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The American Athletic Conference wrapped up its 2023 Media Days on Tuesday, July 25th.
ARLINGTON, TX – The 2023 American Athletic Conference Media Days are a wrap. After spending two days at LIVE! by Loews Hotel here are my top-5 storylines from the event:
5. Commissioner Speaks
Commissioner Mike Aresco took the podium Tuesday morning with the confidence and vigor of a man on a mission.
A mission to advocate for the American Athletic Conference.
Which is exactly what he did to kickoff the second day of the 2023 AAC Media Days. After sharing the numerous successes the conference has achieved over the last calendar year, he boldly said, “Money is important, but competitive success is more important.”
This statement referenced the “Power 5” or “P5” label that the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC conferences carry. The Power 5 moniker implies they are college football’s elite, both financially and competitively.
No one will argue these are the wealthiest conferences that generate the most revenue.
However, regarding competitive success, Aresco quickly reflected on the AAC’s accomplishments over the past decade.
AAC Accomplishments since 2013:
- 63 Wins over P5 teams
- 8 New Year’s Six Bowls, including four wins
- 6 top-10 teams at the season’s end
- 4 ESPN College Gamedays
- CFP appearance in 2021
“We have always played competitively with the best of the best.” Aresco stated, “Mid-major conferences simply don’t do that.”
Overall, Aresco’s opening statement embodied the tone of the two-day event, which was filled with enthusiasm and excitement.
Maybe it’s the expansion of teams.
Perhaps it’s the new personalities and storylines.
Either way, there’s a level of anticipation surrounding the American Athletic Conference that differs from previous years.
4. The Four-Minute Presser
Coach Willie Fritz led Tulane to its best season in school history in 2022. The Green Wave went 12-2, winning the AAC Championship.
They concluded their historic campaign with a come-from-behind victory in the Cotton Bowl over Heisman winner Caleb Williams and the USC Trojans.
I attended this game, and I must say, it was electric!
Ahead of the 2023 season, media polls have Tulane picked to repeat as conference champions.
Oddly enough, when it was Coach Fritz’s turn to take the podium, he was only asked two questions; his total time on the stage lasted four minutes and seven seconds.
I’m not sure if this was because much of the media were in the podcast/radio area interviewing players and coaches (myself included). Or maybe it was because the delicious lunch buffet had just made its way to the lounge area.
Regardless of why the reigning conference champion coach was only asked two questions, Fritz was seemingly unbothered.
In fact, he almost seemed appreciative of his time being concise. It was quite the contrary from another coach’s exit after only fielding three questions earlier in the day (which I’ll discuss later in this article).
3. Herman Is Back!
Coach Tom Herman is back coaching in the AAC for the first time since 2015—this time as the head coach of Florida Atlantic University.
Herman looked clean-shaven, leaner, and more energetic than ever. His charismatic voice commanded the room’s attention from the moment he took the stage.
He began his opening statement by sending his condolences to legendary Dallas Morning News sportswriter Chuck Carlton, who recently passed away.
You could hear the passion and enthusiasm in his voice as he shifted his focus to the upcoming season.
It was evident that Coach Herman was excited about his current roster stating,
“They want to win, and it reminds me so much of our first year at the University of Houston.”
Herman then went on to define his team as “rugged.”
FAU is in for a special season if the team can perform like the 2015 Houston squad, who finished 13-1 and defeated ninth-ranked Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
I asked him about incoming transfer quarterback Casey Thompson who is no stranger to Herman. While I was asking the question, Herman interjected, stating that he and Thompson had known each other for seven years.
They spent three of those years with the Longhorns before Herman’s dismissal.
Thompson eventually transferred to Nebraska for the 2022 season before landing at FAU.
However, Herman was careful not to anoint Thompson as the “starting quarterback” but stated, “We brought him in for a reason.”
Is FAU a real contender for the AAC championship in 2023?
Time will tell, but I will vote yes after hearing Coach Herman speak at media days.
2. Dilfer Does NOT Care
As expected, UAB first-year head coach Trent Dilfer pulled no punches during his time at the podium Tuesday.
He was asked how he would handle scrutiny regarding his unorthodox path to becoming a head coach. Dilfer has never been an assistant. After a 14-year NFL career, he spent over a decade in the broadcasting booth.
He became a head high school coach in 2019 before becoming the head coach at UAB.
Dilfer responded candidly, saying, “I just don’t care, you know I’ve been in the spotlight for so long. I’ve been booed out of stadiums, I’m known as the worst quarterback to ever win a Superbowl…I’ve been fired. I don’t care.”
Dilfer has found freedom in not caring for the opinions of those outside of his program.
This freedom allows him to speak bluntly and passionately about issues polluting the college football landscape.
Issues like the need for stricter regulations and accountability around NIL and the transfer portal.
Sandwiched between his impassioned responses to questions about outside criticism and illegal use of the transfer portal, I asked him about his Offensive Coordinator, Alex Mortensen (son of famous sports reporter Chris Mortensen whom Dilfer worked closely with at ESPN).
Coach Mortensen has spent nearly the past decade on Coach Nick Saban’s Alabama staff.
In my opinion, Mortensen is one of the best-kept secrets in college football.
Coach Dilfer expressed that he was surprised that Mortensen wanted to join his staff, stating that Alex turns down offers every year to remain with Saban.
However, the opportunity to join Dilfer at UAB was enticing enough to make him leave Tuscaloosa.
Dilfer stated, “[Mortensen] has done an incredible job. I knew how good he was, X’s and O’s. I knew how good he was organizationally. I knew how good he was with his staff. What I didn’t know was how good he was with players. This guy is truly a unicorn.”
1. Cigars and Podium Slaps
The man who stole the show at AAC media days is Biff Poggi. The name alone is enough to get someone’s attention.
No, not the Biff who used to bully George McFly.
I’m talking about the former offensive linemen who used to bully opposing defenses, now in his first year as head football coach at Charlotte.
Poggi took the stage Tuesday morning with complete confidence and spoke about how much he loved his players and his excitement for the opportunity to compete in the American Athletic Conference.
Frustrated with only being asked three questions, Coach Poggi said, “That’s it!? Three questions? Maybe that’s because you have us ranked last, that’s all you think of us. We get that message, thank you!”
Then he firmly slapped the podium before exiting the stage.
This moment attracted over a million views and became the conference’s main discussion point across social media.
Poggi spent the rest of the afternoon in the lounge area with a cigar in his mouth, conversing with his players and anyone else who wanted to talk.
As someone who was in the room when the “viral moment” happened, it did not feel or seem as dramatic as social media made it out to be (imagine that).
For a second, it kinda got me pumped up for some football, and in no way did it feel like the “pissed-off coach storming out on the media” narrative that social media has created.
But then again, I was one of the people who asked him a question.
So maybe it didn’t feel as personal to me.
I asked about the recruiting footprint he is establishing at Charlotte. Knowing he has a rich history in the Baltimore/DMV area as a high school coach at Gilman School and Saint Frances Academy, I wanted to hear how that would factor into his plan.
“Well, we wanna recruit Charlotte, a lot of great players in Charlotte. We wanna recruit North Carolina, South Carolina.” Poggi said, “But we have a big presence from the DMV where I coached in the past, and so twenty-four or twenty-eight of our fifty-two new guys actually played for me at Saint Frances.”
Fifty-two new guys.
Half from the DMV.
Most of which came from Power 5 schools.
That’s an insane recruiting pipeline and a remarkable job overhauling the roster.
Unfortunately, it’s been overshadowed by the “viral exit.”
Who knows? Maybe Coach Poggi prefers it that way.
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