Thursday, July 23, 2009
The plot thickens in SEC Votegate
By Pat Forde
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Welcome to a live-action game of Clue, SEC football style.
The assembled media in the Wynfrey Hotel ballroom are trying to find the perp among the league's coaches. The crime against football reason: failing to vote for Florida's Tim Tebow as the first-team all-Southeastern Conference quarterback.
In a league that's always long on intrigue, it's become the Whodunit of the Year.
At least one SEC coach committed this treasonous act, and so far his identity remains shrouded in mystery. (Which is, of course, the way coaches like all their voting. Remember the spineless move not to release any of their USA Today Top 25 ballots starting in 2010?)
Coaches could not vote for their own players when they sent in their all-league selections, which were released by the SEC earlier this month. Three players were unanimous (11 votes) choices: Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones, Tennessee safety Eric Berry and LSU offensive lineman Ciron Black.
Nationally, the debate is percolating over whether the two-time national titlist, two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and one-time Heisman winner is one more glorious season away from being the greatest quarterback in college football history. But here at SEC media days, the sizzling topic is why one coach doesn't even think he's the best quarterback in the league in 2009.
Actually, the sizzling topic is not just why. It's who.
Votegate has become The Topic That Ate Media Day. Through two days of the annual three-day carnival, the denials have been uniform.
On Wednesday, Rich Brooks of Kentucky, Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt, Bobby Petrino of Arkansas and Dan Mullen of Mississippi State all went on record saying they voted for Tebow.
|Tim Tebow isn't sweating who didn't vote for him.|
Mullen is the no-duh vote, since he was Tebow's position coach at Florida and once again pronounced his affection for No. 15 Wednesday.
"I probably have more respect for him than anybody I've ever met," Mullen told the media assemblage, actually sounding like he got a little choked up when discussing his former pupil.
Petrino was the only one who waffled even a little.
"I'm not crazy," Petrino said. "I probably did, yeah."
A few media detectives seized on that: probably did? Does that mean he maybe didn't?
To me, that more likely hints at delegation than dissembling. I suspect Petrino had Arkansas football SID Zack Higbee fill out his all-SEC ballot -- and Higbee just came to that job from Florida, where he was very close with Tebow.
No chance that ballot wasn't cast for Superman.
On Thursday, Mark Richt of Georgia and Houston Nutt of Mississippi both stated in their opening remarks that they voted for Tebow. Alabama coach Nick Saban, after wading through a thick crowd of True Believers in the hotel lobby, said he voted for Tebow, too.
Then he lectured us.
"I think he's one of the most outstanding leaders I've ever seen in my coaching career," Saban said. "Certainly played a fantastic game in the SEC championship game last year. I think he might be one of the most outstanding players in our league.
"But I also think everybody should have the right to vote for whoever they want, and I don't think they should be criticized for that. It's what a lot of people have fought for in this country for a long time. So I don't understand why anybody would even be interested."
Will it give me a little bit [of motivation]? Yeah, I guess. But I have enough that gives me motivation right now. I honestly think it's funny.
-- Florida QB Tim Tebow
Uh, Nick? It's SEC football. Everybody is interested, everything is a big deal, and nobody is a bigger deal in this big-deal conference than Tim Tebow.
Also, I'm not completely sure the Marines planted the flag at Iwo Jima to protect the right of football coaches to keep their all-SEC votes private. But if Saban is interested in mixing political voting with football voting, we can work with that. Read on.
The likely scenario here is that Auburn's Gene Chizik, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, LSU's Les Miles and Tennessee's one-man blooper reel, Lane Kiffin, will all stand up Friday and announce that they voted for Tebow as well.
Which would mean one of 11 men is lying.
In terms of being truthful about ballots cast, this could be like the David Duke effect in Louisiana politics in the late 1980s and early '90s, when few people would tell pollsters they were voting for the former Klansman -- then he won election as a state representative and nearly won a race for governor.
Nobody wants to admit publicly he didn't vote for Tebow. But somebody didn't.
Florida coach Urban Meyer had a good chuckle at it all Thursday morning.
"Fun stuff to write about," Meyer said, grinning broadly.
And how did The Snubbed react to the news that at least one coach/SID in the SEC does not think he's the greatest thing in cleats?
"It's preseason," Tebow said. "It just so doesn't matter."
But this is a guy who got his motor revved last December when a number of Heisman voters in Big 12 country left him completely off their ballots. And his motor really revved when Oklahoma defensive back Dominique Franks chirped before the national championship game that Tebow would have been the fourth-best quarterback in the Big 12 last year.
So, yeah, the guy has an ear for disrespect. And a place on his shoulder pads for a chip.
"Will it give me a little bit [of motivation]?" Tebow asked. "Yeah, I guess. But I have enough that gives me motivation right now. I honestly think it's funny."
The funny part would be reaching the end of media days tomorrow with 11 coaches saying they voted for Tim Tebow and one of them fibbing. Next step: polygraphs for everyone!
|Could Bobby Petrino have shafted Tebow? Not likely when the Hogs have an SID that's close with the Florida QB.|
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.