SEC Media Days Report: Jimbo wants Arkansas

Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Days, Thursday, July 21, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

ATLANTA — Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher said that when the SEC expands to 16 teams with the addition of Oklahoma and Texas no later than the 2025 season, he hopes the Aggies will continue to play Arkansas annually.

“You want Texas,” Fisher said. “When Texas comes into the league, when that schedule comes in, definitely because of that rivalry.

“I think LSU is a great rivalry. But that’s probably our two biggest. Then Arkansas goes into that, too.”

Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman said on Wednesday he’d like Arkansas’ annual games to include Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri.

Harsin confronts questions

Auburn Coach Bryan Harsin, who seemed more comfortable at the main podium in his second year at SEC Media Days, elected not to dodge the controversial topic of the on-campus inquiry he faced in February.

Many sports journalists in Alabama and elsewhere predicted the inquiry, on the heels of a 6-7 season, would cost Harsin his job after one season.

“I know some of you out there looking at me didn’t expect me to be here at this time,” Harsin said Thursday during his opening remarks. “I’m going to dive into that here in just a second, address the gorilla in the room.

“Going back to what happened back in February, what I’m going to do now is address it. Moving forward, that will be the last time I talk about this subject.

“There was an inquiry. It was uncomfortable. It was unfounded. It presented an opportunity for people to personally attack me, my family and also our program. And it didn’t work. Right now our focus is on moving forward.”

Harsin tried to wrap it up moments later in his remarks, saying, “There’s plenty of information out there on it. If you need any more, just Google it.”

Later, a reporter asked him what he learned through the inquiry process, and Harsin handled it smoothly though clearly not wanting to go deeper.

“It was quick and to the point with our players and we moved on,” he said. “We’re focused on bigger and better things.”

Smart money

After leading the Georgia Bulldogs to the national championship last season — their first since 1980 — Coach Kirby Smart has received a contract extension that will pay him a total of $112.5 million over the .

Georgia announced the extension Thursday and various media outlets reported on the financial figures.

Smart, 46, who has a 66-15 record in six seasons at Georgia, made $7 million last season according to a college football coaches salary database compiled by USA Today. In the spring of 2018, he got a seven-year, $49 million extension after the Bulldogs won the SEC regular-season championship and lost to Alabama in the 2017 national title game.

ESPN reported that Smart will make $10.25 million this season with the contract’s payment maxing out at $12.25 million in 2031 with an average of $11.25 million for its duration.

All good

All apparently has been forgiven between Alabama Coach Nick Saban and Texas A&M Coach Jimbo Fisher if you are to believe what they said at SEC Media Days.

“Listen, we’re great,” Fisher said Thursday, a month after he used words like “despicable” and “narcissist” to describe Saban. “ Two competitive guys that go at it.

“We all learn from things we do in our business. Two competitive guys on a topic everywhere, as they say.”

Fisher called a news conference in which he was highly critical of Saban, who said the Aggies had bought their highly-regarded recruiting class thanks to financial deals for Name, Image and Likeness.

“I have no issues or problems with Jimbo,” Saban said earlier this week when he made the interview round at media days. “I always take criticisms or whatever in a positive way to self-assess me personally in terms of maybe there is something I can do better.”

Fisher, conveniently forgetting he called a news conference to rip Saban, said it was unfortunate their disagreement went public.

“We all learn from him,” said Fisher, who was Saban’s offensive coordinator at LSU. “We all will learn — he will learn, hopefully I learn —from things we do and say, and we move on from there.

“But I have great respect for him and their program like always.”

KJ’s fuel

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson got a lot of mileage out of being projected as the 14th best starting quarterback in the SEC by last year. His dual-threat production sparked Arkansas to a 9-4 record, as he passed for 2,676 yards, rushed for a team-high 664 yards, completed 67.3% of his passes and accounted for 27 touchdowns.

Some forecasters, like former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow of the SEC Network, didn’t include Jefferson in their top five quarterbacks in the SEC heading into the season.

Again, the lack of recognition is a trigger for Jefferson.

“I do look at that,” Jefferson said Wednesday. “I mean, I look at the statistics. I look at the rankings. It’s just adding fuel to the fire. That’s all.”

Ty’Kieast time

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman promoted the work of offensive lineman Ty’Kieast Crawford over the last year, saying the transfer from North Carolina-Charlotte deserved playing time on a unit that returns every starter except for left tackle Myron Cunningham.

“Ty’Kieast Crawford is going to be a guy that’s going to play somewhere in there,” Pittman said. “This guy is an exceptional football player and had a great offseason.”

The Razorbacks bring back bonus-year senior Dalton Wagner at left tackle, senior Ricky Stromberg at center, and junior guards Brady Latham and Beaux Limmer.

Luke Jones came out of spring training as the top left tackle. Crawford has worked at guard and also right tackle when Wagner missed time in spring due to minor ailments.

Storm breaks

SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey had to talk loudly to project over heavy rainstorms while introducing the first two coaches Thursday, Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and Tennessee’s Josh Heupel.

The College Football Hall of Fame has a fiberglass-style roof, allowing the sound from the rain and thunder to boom down into the room.

Heupel said he would project with his coach’s voice as he took the podium during a particularly noisy swell in the storm.

Alabama’s Nick Saban came to the dais during a stormy outburst Tuesday, but the weather immediately calmed down. The same thing happened for Harsin, but lasted a while during Heupel’s opening remarks.

Glass smash

Auburn defensive end Derick Hall was in the middle of talking about his tailback teammate Tank Bigsby when fate intervened.

Just behind him in the hospitality section of the event, a glass fell to the artificial turf surface at the College Football Hall of Fame and smashed into pieces.

“Whoa!” Hall said. “When Tank goes through the hole, that’s what you hear.”

Golf ball grab

Ole Miss Coach Lane Kiffin mentioned Monday he had signed mustard bottles and golf balls during the offseason, a reference to the chaotic end to the Rebels’ 31-26 victory at Tennessee last season, when Volunteers fans pelted the field with objects like those and others during the final minute.

Asked for his top recollections of that game Thursday, Heupel said he had not signed any mustard bottles or golf balls, but added, “I wish I’d had a golf ball that night. I’m only kidding.”

The game was stopped for 20 minutes with 54 seconds left on the clock after the Vols were deemed to have come up 1 yard short on a fourth-and-24 play.

Times Square tout

Tennessee bought space on a Times Square video board in New York City earlier this week.

Quarterback Hendon Hooker and receiver Cedric Tillman were in New York visiting various businesses, including NASDAQ, as part of their Name, Image and Likeness deals Tuesday. Their images, with a Tennessee orange and white checkerboard in the background, graced the video board at Times Square and 42nd Street.

Deck runs

The Auburn players have been doing an old training technique in running the bleachers this summer.

The bleacher runs, which the Tigers call “decks,” have featured Coach Bryan Harsin joining the players.

Running back Tank Bigsby said the players did 17 “decks” Wednesday and were targeted for 20 today. Their record, Bigsby said, was 22 last season.

Tough schedule

Auburn opens the season with five consecutive home games against Mercer, San Jose State, Penn State, Missouri and LSU before traveling to face defending national champion Georgia.

When a reporter prefaced a question with the statement that the Tigers have a tough schedule, Harsin butted in for a quick second.

“Does anybody have an easy schedule in the SEC?” Harsin asked.

The reporter went on to ask about the importance of getting off to a hot start with the five at home to open the season.

“Home or away, you want to get off to a fast start regardless,” Harsin said. “It’s great to be in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“To be around our fans, to have those teams coming in, playing in Jordan-Hare, we’re excited about that. Hopefully we’re having success through those five games.”