Pac-12 Media Day: Winners and Losers
CULVER CITY, Calif. — Pac-12 media day was fast and flashy, just like the conference's image.
Head coaches agreed that this is the league of quarterbacks. They also lobbed some proverbial softballs at each other.
There was a thinly veiled shot at another conference by commissioner Larry Scott, and there was a shot at an elite team's defense by its rival.
We also had a momentary no-show by a head coach and some weather issues. Sunny California decided to be rainy California right as it was time to break for lunch outside.
Pac-12 media day is over, but some of its key moments will live on.
Note: All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr was asked what goes through his mind when he sees an image or video of his hit on USC quarterback Matt Barkley in last year's rivalry game (seen here).
"I want to know why the [offensive] tackle let me go, for whatever reason, he should be standing up here talking to you guys because he was the reason why I made that play, and the play call was pretty good," Barr replied.
In other words, the sack that ended Barkley's career at USC was because USC's offensive line failed to protect him. Zing.
UCLA also got bonus points for Jim Mora being gregarious and happy. Maybe that's because the Bruins were picked by Pac-12 media members to win the South division.
Would USC head coach Lane Kiffin filibuster his way through his entire 15-minute time slot to avoid answering questions about last year's season or his current hot-seat status?
That did not happen.
When linebacker Hayes Pullard and receiver Marqise Lee took the stage to answer questions from the media, Kiffin was nowhere to be found. The silence was awkward, and the players looked around in confusion.
Kiffin eventually made it to the stage and was inundated with questions, as most USC coaches are. While he has not reached the rock-star status of Pete Carroll, he managed to get through the session unscathed, which is a victory in and of itself.
Winner: Washington State
Washington State head coach Mike Leach is a walking soundbite. He is busy writing a book which is finishing up its first edit, and he equated books to the confines of marriage.
"You write a book, that's there forever," he said. "There's no divorcing a book."
Leach also pushed his book on Geronimo. "You ought to buy a couple extra in case you lose the first one."
He re-addressed his remarks last season regarding the Zombie-like apocalypse that encapsulated his team. "If somebody's a zombie or corpse, then I'm the head zombie or head corpse."
Never change, Coach Leach.
Head coach Sonny Dykes was the first new head coach to be introduced at media day. He was clearly excited, as he said the word "excited" at least seven times in his opening statement.
Last week, Nick Saban made some comments in regard to player safety and how it is affected by up-tempo offenses. Since Dykes runs a spread offense nicknamed the "Bear Raid," naturally he was asked about Saban's comments.
He said he would like to see a study on "how much safer players are as a result of spread offenses." Adding, "I think we all need to make sure to get our facts straight before we start making a lot of assumptions."
Dykes doesn't take a backseat to anyone.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian has a booming voice. He is coming off another great recruiting class and another seven-win season.
"We were a better football team last year," Sarkisian said. "Unfortunately, the record was not indicative of how good that football team was. Ultimately, we're judged—all of us—on our final outcome and our final record."
Actually, it's a little more than that. Washington did beat Stanford 17-13.
Washington also lost 41-3 to LSU. To put that in perspective, look at what Towson did against LSU. Its defense only allowed 38 points, and its offense scored 22 points on the Tigers.
Then there was that 31-28 loss to Washington State in the Apple Cup.
There weren't a lot of questions asked because there really wasn't a lot to say, so Sarkisian left the podium earlier than expected, and Oregon State wasn't ready. Oregon swapped with Oregon State, and media members scrambled to adjust to the last-second schedule change.
Mark Helfrich has some big shoes to fill.
He is not Chip Kelly—you don't get that feeling of excitement in his voice. Helfrich also kept reporters waiting at least an hour for one-on-one interviews at lunch. There was noticeable disappointment over the lack of contact made between Helfrich and digital content media members.
The two players Helfrich brought with him made up for everything.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota and cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu were eager to chat and very accommodating to all of the questions asked. They laughed, gave some funny insight and really lightened things up at the Oregon table, which was lacking its head coach.
Ekpre-Olomu said the team "may be faster" this year.
Fasten your seat belts.
Winner: Oregon State
Head coach Mike Riley is always a great interview, he promotes Beaver football nonstop and knows how to use Twitter.
