Safety or a joke? SEC coaches tussle verbally

semerson@macon.comJuly 17, 2013 

HOOVER, Ala. - Two of the SEC's first-year coaches sparred across the Wynfrey Hotel on philosophical grounds.

The issue is fast-tempo offenses, and whether they're a safety issue. Auburn's Gus Malzahn called it a "joke" on Wednesday. A short time later Arkansas' Bret Bielema retorted.

They were joining a debate that has been percolating for awhile, and dates back to late last season. Alabama's Nick Saban complained after his team lost to Texas A&M that the defense doesn't have time to substitute, a complaint that Bielema reiterated earlier this summer. The concern is that defensive players are unable to leave the field, thus increasing the likelihood of injuries.

"When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke," Malzahn said. "As far as health or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigued and there's liable to be a big collission in the backfield.

"If you're going to look at rule changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That's where college football's going. You see more and more teams using pace. I think you'll see it more and more at the next level also."

Bielema, speaking about an hour later, offered his retort. He referred to his offense as "normal American football."

"He thought it was a joke? Huh. I'm not a comedian. Everything that I say is things that I truly believe in," Bielema said.

Then Bielema went into a three-minute impassioned defense his position. He cited the health of young players, and stipulated that a player will be more vulnerable to injury after playing 10 straight plays, versus after five straight.

"The problem that people have is you look at it from an offensive or defensive point of view. I look at it as a head coach's point of view, because the personal healthy and well-being of my players is paramount," Bielema said.

Bielema then cited the change to kickoff rules, and said the rules can also be changed to allow the defense to sub.

"It's not a joke to me. It's something that I really feel strongly about. It's not just rhetoric," Bielema said. "If you want to play hurry-up offense, play it, I'll play (against) it, I don't care. But it doesn't mean that I cannot try to protect my players."

Then Bielema was asked about Malzahn's assertion that defensive players were faking injuries.

"In addition to not being a comedian, I'm not an actor. So I can't tell a kid how to fake an injury," Bielema said.

But he did acknowledge that some coaches may order players to fake it, because the coach is unsure how to defend it. He did agree it was something to be aware of and should be stopped.

Kentucky's Mark Stoops acted as sort of independent arbiter, having been a defensive coordinator until this year, and now serving as head coach of a team that will indeed be up-tempo offensively.

"I've had my problems with up-tempo offenses, we all have had our moments of failure against the tempo offenses because it gets you in disarray," Stoops said. "Obviously that's the advantage of it for offenses, to not let us defenses zero in as specifically as we want to be as far as formations and those sort of things, get us on the same page in communication.

"Right now what I say is the rules are the way they are. I'm a first-year head coach with very little clout in this league. I'm going to go about the way the rules are right now. In my opinion, I do think there needs to be, and I believe we're working towards that, some time to let us get situated and put the ball down (in order to substitute)."

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