged, it should be noted here, during said handler's testimony -- though Georgia coach Jim Donnan denied having paid a cent and neither Georgia nor Arkansas were punished by the NCAA. Alabama and Kentucky were both placed on probation, banned from the postseason for at least a year and given a reduction in the number of scholarships they could offer.
Commissioner Mike Slive (2002). It might not have been the most dramatic moment of the decade -- the hiring of a new league head rarely is -- but Slive's hiring was the beginning of a period that could well end up being known as the SEC's Golden Age. Figuratively and literally, since the contract recent signed a pair of 15-year deals with CBS and ESPN worth a combined $3 billion. Slive has also worked to clean up the SEC's recruiting image in the wake of disasters like the Means case and will narrowly miss his goal of having the entire league probation-free. (Lane Kiffin appears to be working very hard to make sure he never gets there.) He's not the most popular or even best-known guy among SEC fans, but the conference would be very different without him -- and likely for the worse.
|12/15: What a Decade It's Been; Mike Price's Trip to Pensacola|
|12/16: The Zook Experiment; Georgia Hires Mark Richt|
|12/17: Best Game; Auburn's Rise and Fall; Rivalry of the Decade|
|12/18: Worst Game; The Rise of the Nicktator; The Promise|
|12/21: Exit Phil Fulmer; Best Player|
|12/22: Best Team; Worst Program|
|EARLIER TODAY: Houston Nutt's Denouement at Arkansas; Worst Team; Best Program|
Steve Spurrier Takes Over at South Carolina (2005). This was the decade for intradivisional coaching changes, something that was rare in the first decade with two divisions (the 1990s). After all, Houston Nutt went from Arkansas to Ole Miss, Nick Saban left LSU in 2005 and came back to Alabama in 2007, and in the most bizarre arrangement of them all, Steve Spurrier went from Florida to the Washington Redskins to ... South Carolina? Yes, Spurrier's return to the SEC he had essentially ruled for the 1990s took place at a program with five winning seasons since entering the league in 1992. It hasn't been quite as successful as South Carolina fans or Spurrier had hoped, but the Head Ball Coach has still shown a flair for irritating opposing fans and being bluntly honest about his own team -- and himself.
Vanderbilt Goes Bowling (2008). Proving that it was not a sign of impending apocalypse, the Commodores found their way into the postseason in 2008 and posted their first winning season since 1982. Its methods weren't always conventional -- both a win against South Carolina and the bowl victory facing Boston College were aided by kicks that hit the legs of blockers on the other team -- but this edition of the Commodores need never pay for lunch again. Assuming, of course, that they have left the program and such a free meal would not constitute an impermissible benefit. And while wins against the Gamecocks and Auburn would end up looking a bit less momentous than perhaps they did at the time, Vanderbilt will take a bowl game any way it can get one.
Lane Kiffin Bursts onto the Scene (2009). When Tennessee hired Lane Kiffin to take over for Phil Fulmer after the disastrous 2008 season, fans were hoping that the young head coach would prove to be more emotional than his sometimes charisma-impaired predecessor. Oh boy. Before he had even coached a single game in the SEC, Kiffin had called Urban Meyer a cheater, suggested Nick Saban should thank a coach who left Alabama to join Kiffin's staff for the Tide's solid recruiting class, said a grandmother influenced one recruits decision to go to Georgia, fueded with Steve Spurrier and committed a recruiting violation on national television. But you know what else he also did? Hired his father to run a pretty good defense, made Jonathan Crompton look like a competent quarterback and take a team that had gone 5-7 in 2008 and take them to the Game Formerly Known as the Peach Bowl. Not bad for a first-year head coach whose comments were supposed to motivate the rest of the league to defeat him.