It's a lesson South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier learned the hard way a long, long time ago as the Florida coach: Be careful what you say when you're out on the spring speaking tour because your words may come back to haunt you. Or at least make you the most notorious coach in your conference.
The booster circuit is a staple among America's college football coaches, a chance to travel the area, meet-and-greet — and sometimes take shots at your archrival.
But in today's society, cell phones and video cameras are more prevalent than ever, increasing the chance something that's said will get carried beyond the hotel ballroom. And lately some SEC coaches have found themselves mired in controversy over public comments they've made that have spread like wildfire in newspapers, on TV, over the Internet and via social media.
It has coaches giving serious thought to what they say — and how — when in public.
"I think it's sad you can't go to your Bulldog clubs or whatever clubs and just have a little fun," Georgia coach Mark Richt said during this week's SEC spring meetings. "I think a lot of things are said just trying to have a little fun and get everybody to have a good laugh. People come and pay to see it. They come to see their coaches, and they are all true-blue Bulldogs or whatever contingent they are with, and if you can't say anything about anybody else without it becoming a big issue, it becomes less fun. But obviously, I'm guarding my words today. That's kind of what you get used to doing. You have to."
Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis got a harsh lesson in off-the-cuff remarks when he filled in for UF coach Will Muschamp at the Brevard County Booster Club Gator Gathering last month. Davis and Muschamp are former assistants under Alabama coach Nick Saban, and Davis referred to Saban as "the devil himself." Muschamp and UF athletic director Jeremy Foley called Saban to apologize.
"I was very disappointed with what Tim said," Muschamp said Wednesday. "I don't think it's reflective of his true opinion of Nick and the opportunities that Nick gave him at Miami and at Alabama. I've talked to Nick about the subject, and Tim, and we've moved forward."
About four months earlier, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin referred to Saban as "Nicky Satan" during a high school sports banquet. Franklin later apologized, saying it was just a joke.
First-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, a former Wisconsin coach, said this week he believes the SEC's success makes it tougher on coaches because the national spotlight shines so brightly on the league. He got himself in the hot seat in March — at an Arkansas booster fish fry. Bielema told the Razorback faithful he had come to "beat Alabama," then added, "You can take Saban's record when he was at Michigan State and when he was a coach in the Big Ten and put it against mine, and he can't compare."
"I think it is (the nature of the beast in the SEC)," Bielema said. "You've probably seen several things since then that have blown way up. Believe me, I'm on guard all the time, I realize in today's world anybody can say anything at any given time and report it, and any blogger can say anything and anybody can get credentials. But that was a Q&A with about 500 people in a high school gym. … I totally had fun with it. It was a joke. But no more jokes, I can't be entertaining. It was a great teaching point for me and our coaches."
Back in the day, Spurrier was notorious for some of his speaking tour comments. Most famous: referring to FSU as "Free Shoes U" during an NCAA investigation; and "You can't spell Citrus (Bowl) without UT" after Tennessee made numerous postseason trips to the Citrus Bowl. He has mellowed of late and said this week that despite the abundance of technology in today's world, it doesn't necessarily mean you can't get loose from time to time. You just have to be careful. Spurrier said one of his best lines at booster tours now is referring to North Carolina as "the favorite school of (Clemson coach) Dabo Swinney."
"I think you can joke around a little bit," Spurrier said. "At one time, Dabo said, 'The real Carolina (is) North Carolina,' with their tradition in basketball and so forth. That's his favorite Carolina, North Carolina, so I say that. I don't know if that's going to be funny or what. No big deal. Dabo's starting to laugh about it now."
For LSU coach Les Miles, the desire to back it down is tempting, but he said he just can't manage to give in to it. At least not yet.
"You have to realize that there's never any time where you're not in front of the media," Miles said. "It just doesn't happen. But it hasn't (altered his behavior) much. I wish it had more, to be honest."