Their job title reads “Coach,” which too often means recruiting or attending fundraisers or checking class attendance.
But during the spring, when the sun reflects off empty bleachers and the smell of grilled chicken is absent, coaches can coach. They can teach, move players to different positions and develop young talent. They attempt to inspire players to participate in the part of the year many coaches say determines who wins championships — offseason workouts.
This spring, for the first time, one of the most accomplished group of college football coaches ever to assemble in the same conference began their much-anticipated competition.
Nine of the 12 SEC coaches own conference championship rings or played in the SEC title game. Five SEC coaches — Phillip Fulmer, Nick Saban, Les Miles, Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier — can call themselves national champions. Georgia’s Mark Richt is a favorite to add his name to the list this year.
And from Knoxville to Gainesville, Baton Rouge to Athens, this group of high-profile coaches attempted to solve position battles and implement proper technique this spring.
Staff Photo by Tim Barber-- Tennesse coach Phil Fulmer charges his defense to stand as Vanderbilt drives in the second half.
And they are getting paid a lot to make sure they’re constructing the right team this spring. According to a USA Today study conducted last winter, five of the 11 highest-paid coaches are in the SEC.
“This is not a league,” Kentucky’s Rich Brooks said, “for coaches that are faint of heart.”
Spring football is ending. The competition between these ring-bearing coaches is on.
Returning lettermen/starters: 49/17
What the Tide learned: The offense under new coordinator Jim McElwain is much more conducive to quarterback John Parker Wilson’s strengths. Last year, with Major Applewhite calling the plays, Wilson had to observe the entire field. His progressions are easier this time because most of the plays are isolated.
Still needs improvement: Depth. Nick Saban bemoaned the lack of talent after the A-Day Game — “We need to develop more players on our team,” he said — particularly on the defensive line. Expect to see members of that highly touted recruiting class early next season.
Player who emerged: Running back Terry Grant. Asked after a standout A-Day Game if he could have run like that last year, Grant replied, “No way.” He underwent offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia and says he feels 100 percent healthy. He looked like it the entire spring.
Returning lettermen/starters: 44/12
What the Razorbacks learned: Coach Bobby Petrino couldn’t always make NFL players adhere to his strenuous practice routine. He can at Arkansas. The Razorbacks went 164 plays during a scrimmage two weeks ago, then topped that the following weekend. Arkansas’ spring game is Saturday. Will it end before preseason camp? Of course, you would hold long practices, too, if eight of your players went to the NFL combine.
Still needs improvement: The interior of Arkansas’ defensive line. The Razorbacks boast good speed on the edge with Antwan Robinson, Adrian Davis and Damario Ambrose. But even Petrino admits his team doesn’t have many options on the inside.
Player who emerged: Darrell Glasper, a 5-foot-8 walk-on defensive back. A former unused walk-on at LSU, Glasper made several outstanding plays in practice, got the chance to start in a scrimmage and promptly picked off Casey Dick twice. He’s working with the first team until senior Jamar Love returns from a quadriceps injury.
Returning lettermen/starters: 48/17
What the Tigers learned: They’ll likely use a two-quarterback system this season. Junior college transfer Chris Todd and sophomore Kodi Burns each displayed enough weaknesses to keep the other in the competition. Todd continues to battle shoulder problems, and Burns struggles with his throwing accuracy.
Still needs improvement: Depth on the defensive line following the departures of Quentin Groves, Pat Sims and Josh Thompson. Defensive end Antonio Coleman missed most of spring, and the coaches had to move Sen’Derrick Marks to the inside.
Player who emerged: Burns. Many people inside the Auburn football program figured Todd would win the job. But Burns was outstanding in the spring game and even better in the Tigers’ final scrimmage. He finally displayed better decision-making, and his scrambling abilities are suited well for the spread offense.
Returning lettermen/starters: 52/16
What the Gators learned: Tim Tebow can improve, even after winning the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore. “Pocket presence is something he really worked on this spring,” coach Urban Meyer said. “That’s something he can always improve on and he must improve on. He did this spring.”
Still needs improvement: The tailback situation. Emmanuel Moody, the USC transfer, looked hesitant in the offense and fumbled too much. Redshirt freshman Chris Rainey may get most of the playing time this season.
Player who emerged: Cornerback Joe Haden. Lost at times last season — and who in Florida’s secondary wasn’t? — because he was playing cornerback for the first time, Haden finally feels comfortable. After an impressive spring, he’s the best corner on the team.
Returning lettermen/starters: 45/17
What the Bulldogs learned: Mark Richt has quite the influence on his players. About 23 Bulldogs will join Richt on a trip to Honduras this summer, one year after Georgia’s coach made the journey with his family. The players will work in Guaimaca at Hospital Bautista and play soccer with the locals.
Still needs improvement: The offensive line. Again. Leadership is an issue since Vince Vance — and he’s been there only one season — is the only junior on the two-deep depth chart. There are no seniors.
