S.E.C. Media Days Open in Birmingham

The opening of S.E.C. Media Days in Birmingham marks the unofficial start to another College Football season.

The headquarters hotel jam packed with hundreds of reporters and photographers from throughout the Southeast..

New Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron is making his debut as a Head Coach among the assembled masses.

The former Defensive Line Coach for National Champion USC says his new position as the Rebels Head Man won't hurt his reputation as a fire-breather on the sidelines.

After having gone through a rigorous Spring Practice with their new head man, Rebel Players say what you see is what you get with Coach 'O'.

By SORAYA NADIA McDONALD

Associated Press Writer

HOOVER, Ala. (AP) - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, fined

$10,000 for avoiding the Southeastern Conference media days in a

legal tiff last year, returned Wednesday to talk football but had

to deal with lawyer and police blotter issues as well.

"This is the kickoff of the season," he said. "Most of the

issues are over with."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive fined Fulmer for missing last year's

event, which he addressed via speakerphone. At the time, lawyers

representing two former Alabama assistant coaches in a lawsuit

against the NCAA had vowed to subpoena him if he crossed state

lines to attend.

"Last year, it didn't have anything to do with subpoenas. It

was a jurisdiction issue," said Fulmer, who declined to discuss

details of the legal cases.

SEC officials had said they would have a "heightened

awareness" but did not plan any extra security to protect Fulmer,

who was a confidential witness in an NCAA investigation that landed

Alabama on probation. All appeared to go smoothly Wednesday for

Fulmer, who appeared in a hotel room before credentialed news

reporters, not the general public.

Senior quarterback Rick Clausen said the riff with Alabama

wouldn't heighten the rivalry between the two schools.

"Whenever you play anybody in the SEC, you've got to bring your

A-game or else you'll get beat," Clausen said.

Whether or not he wanted to talk about football, Fulmer had to

address the off-the-field actions of his athletes: Thirteen

Tennessee players have either been cited or arrested for offenses

ranging from aggravated assault to underage drinking since February

2004.

"We've lost a couple good players because of that," Fulmer

said. "We're working really diligently to get those issues

resolved."

Athletes getting arrested has become almost commonplace, but, he

said, "We've had more than our share, and more than we intend to

tolerate."

Tennessee players participate in a program the SEC is installing

called MVP - Mentors in Violence Prevention - and Fulmer said his

staff has been proactive in preventing athletes from embarrassing

the school by getting into fights. "There's places that our kids

go on campus, and we frequent those places from time to time just

to let them know we're there," Fulmer said.

Most coaches, Fulmer said, have about five players who create

bad press for a team of about 85 players.

"It's tough putting 17-, 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old guys in a

situation where every decision they make is a life-changing

decision," Clausen said.

Though Tennessee is viewed by many as a favorite in the

conference, Fulmer isn't taking rival coach Steve Spurrier, who

returned to the SEC to coach South Carolina, for granted. Fulmer

and Spurrier enjoyed a heated rivalry when Spurrier coached at

Florida.

"We didn't beat him enough in Florida. When I first heard he

was coming back, I said 'Aw crap,"' Fulmer said jokingly.

Fulmer isn't dishing advice to the four new coaches in the

conference, least of all Spurrier. "He's got all the answers

anyway," Fulmer said.

Urban Meyer will coach his alma mater at Florida, Ed Orgeron

will start at Mississippi and Les Miles enters his first year at

LSU.

"The thing that we've done the best is we've stayed good as a

staff and the recruiting base has pretty much stayed the same,"

Fulmer said.

Steve Spurrier's return to the Southeastern

Conference drew reactions ranging from excitement to curiosity to

dismay.

Not surprisingly, the latter response came from Tennessee's

Phillip Fulmer, Spurrier's chief SEC rival during his days with the

Florida Gators.

Yep, Spurrier is back in the SEC East, this time at South

Carolina. He brings the charismatic swagger, the winning track

record and a steady supply of one-liners.

But despite Fulmer's initial reaction to the return of Spurrier,

the ol' Ball Coach knows the 2005 Gamecocks aren't going to strike

fear in SEC foes the way his Mighty Gators did.

Unlike the old days when Spurrier's poormouthing drew chuckles

from skeptical audiences, he had a little more credibility when he

described modest short-term prospects Wednesday at the SEC media

days. Tennessee, Georgia and, yes, Florida are all more highly

rated in the SEC East.

"We need to beat somebody first before those guys are going to

worry about South Carolina," Spurrier said. "Some people are

trying to make us one of their rivals.

"Hopefully we get a little respect, but we've got to earn it.

You can't just say 'Spurrier's coaching South Carolina.' That's not

going to mean much to the players."

He's one of four new coaches in the SEC. Florida's Urban Meyer

and Mississippi's Ed Orgeron also took the podium Wednesday while

LSU's Les Miles gets his turn Friday.

None generated quite the attention Spurrier has been getting

after an ill-fated turn in the NFL.

The Gamecocks went 6-5 under Lou Holtz last season after two

straight losing years. The offseason has taken a further toll on

the roster.

A string of arrests, suspensions and dismissals cost the team

leading rusher Demetris Summers and defensive star Moe Thompson,

among others. Plus, the university has proposed a two-year

probation and loss of four scholarships over two seasons because of

NCAA violations committed under Holtz.

Still, Spurrier is happy to be back in the college ranks where

he had his greatest triumphs - including a national championship in

1996 - after a two-year foray into the NFL with the Washington

Redskins. Not that he used the words "Redskins" or "NFL" much

in addressing reporters.

"It's a lot more fun hanging around the SEC than it was in the

other league I was in a couple of years," Spurrier said.

Jokes aside, he's not shying away from talk about turning South

Carolina into a league contender, as he did with the Gators after

arriving at Florida in 1990.

"South Carolina is a school with all the resources to be

successful," Spurrier said. "It has not done that much in the

past, but everything's there as far as the stadium, the facilities,

the fans. We have absolutely no excuses to getting it done."

Neither does Meyer, the latest coach trying to live up to the

Spurrier-created expectations at Florida.

Meyer said he's not dwelling on the expectations in Gator

Country. He said he enjoyed watching Spurrier's Gators on

television but called that era "over," "old news" and

"history" in rapid succession.

"I think the fact that Coach Spurrier is back in the conference

is great for national exposure, great for the game," Meyer said.

Fulmer said simply, "We didn't beat him enough at Florida."

Meyer has impressive credentials of his own, including a 12-0

record at Utah last season and his own innovative, prolific

offensive system.

He has inherited some advantages on the field: an experienced

quarterback in Chris Leak and a deep and talented roster. Meyer

said Leak's experience running an offense out of the shotgun should

help make for a quicker transition to his complex system, which

produced top overall NFL draft pick Alex Smith of Utah.

"On offense, if you look at our history, the first year has

been OK and the second year has been really good," Meyer said.

"We need to bypass that first year. We have intelligent players

that have had success in the shotgun offense, so I think we can put

the system in much quicker."