Starting 11: Gene Stallings Talks A&M, Expansion

Saturday I had the good fortune to spend much of the day with legendary Alabama coach Gene Stallings. I took my family down to Orange Beach, Alabama — which is rapidly becoming our favorite beach destination — and we spent the weekend at Turquoise Place. Gene Stallings arrived on Saturday and that evening he commentated on the Alabama-Florida game beachside. If you’ve ever wondered what sitting next to a coaching legend as he analyzes a game is like, let me tell you, it’s pretty outstanding.  I’m going to toss in different Stallings observations as we count down the Starting 11 for the week, but in the meantime Stallings talked about Texas A&M’s move to the SEC, who he’d add as a 14th team if it was his choice, and what being one of Bear Bryant’s junction boys was like.

Asked what his reaction to Texas A&M officially joining the SEC was, Stallings said, “I’m all for it. I served on the board of the A&M regents for the entire system…and when it first came up about A&M perhaps going to the Pac 10, I was opposed to that.” Stallings, a former coach at A&M and Alabama, said those who questioned whether A&M would be competitive in the SEC didn’t know what they were talking about. “It might take a year or so,” he said, “but A&M will be very competitive in the SEC. I think it’s a good move for A&M and for the SEC.”

Stallings said that the Longhorn Network was the final impetus that made an A&M move to the SEC necessary. “When the University of Texas got their own network, I didn’t feel like the playing field was going to be level. It was clear Texas was only caring about Texas.”

Asked whether he would attend A&M’s first SEC game, Stallings said he was uncertain whether he’d be there, but added: “If Alabama and A&M play, I’m going to try and see that game.” Asked who he would be rooting for in that game, Stallings replied, “That’s a tough question, probably A&M. I went to school there, I coached there, I’ve served on the Board of Regents there. I love Alabama too, but probably A&M.”

Stallings, who won the 1992 national title at Alabama, played for and coached under legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant. Asked about being one of the Junction Boys, a member of Bear Bryant’s first Texas A&M team. Bryant put the team through a grueling and brutal summer training session that began at dawn and ended at 11 at night. Most of the team quit under the conditions, which included restrictions on water. “You know how much water players get now,” Stallings said of the 1954 training session when he was a sophomore end, “we didn’t get ANY.”

“As strange as it sounds,” Stallings said of the training sessions, “quitting never entered my mind. I never gave that a thought. But to be perfectly honest, I sorta did want to die because I thought it would be the only honorable way out.”

Asked what would happen if Bryant tried this camp with today’s players, Stallings chuckled. “Oh, he couldn’t do it. First of all, they ruled it illegal. Second, you wouldn’t have any players left after a day.”

Stallings, who went on to become head coach of Texas A&M, the NFL’s Cardinals, and Alabama, said his most memorable win came at Alabama. But it wasn’t the national title game. “Strange enough, Vanderbilt’s one of them. Because when you’re 0-3 at Alabama and you finally win a game, you feel like you won the championship.”

Given the choice to pick a team to join Texas A&M as the SEC’s 14th, Stallings said, “I’d pick Florida State first and then I’d probably go Clemson and then Georgia Tech and Missouri.”

Asked to compare the Alabama-Auburn rivalry with the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, Stallings replied, “Texas-Texas A&M they talk about it a week before or a week after. Alabama-Auburn they talk about it every day. No matter where you are. Alabama-Auburn is a way of life.”

On to this week’s Starting 11:

1. What’s happened to South Carolina’s offense?

Steve Spurrier has a first round running back and a first round wide receiver. Despite these assets the South Carolina offense is astoundingly inept. Watching South Carolina play against Auburn it was as if the Gamecocks hadn’t practiced a play all offseason.

The Gamecocks looked like a complete pretender for the SEC East crown. Which, by the way, is definitely going to a 5-3 in the SEC football team if Tennessee beats Georgia this weekend.  

Finally, on the last play of the game — how is when the game should have ended not reviewable? There was clearly a second or more left on the clock when South Carolina went down on the field. Since it was a first down the clock should have been stopped. That has to be reviewable. When the ref blows his whistle shouldn’t be the standard at end of game situations. Think about how often in basketball we go back and look at the clock. The refs whistle doesn’t govern how much time is on the clock.

That’s incredibly stupid.

The ref’s whistle is always going to be behind the actual play timewise.

South Carolina could have gotten a play off here if they’d had their field goal unit ready to run on the field and snapped the ball at the exact moment that the ref gave the ready to play signal. If there had been a review to determine the time, then South Carolina could have had their field goal team already set up.

Now, none of this changes the fact that South Carolina absolutely, positively, did not deserve to win the football game, but it does raise an issue.

Here’s one that I have: is whether a timeout is called in time reviewable? The clock stops then when a referee blows his whistle too. But what if the ref doesn’t stop the clock until after it expires? That has to be reviewable, right? So should this.

(For the record I’m against the clock stopping on first downs. Which is the real issue here. College football has way too many clock issues).

2. Andrew Luck’s catch proves that Stanford’s quarterback is a pretty damn good athlete too.

 

3. A.J.’s vs the Florabama is the latest great Twitter debate. 

During the second half of the Alabama-Florida game, I took my wife to the Florabama so she could see one of the most famous bars in the South. 

