It was an eventful day in Arlington, as AT&T Stadium played host to Big 12 media members as a kick-off to the upcoming football season. Day 1 kicked off with a State of the Union of sorts from commissioner Brett Yormark, followed by press conferences by Sonny Dykes, Dana Holgerson, Lance Leipold, Dave Aranda, Mike Gundy, Steve Sarkisian, and Kalani Sitake. For one year only, the Big 12 will be a 14 team league that includes Texas and Oklahoma, and there was absolutely an air of excitement around how fun and unique the 2023 season could be.
Let the festivities begin. 14 teams. New friends. Soon to be exes. It should be a good one. pic.twitter.com/db7RoEQMv1— ODB (@OurDailyBears) July 12, 2023
As Yormark kicked off the event, there was of course the curiosity of realignment and expansion on everyone’s mind. But, the commissioner was quick to note that there wouldn’t be much discussion on that subject. “We have plans for expansion”, Yormark said, before noting that he wouldn’t answer many questions on the subject. Though he did follow that up with saying “Hopefully we can execute that plan sooner than later.” Vague, but still not dismissing the possibility of further changes in the conference soon. Though, he did say that they are not chasing any particular number, and that any expansion would be about the value they bring to the table.
Yormark really focused on the conference as a whole and noted how much the focus is on moving forward, not looking back. “It’s not about where we’ve been, for all of us it’s about where we’re going” he noted. He highlighted a number of accomplishments over the last year, and made some announcements about the conference moving forward. He mentioned that the conference has a goal to connect with Gen Z. He used the term “double down” multiple times in reference to championship game sites, even announcing that the deal for the Big 12 to play its football championship in AT&T Stadium has been extended through 2030. When asked about the site for the basketball championship, he also mentioned that they were working with the city of Kansas City on an extension there. Overall, there are a number of initiatives that the Commissioner has a focus on to bring the Big 12 into the future.
"It's not about where we've been, for all of us it's about where we're going." - Yormark pic.twitter.com/2C2dCiG2KW— ODB (@OurDailyBears) July 12, 2023
It was a great intro by Yormark, who seemed confident, excited, and almost more prepared as he heads into his second season as the Big 12 commissioner. The next big piece of news should come in mid-August, as announcement will be made regarding the halftime performer at the Big 12 Football Championship, something that will be a part of the ABC broadcast for that game.
Of the coaches who spoke today not named Aranda, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy stole the show a bit. His normal self, Gundy was candid and didn’t have too many canned responses to give, even calling out his Bedlam rival for being the ones who have decided to end their decades long rivalry to head to new pastures in the SEC. Plus, the man has a style all his own.
Mullet is so strong. And the 2 tone of the white beard and dark hair. This man shouldn't be at media days, he should be at the Met Gala. pic.twitter.com/ZTTvgphw1Y— ODB (@OurDailyBears) July 12, 2023
Dana Holgerson was the first of the “new” coaches to speak, but did note that he’s been down this road before, guiding West Virginia into their first year in the Big 12. He did mention that it would be different at Houston though, as they have history with multiple Big 12 schools from their SWC days, while West Virginia did not. The coaches from TCU, Kansas, Texas, and BYU had good sessions as well, but the overall theme from everyone really was that we know nothing going into this year, and the last 2 champions of the conference were not selected to win it heading into their respective seasons. There was clearly a level excitement from each one of them when it came to what this season has in store.
Finally, seeing as this is a Baylor blog, we did get to hear from Coach Dave Aranda. He opened his press conference with the longest intro from any coach. Speaking for multiple minutes before questions started heading his way. Aranda spoke at length about having a different mindset in 2023. He spoke multiple times about going too easy on players and coaches, letting things slide, and maybe even being too compassionate.
"One of the beautiful things about our sport is the personal comes out in the professional." Aranda's opening statement. Talks about trying to save people too much as a big factor in results from last year. Also notes that they didn't use the portal enough.— ODB (@OurDailyBears) July 12, 2023
In true Aranda fashion, he sounded more like a philosopher than a football coach, and almost seemed to care more about understanding people than Xs and Os. He compared his players to artists, talked about self-expression, and in response to what he’s learned about himself stated “every part of you has to know why you’re doing this... what’s really the long term goal, what’s the legacy you want to leave, why are you doing this?”. True introspection that Baylor fans have come to expect.
In the post conference breakout sessions where both Aranda and players were available for questions, the coach brought up that last season they may have focused too much on individuals over the needs of the team. He spoke in a hypothetical about having a player who maybe gets banged up, his grades drop and his confidence wanes. They would want to work with that player, build them up, but the focus on replacing that player on the field was hard. “He’s in a pit let’s say, and he’s struggling through something, now we bring in someone else to come and play that position... That part is hard, and I think I didn’t want to do it a year ago, ya know, and that was a mistake”, Aranda said. “I think the truth is the thing, it’s like hey dude we still love you and we’re going to get you better, we’re going to stay with you, we’re going to keep working with you... but it’s like hey we have to do this for the team. And so I think those hard conversations are hard. But I think those hard conversations have to happen.”
Both Aranda and the players at the event (Blake Shapen, TJ Franklin, Drake Dabney, Josh Cameron, and Mike Smith Jr.) spoke at length about mental toughness and fighting through adversity. The true belief on this team is that if they can stay focused, not let the moment get too big, and hold each other accountable no matter how hard those discussions may be, that this Bears squad could look closer to the 2021 version rather than the 2022. It all boils down being tough, when things are tough. I asked Aranda what success looks like for this team this year. The answer was long, thorough, and thoughtful. But, the most important part could be boiled down to this quote: “For us to be at our best when it matters most. I think you look at 2 years ago, you know the game that was played here [AT&T Stadium] was a good example. When things got hard we were pretty good. Last year, when things got hard, we disappeared.”
Sure this team has some new coaches, new players, maybe even some new schemes we may see. But the sentiment, at least at 2023 media days, is that if the Bears are to reach the mountaintop once again, it will be through mental strength during adversity. And, if that’s the case, I don’t think there’s anyone other than Aranda that Bears fans would want to lead the way.