Josh Kendall

The Wild, Wild (SEC) West: Negative issues abound for teams

Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin
Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin USA TODAY Sports

Is this the SEC West or the wild, wild West?

Thursday was just a random day in May, and also the day the SEC picked to hold a post-spring practice teleconference for its Western Division head coaches.

And on that random day in May, five of the seven coaches on the call sidestepped or outright ducked talking about controversies ranging from petty to problematic. That’s a terrible batting average for a league that already has a national reputation for pushing the envelope to its breaking point to win football games.

A review:

Ole Miss

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze spoke publicly for the first time since his team’s nightmare night at the NFL Draft. (Speaking of nightmares, Laremy Tunsil’s worst infraction was that terrifying gas mask getup that will haunt my dreams forever.)

The pro draft was supposed to be a celebration for the Rebels, and Freeze showed up in Chicago ready to bask in that spotlight. Instead, he was stamping out fires all night. It started when a video appeared on Tunsil’s hacked Twitter account showing the player appearing to smoke marijuana from a gas mask apparatus. It got way worse from there. Later in the night, Tunsil’s hacked Instagram account broadcast text message conversations that suggested he took money from a football staff member. Tunsil said after he was selected that that is exactly what happened.

“We obviously since draft night have had some adversity at our place,” Freeze said. “I know our administration has been aggressively working to reach a resolution on the matters involving Laremy. I am told that we’ve made a lot of progress. The facts are always more important than speed or our public response. I know nothing. I am not involved in the fact-finding process. I was shocked like everyone else living it out in real time, but I’m confident that our administration is going to find the facts and then give us a good report.”

“Good” meaning thorough, not necessarily meaning happy times for Freeze and his program.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M managed to look almost as foolish as the Rebels without treading into the NCAA violation pool thanks to a decommitment from a five-star quarterback and subsequent Twitter rant from an assistant coach. After quarterback Tate Martell announced via Twitter on Wednesday evening that he was re-opening his recruitment, Aggie wide receiver coach Aaron Moorehead posted multiple tweets regarding lack of loyalty. It was a diatribe so odd that another Texas A&M recruit de-committed because of it.

“I’ve addressed it with Aaron and we are still working through that,” Aggies head coach Sumlin said Thursday.

To a follow-up question he responded: “I get the question, but I said what I had to say about that. That is a discussion that is going to take place further. We’ll see what happens from here on out.”

As a public service announcement, here’s the complete list of huffy things a college coach is allowed to say to or say about or direct in any way at a high schooler:

That’s it. That’s the list.

Moorehead seemed to sense that in the clear light of dawn.

“Last night I made some impromptu comments on social media out of frustration and out of a true love for Texas A&M Football (sic),” he wrote in a statement he posted on Twitter. “I want to apologize to all of the young men in high school who work so hard to achieve their dreams of playing college football. … I also want to apologize to Coach Sumlin and the Aggie Family for not representing our university the right way. I need to do better & I will.”

Mississippi State

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was asked if he had any update on five-star signee Jeffery Simmons.

“Nope,” Mullen responded.

Simmons, a 6-foot-2, 235-pound defensive lineman, was charged in March with simple assault and disturbing the peace after a video was released showing him hitting a woman who was lying on the ground, and there remains the question of whether Mullen will allow him into Mississippi State and thereby the SEC. For now, it’s a question Mullen won’t answer, which gives it plenty of company in the conference’s more dominant division.

Alabama

Alabama defensive line coach Bo Davis resigned two weeks ago, and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News reported the abrupt departure involved possible recruiting violations that had been investigated by Alabama and the NCAA.

“I am not going to comment on any personnel decision or any kind of investigation,” head coach Nick Saban said. “We’re all about trying to do things right here at Alabama.”

Auburn

Auburn had four players, including starter Carlton Davis and up-and-comer Byron Cowart, arrested and charged with second-degree possessions of marijuana last week.

“No, there’s no update,” head coach Gus Malzahn said.

When Mike Slive was hired as commissioner in 2002, nine of the SEC’s schools were either on probation or under investigation, and his top charge was to clean up that mess. Slive and the league were very successful in that for a time, and Greg Sankey took over as commissioner of the SEC in 2014 with the league peaking in its power.

The SEC is nowhere near where it was in 2002, but Thursday was a sort of reminder of what a mess that was and how important it is the league does not return.

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