Riley was happy about the new Pac-12 student initiative which limits contact in practice and allows for longer recovery time between contact.
He also addressed the loss of some big talent, noting the interior defense's losses specifically.
Riley was asked three questions—unfortunately, only one question was actually about his team. Still, Riley handled the situation with grace and dignity, and he deserves a huge applause.
Stanford head coach David Shaw did not make an opening statement, and he did not need to. His 23-4 record speaks for itself.
Shaw is one of the classiest coaches in the country, and he is a winner.
He addressed some scuttlebutt regarding his team's national championship contender status. "We were—three years ago—one game away, and two years ago we were one game away and this past year, less than 10 points away," Shaw said quickly.
"We anticipate being in the hunt for the foreseeable future."
Loser: Pac-12's Job on Media Day
Entrance into the Sony Studios lot was a breeze, and so was the parking. Dave Hirsch, vice president of Pac-12 communications, did a great job keeping the flow of questions going, and the food was also very good.
The conference spares no expense when it comes to making a big impression. Pac-12 staffers wore neon greenish-yellow shirts so they would be easily recognized in case help was needed.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott touched on the Pac-12 network's status with DirecTV.
"Unfortunately, we are still at an impasse with DirecTV, and we're no closer than we were last year," he said. The network's official Twitter account then encouraged DirecTV subscribers who are Pac-12 fans to drop the satellite network. That tweet is no longer there, but Scott's speech can be seen here.
Scott also got a dig in at the SEC, noting the Pac-12's "459 NCAA team titles, which is more than 200 the next-nearest conference."
Now for the bad.
Some media members were given bags to hold all of the heavy school media books, while others were not.
Rain began to fall at lunchtime. Some lunch tables had umbrellas for coverage, but many tables did not. Water falling on smart phones, memo pads and food is not a good thing. Staffers brought in handheld umbrellas later on, but it was too late by then.
The sound from the sound stage—where the coaches and players addressed the media—was, at times, deafening. The feed on the league's official website was also having issues with sound, as evidenced on this thread, per 247Sports.
Finally, the power strips provided for media laptop use were not all working properly.
Winner: Arizona State
Head coach Todd Graham has started to earn the respect of his more vocal critics. He brought with him quarterback Taylor Kelly and defensive tackle Will Sutton.
Sports Information Director Mark Brand told me that Sutton had worked on his comfort level with the media this year. Prior to this event, Sutton rarely talked to the media.
Sutton was a rock star.
He was surrounded at Arizona State's lunch table and held court with curious reporters. He was clearly ready to emerge from the shadows and shine in the spotlight, and the school did a great job readying this future All-American.
Head coach Mike MacIntyre is a ball coach. Colorado fans should be a lot more excited for this season, as MacIntyre is the kind of coach who makes you want to run through a wall and yell, "put me in, coach!"
There was an expectation of awkward silence when it came to asking questions because there really isn't much to say after a 1-11 season. After MacIntyre finished his opening statement, the questions came flying in because everyone really wanted to hear more from him.
MacIntyre made a very good impression. He is media savvy, and he's pumped for Colorado football.
"What our university is doing to step up behind us and get things moving in the right direction is exciting," MacIntyre said.
We really did not glean much from head coach Kyle Whittingham. He did say one main area of concern was quarterback, and core positions on defense and special teams were also noted.
In his opening statement, he said, "we're excited to get the season underway and get back on track and win ballgames like we're used to...questions?"
Whittingham addressed how Utah joining the Pac-12 has helped recruiting, and he made a strong statement on the league's pull when he noted, "three-quarter of the guys we signed last year" were a result of that.
Overall, Utah was OK. For a team that did not go bowling last year and has a lot of questions, there were not a lot of answers.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez is a master at generating buzz.
"We knew coming in, we were going to be hanging on a little bit defensively due to lack of depth and injuries," he said. "You'll see a lot better defensive performances this fall."
One question asked from an ASU fan was how much the Territorial Cup's outcome—Arizona State beat Arizona 41-34—weighed in on the their minds.
"None," replied linebacker Jake Fischer. "None," replied receiver Terrence Miller. "None," replied Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was chatty, engaging and funny.