Heath Cline is a veteran of the southern sports scene, having hosted radio shows in Jacksonville, Tampa, and Gainesville. He's even spent some time on the road with ESPN's College GameDay. He currently hosts a show for 107.5 The Game weekdays from 4:00-7:00 pm in Columbia, SC and is a contributing writer for fightingators.com.
I asked him to do a Q&A in the wake of last week's SEC meetings, since Heath was there in person covering them, and he graciously agreed to do so. Here are his answers to some of the conference's biggest issues right now.
How effective do you think Mike Slive's edict for everyone to play nice in the media will be?
While that edict was directed at everyone, it's no accident that Lane Kiffin walked out of the room looking sullen and refused to speak with anyone afterwards. In the end, his antics are what this entire offseason has been about.
Some of the stuff that's happened this year has been overblown because of the tone Kiffin set. For example, Dan Mullen said MSU's going to focus on making sure their players have the best stuff possible rather than spending their money on flashy stuff like limos. Through the current prism of the media, that became an "attack" on Auburn. Sorry, no. That's Mullen's spiel to recruits to counter Auburn's positive PR. Not everything said as a comparative sales pitch is an attack. Announcing someone is "cheating" and you're turning them in (particularly when you have no idea what you're talking about) is an attack.
My guess is that Slive's request will slow things a bit. Most of the coach booster club appearances, where these kind of things tend to get stirred up, are also done. Some coaches, like Urban Meyer, have indicated they'll be even less willing to discuss things with the media beyond the most basic "how's the line looking?" kind of subjects. There'll still be some controversy though, because if there's not somebody will find a way to make one up.
Are you surprised at all by the SEC presidents' decision to cap signees at 28 per year?
I'm not surprised, but I think it's a bad decision. The presidents are sensitive to criticism, and a guy signing 37 players while openly acknowledging he was doing it to serve as a JUCO booking agent was bound to lead to criticism.
Thirty would have been a better number than 28. Everyone focuses on academic questions, but what about signees who may have a shot at being drafted by MLB? Do SEC schools back away from them now because if they decide to take the money and not show up that's a slot they can't get back? How do schools handle guys who run into legal trouble between signing day and enrollment? Will they be more likely to still let them enroll now because it's a slot they can't get back? Thirty would have provided enough flexibility for coaches to deal with these questions.
What is the most important takeaway from the SEC meetings?
The immediate imposition of the 28 signee rule is by far the most significant thing. The SEC doesn't seem to be as gung ho about cost cutting as some other conferences, but they'll likely agree to some things at the NCAA convention.
Do you think Lane Kiffin is crazy, crazy like a fox, or something else entirely?
He's not crazy, he's arrogant and a bad liar. Think about the much discussed NuKeese Richardson signing. All Kiffin had to do was tell the truth: UT was able to take away a kid that Florida definitely wanted. They got him out of one of the most talent laden areas in the country, and fans can count on the Vols continuing to fight for every kid they can down there. That's a good story, right? Vol fans would and should have applauded for that.
Kiffin couldn't stop there, though. He had to concoct a ridiculous story about how everyone at Pahokee High are Gator fanatics (total Gators from Pahokee in the last decade: 1), and they would have sabatoged the fax machine to keep Richardson from getting his LOI to Knoxville. Also, they're all poor and don't wear shirts. Lane's such a super genius that he told Richardson to lie to everyone about being in Knoxville for his visit, yet Urban called him on the visit that he didn't know was happening and so that proves Urban was CHEATING (by breaking the rule that exists only in Lane Kiffin's head). Exactly how did any of that bragging/lying/insulting an area combo help him? When he lied to Sports Illustrated about firing drivers and secretaries, who was that supposed to impress?
Whether Tennessee fans like it or not, the reality is there is zero evidence Lane Kiffin is a good football coach. He has a 5-15 NFL stint which included idiotic decisions like trying a 76 yard field goal. Kiffin was part of an offensive braintrust at USC that most people felt did worse than Norm Chow had with more talent to work with. He was never sole playcaller for the Trojans. Does that mean Lane Kiffin can't succeed at UT? No. But they have bet big on a completely unproven commodity in the belief that he and his staff will recruit so much talent that they will eventually overwhelm schools like Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU. I didn't like that theory the first time I saw it with Ron Zook, and I don't like it now.
Which of the conference's three new head coaches will have the biggest impact on the field?
Short term, I think Gene Chizik is most likely to have success. He's got a good staff, there's still talent to work with at Auburn, and the schedule should let them get back to a bowl game. Kiffin has the best opportunity to do something big longterm. Dan Mullen needs to build an offense at MSU, get them to a bowl game within three years and then get out of town for a better job.
You covered Steve Spurrier's Florida days in the state of Florida, and now you're seeing him up close in Columbia. What's the biggest difference you can tell between the two eras for him?
Spurrier's still as good a playcaller as he ever was, and his system still works. There were plenty of times last year where receivers were open and the quarterback either didn't make the read, made a bad throw, or was getting sacked. No Spurrier offense can work correctly without a QB. In four years in Columbia, he hasn't one worth a darn yet.
Spurrier's coaching staff he assembled when he got to Columbia was pretty undistinguished. At UF it was often that way too (name one Spurrier offensive assistant who made an impact somewhere else - maybe Carl Franks?), but there they recruited well enough to overcome it. He has almost completely rebuilt his South Carolina staff this year, and the new guys are very impressive. I think Spurrier is more open to new ideas than he's ever been, and that combined with some gifted young talent will make his team better than people anticipate as long as Stephen Garcia can begin to live up to his potential at QB.
Everyone in the world is picking Florida to win the SEC East, but do you have a good feel yet on how you think the West division will end up?
Ole Miss is getting a lot of hype, but I wonder about how Houston Nutt will be dealing with that for really the first time in his career. Alabama is getting too much credit for what they did last year - they'll be good, but not double digit win good. LSU is still the most talented team and unlike last year they have a competent defensive coordinator and maybe even a clue on special teams. Les Miles is still a goofball, but to me they're the team to beat.
Is this the year Florida finally goes undefeated for once in its history, or is there a loss lurking out there a la Ole Miss in 2008?
If they get out of Baton Rouge unscathed, it's hard to see who would stop them as long as they don't suffer major injuries. No one in the East has enough horses this year. Arkansas will be better and is the closest thing to last year's Ole Miss, but I don't think they're ready to beat UF in the Swamp. FSU's Tebow's last home game - good luck with that, boys.
Big thanks again to Heath for taking the time to share his thoughts on the SEC meetings and some of the big SEC issues right now. Again, you can find him weekdays from 4-7 on 107.5 in Columbia, SC (online, too) and at fightingators.com.