Player who emerged: Wide receiver Michael Moore. Against South Carolina last year, Moore dropped a touchdown pass and seemingly dropped from the face of the earth. Teammates say he was motivated all spring by the demotion, and Moore showed it by catching two touchdown passes in the spring game.
Returning lettermen/starters: 57/15
What the Wildcats learned: The quarterback competition between Mike Hartline and Curtis Pulley will extend into the season. “The judgment on that is a little bit limited because our secondary is doing such a good job in spring ball and our receivers are more inexperienced,” coach Rich Brooks said. “I feel good about both.”
Still needs improvement: Like Brooks said — the receivers. “The biggest question mark,” he said. Not even veteran Dicky Lyons Jr. showed much progress. E.J. Adams switched from cornerback to receiver, but Kentucky needs a lot more help to replace Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Jacob Tamme.
Player who emerged: Ventrell Jenkins moved from tackle to defensive end and displayed tremendous pass-rushing ability.
Returning lettermen/starters: 44/13
What the Tigers learned: They still can’t rely on quarterback Ryan Perrilloux, who did not take a snap in spring practice due to suspension. “You would think,” coach Les Miles said, “that anybody that has the experience Ryan’s had would understand his time is coming and, in fact, he needs to take care of his business from this point forward.”
Still needs improvement: Cornerback play. Jai Eugene and Chris Hawkins certainly don’t lack athleticism, but they didn’t play much last year because Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon were mainstays in the starting lineup.
Player who emerged: Defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. He played just twice last year — in the SEC championship game and the BCS title game — and was disruptive despite his inexperience. He really progressed this spring. “He can be as capable and dominant as anyone in the country,” Miles said.
Returning lettermen/starters: 47/18
What the Rebels learned: Quarterback Jevan Snead, the Texas transfer, is for real. His release is quick, he’s not afraid to take a hit and he throws the ball with impressive accuracy. He completed 20 of 26 passes in the spring game.
Still needs improvement: Academics. Former coach Ed Orgeron couldn’t get his players to attend class regularly, and Houston Nutt says his players “are in a hole academically.”
Player who emerged: Nutt relishes a solid running game. Meet running back Cordera Eason. He capped an impressive spring with 101 yards rushing on just seven carries and two touchdowns in the spring game. He carried the ball only three times last year even though Orgeron promised him more plays.
Returning lettermen/starters: 47/17
What the Bulldogs learned: Starting left tackle Mike Brown, found with a pistol on campus, will not be with the team this season, altering the entire offensive line. Sophomore Derek Sherrod moved to left tackle from the right side, and Mark Melichar took over at right tackle.
Still needs improvement: The offense. All of it. Scoring points always seems to be an issue at Mississippi State (see: 2007 Liberty Bowl), but the spring game was a new low. The final was 6-0. In overtime. Quarterbacks Wes Carroll and Chris Relf combined to complete four of 19 passes.
Player who emerged: Coach Sylvester Croom is throwing around Jerious Norwood’s name when discussing redshirt freshman running back Robert Elliott.
Returning lettermen/starters: 54/17
What the Gamecocks learned: The secondary is loaded. Freshman Akeem Auguste floored coaches with his ability, Darian Stewart was the defensive MVP for spring practice and the unit picked off seven passes in the spring game. Just wait until Captain Munnerlyn and Emanuel Cook return from injuries.
Still needs improvement: The quarterback play. Chris Smelley, given the chance to win the starting job because of Stephen Garcia’s off-the-field problems, threw five interceptions in the spring game. Coach Steve Spurrier refused to name a starter between Smelley and Tommy Beecher.
Player who emerged: Freshman and early enrollee C.C. Whitlock. The receiver impressed Spurrier so much this spring that he moved Mark Barnes and Chris Culliver, the 2007 freshman receivers, to the secondary.
Returning lettermen/starters: 48/16
What the Vols learned: New offensive coordinator Dave Clawson will work just fine with coach Phillip Fulmer. “Dave is very detailed, very organized, very meticulous, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot,” Fulmer said. “With a new numbering system, it’s been very refreshing to really work at learning some new terminology. We’ve made some progress this spring.”
Still needs improvement: Defensive tackle play. “A real concern,” Fulmer said. Demonte Bolden must remain committed to improving, and Dan Williams needs to dominate games. Behind those two and Walter Fisher are a lot of questions.
Player who emerged: Defensive back DeAngelo Willingham. He looks stronger and improved his work ethic after giving up several deep balls last year. The Vols need capable players in the secondary if they’re going to avoid getting blown out by Florida again.
Returning lettermen/starters: 48/11
What the Commodores learned: Yep, the offense is going to struggle. Vanderbilt’s defense dominated the spring game against an offense attempting to replace its entire starting front line and receiver Earl Bennett.
Still needs improvement: The quarterback play reached a new low in the spring game. Senior Chris Nickson and junior Mackenzi Adams combined for 25 total yards. Nickson was 1-of-6 passing for 1 yard. Of course, there’s not much help around them.
Player who emerged: D.J. Moore — on offense, that is. The All-SEC cornerback is now a significant option on offense instead of someone who gets the occasional sweep or reverse as he did last season.