Los Angeles—Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff kicked off Pac-12 Football Media Day at the Novo Theater on Friday with a salty question-and-answer session with the media. Why, you ask, was he salty?
Well, there’s still that elephant in the room. And it seems to have grown since its last sighting.
Kliavkoff knew that the majority of the questions were going to be about expansion. And USC. And U.C.L.A. Because … duh.
Yet, he still expressed impatience and annoyance when those questions were asked. A couple of nervous laughs and smirks were also observed.
When asked about the Big XII’s comment about it being “open for business,” Kliavkoff pulled out his quiver and delivered a first of several arrows.
“I haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not,” he responded.
Kliavkoff also talked about weapons of mass destruction. “I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend grenades from every corner of the Big 12,” he said.
“I get why they’re scared. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us.”
If “awkward” and “spicy” were on your Pac-12 Media Day bingo card, congrats. It was all that and more. It had that SEC-type vibe to it. Without the standing-room-only screaming fans, championship banners, rings and trophies, of course.
After I described the media room’s tone as a spicy hotdog, a reporter sitting next to me, Chris Karpman, replied, “Not a lot of meat on the bones. A lot of condiments though.”
Kliavkoff is clearly ticked at USC and U.C.L.A.—officially he is “disappointed”—but he also said he would “welcome [U.C.L.A.] back.”
“I personally have instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12,” he added.
Translation: Be nice, fellas. I’m trying to keep this family together even though we had a meeting with 10 schools yesterday and we didn’t invite them (because it was about the future of the conference), according to SI’s Ross Dellenger.
That really happened. But no hard feelings, right?
Once the Commish left—OK, fled—the stage, the coaches were put in the spotlight.
Pesky expansion and defection questions were being asked and the coaches were not too excited about that. They wanted to talk about their own schools, not those other two schools. Go figure.
It was like watching a hamster fight. To be fair, I’ve never seen one. But after this afternoon’s follies, I think I’ve got the picture.
Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell described the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten as “shocking… but I wish them the very best.” His team was picked to finish last by the media. But he’s still No. 1 in politeness.
Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was the big dog in the morning—sorry, Oregon—because Utah was picked by the media to repeat as conference champion. He ended up talking a lot about the Rose Bowl and the Florida Gators, the Utes’ first opponent of the season.
Whittingham is intense and a coach’s coach. The media know better than to push his buttons. He wants to play football. And win. Everything else is minutia.
Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was a fresh, bright face. He was exuberant, positive and effusive at his first Pac-12 Media Day. He also spent a lot of time talking Oregon’s brand and its highly-rated games.
“Since 2010 there’s been nine teams that have played for a national championship,” Lanning said, a mere 15 seconds after being introduced by the moderator.
“Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously we had 2.57 million
viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference.”
How many coaches know their per-game-average of TV ratings? Seriously?
It really sounded like Phil Knight wrote his sale pitch to the Big Ten.
“I’m excited about the direction of our program, excited about being part of the fastest-growing brand in college football,” Lanning said.
How does he feel about playing his former team, Georgia? Lanning complimented the SEC, of course. Then he went back to pitching Oregon.
“Oregon, like I said, is a national brand. It’s fun to be in a place where you get to play premier opponents like Georgia.”
Wait, there’s more.
When asked if USC and UCLA’s future move has become part of the recruiting conversation, Lanning continued to hit those selling points.
“Oregon has been always a premier team in college football. I think we’ll continue to be. Our fans are extremely passionate. Being a top-10 team when it comes to views in homes this last year, the ability to compete for championships year in and year out with coaching changes and different things.”
Phil Knight must be pleased. “Brand” was mentioned more than once and television ratings weren’t touched upon by Lanning. They were molested.
If Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was watching, well, Oregon should give Lanning a raise and a new pair of sneakers every holiday.
Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch opened up his podium speech by talking about… wait for it… the LA Rams and their Super Bowl win. When you go 1-11 your first year, sometimes you have to go back a few years to when you were a coach on a winning team—even though it was in the N.F.L.
Fisch gets Charlie Weis’s seal of approval.
Fisch was a delight. He even inner-channelled former Washington State head coach Mike Leach.
“Other coaches are telling recruits that we’re an off-season team, and we appreciate them pointing out our great off-season, but we feel like we’re going to be a really good in-season team too.”
A college football coach’s humor is so underrated.
Stanford head coach David Shaw provided his usual sportsmanship and class. But he also dropped some dog humor on us.