As we were listening to Earl, Saturday’s night’s singer, regaling the crowd with his classic and subtle hit: “Poontang on the Pontoon,” I was trying to decide whether I liked A.J.’s or Florabama better. Then I tossed it out to y’all. It was unbelievable how even the responses were. 

A virtual deadheat. 

Except for the “hipsters” among you who hate anything that other people like. According to them the best Gulf Coast bar is whichever bar you haven’t heard of that can fit four people in it. 

4. How bad are things in Starkville?

Mississippi State players are peeing in the hedges at Georgia.

The only thing worse than this? It was State’s second best offensive play of the game.

Several questions:

 a. Is it possible to pee in a 90,000 seat stadium without being noticed? I don’t think so. Although the trash can is a nice touch. In case, you know, the hedge has any items it needs to dispose of.

b. That’s good peeing mental toughness not to even think about all the people that could be watching you pee.

c. Did he commandeer the back-up punter to come stand near him? Looks like it. Will this go on the back-up punter’s highlight reel?

d. What non-peeing reason could there be to stand this close to the hedges with a trash can beside you? Oh, look, Mississippi State’s player is majoring in hedge studies. He’s taking clippings.

e. Why not run to the bathroom? It’s actually pretty common for players to take bathroom breaks during games. Most of the time you just don’t notice. When I was on the sideline at UT for On Rocky Top, Nick Stephens had to go to the bathroom during the game. This definitely made his UT highlight reel.

Anyway, I defy any Mississippi State fans to dispute that this picture perfectly sums up the season so far.

5. When Florida scored on the first offensive play from scrimmage to go up 7-0 here was Gene Stallings’ response:

“I never liked to score like that early in the game. Works against you lots of times.”

When I Tweeted this out, lots of Florida fans jumped all over Gene Stallings for being a homer.

From this point forward Alabama outscored Florida 38-3.

By the way, if you think watching a game commentated by Gene Stallings sounds cool, Turquoise Place is also going to have Auburn’s Pat Dye and LSU’s Curley Hallman doing the same later this fall. Check out the link here for details. 

6. Vandy’s James Franklin used a helicopter to recruit Georgia on Saturday.

By the end of the Alabama game on Saturday, Franklin and his coaching staff are going to look like the last Americans fleeing Vietnam as the communists take over.

I repeat: Vandy’s goal is to get to six wins. It has absolutely nothing to gain from playing this game. As far as that’s concerned, neither does Alabama. The Crimson Tide is going to win. We all know this. The only unexpected thing that can come out of this game? Injuries for either team.

Speaking of losses, I played Lost Key this weekend. It was a disaster. I must have lost fifteen balls. The course was beautiful. It’s really worth playing next time you’re down there. Check it out here. When I tweeted about playing this course, the response was amazing, hundreds of y’all had also played the course and most of you said you’d renamed it Lost Ball.

So there you go, I didn’t feel so bad after.

Although I did ask Roger, the golf course pro who was playing with us, for tips. His response, “You got so many things to work on it’s hard to pick one.”

I don’t even think he was just talking about golf.

7. If Wisconsin and Oklahoma got in to the BCS title game over an undefeated Alabama, the state of Alabama would ….

Contest!

These are going to be really, really good.

8. Told y’all Florida was bad offensively.

Florida fans said I was a sore loser when I went on the radio the Monday after UT-Florida and said the Gators would be an 8-4 football team. Turns out I might have been too generous. After watching UT-Florida in person, I felt pretty certain that most good SEC defenses wouldn’t allow Chris Rainey to run wild on them like Tennessee did.

If you shut down Chris Rainey here are Florida’s remaining offensive weapons: 

That’s intentionally blank.

Florida has a mediocre to bad wide receiving corps, a mediocre to bad quarterbacking situation that just got worse with John Brantley out, and Jeffrey Demps.

9. Kentucky’s Morgan Newton might be the worst quarterback in SEC history.

Here are Newton’s stats from the LSU game: 6-20 for 57 yards.

Amazingly that wasn’t even Newton’s worst game of the season. Again, Kentucky fans, it’s time to pull the plug on the Joker Phillips regime and hire Mike Leach before someone else beats you to it.  

We got a great caller question on 3HL yesterday, which of these starting SEC quarterbacks do you take in a one-game playoff: Morgan Newton, Stephen Garcia, or Vandy’s Larry Smith. 

Forfeit is not an option. 

Discuss.  

10. CSS sent out a press release hyping Buffalo at Tennessee. There was just one problem: the press release listed Vince Dooley as UT’s coach.

Oops.

Quoth the release:

“Both programs are led by head coaches in only their second seasons; Buffalo’s Jeff Quinn (2-10) and Tennessee’s Vince Dooley (6-6).”  

11. It’s Hypesman time!

Here’s my top five:

1. Russell Wilson

2. Trent Richardson

He deserves three cars after that peformance against Florida. 

3. Kellen Moore

4. Robert Griffin III

5. Tyrann Mathieu 

I watched all the games from Turquoise Place, which is truly the South’s most spectacular Gulf Coast resort. Just click here and see the pictures.

Here was the view from our 2500 square foot, three bedroom, four bath, 17th floor condo.

As if that wasn’t enough, Turquoise Place has a lazy river, two infinity pools, and, well, it’s basically Heaven.

My three-year old cried when we left.

So did I.

Where else could I have arrived and had a college football tailgate package waiting for me that included a print-out of what stations the games were on?

Get your last beach trip in now before the cold arrives at amazing rates and they’ll do the same for you.

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