When asked if losing the two L.A. teams would diminish Stanford’s strength of schedule, he answered, “First of all, that’s two years from now.”
“That’s 14 years… regular people years… two college football seasons.”
With half the day’s events over, a break was in order. Lunch was an excruciating experience.
I give you my play-by-play:
We are told that lunch will be served on the fifth level terrace. We pile into the elevators after a *helpful* Pac-12 info person yells, “lunch is on the fifth floor” every 10 seconds. Everyone is uncomfortable because we had to wait awhile for an empty elevator while listening to her repeatedly tell us where to go.
We get off at the fifth level. We walk to the other side of the building and run into a dead end. A *helpful* Pac-12 info person tells us, “Yes, lunch is on the fifth level, but you have to go back to the elevators, go down to level four, then go across the building and take the elevator up to the fifth level.”
Did you get all that?
As we go back down to the fourth level, another Pac-12 info person is yelling about the fifth level lunch terrace.
Now I know why USC and U.C.L.A. are leaving. It all makes sense.
We finally make it to the terrace on the fifth floor (achievement unlocked!) and discover there are not enough tables to seat everyone. I find a fun-looking table with two open seats, sit down and pick at my salad. I chatted with a nice, young man for 30 minutes before he introduces himself as Washington State’s new head coach, Jake Dickert. [Insert sheepish look here]
I had a terrific time talking with with him (and his players) and started feeling pretty good when I headed back to the elevators.
Good feeling… gone.
We went down to the third floor. Big mistake. What were we thinking taking the most direct route back to our work stations?
We have to go back to the fourth floor, walk to the other side of the building, then take the elevator down to the third floor and enter the Novo Theater. I sit down and decide if I should take a nap or watch the pending—if you’re a pessimist, looming—speeches/comedy/fireworks/paparazzi about to take place. Wisely, I chose the latter.
Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards was at the podium.
“Next thing I’m going to comment on before I open it up for questions, I’ve never taken so many elevators in a day,” he said. “I’m elevatored out right now. I don’t know what button to push, what floor I’m going to, but I know there’s a lot in this building, and they all work.”
Herm Edwards is my hero.
When he exited stage right he muttered, “Gotta go catch an elevator.”
As expected, U.C.L.A and USC were the last two schools on the schedule. Ostensibly, this is done to keep everyone here until the end so they can fight Friday traffic at its worst.
Bruins’ head coach Chip Kelly was worth the wait. The quips were fast and furious.
He was asked how far it is from his campus to Piscataway, New Jersey (Rutgers’ campus).
“It’s 2,765 miles,” he replied grinning.
“Four-and-a-half-hour flight. If you’re going west to east it’s longer because the weather goes across the country. Coming back would be a little bit longer, so… we hope that we win because then you don’t worry about how long the ride is on the way back.”
A Canadian reporter from Quebec started to ask him a question and Chip couldn’t help himself.
“We’re not going to Quebec,” he laughed.
USC’s Lincoln Riley was last man up and his presence conjured up images from the Pete Carroll era. Photographers rushed up to the stage. Shutters were clicking and lights were flashing. Just like the good old days.
Riley didn’t mess around. He made some bold statements.
“We expect to have a national championship-caliber defense here at USC,” he proclaimed. USC fans must have swarmed the ticket office website after that statement.
“The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second, he said.
“We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”
A reporter followed that up with, “What is your expectation for this year?”
“To win the championship,” Riley responded, without hesitation.
USC has its coach. U.C.L.A. has its coach. And for the next two years, it looks like the two defectors of the Pac-12 will be not only running L.A., but the entire conference. The swagger was there on display.
Overall, the day was as expected. Awkward. There were also some bizarre moments.
Between coaches’ media sessions we were “treated” to some interesting music choices. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Express” was on a loop. But instead of Mars we got dueling violins.
There were two unidentifiable, fake plants set at each side of the stage. They stood out like a rack of ribs at a Vegan brunch. One of my Twitter followers suggested it was Cannabis. That would have been the most LA-thing ever.
Finally, the Internet is apparently a newfangled thing that this conference still has not figured out. “Spotty” does not even begin to describe this mess.
Was it a coincidence that as soon as the Pac-12 Commissioner began his opening remarks, the Wifi was non-existent?
Every Pac-12 Media Day has had this problem. I’ve never experienced a Wifi problem-free Media Day.
Maybe the Big Ten or Big XII can help the Pac-12 figure it out?