July 17, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
HOOVER, Ala. - Alabama head coach Nick Saban was the first to complain. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema joined in. And a Media Days tempest was born.
Saban and Bielema say they believe it would be a good idea to pass rules that would force no-huddle offenses to give defenses time to substitute. Both say they believe it is a safety issue.
First-year Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, who says he wants his offense to go faster than any in the country, disagrees. Strongly. Vehemently.
"When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke," Malzahn said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. "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 collision in the backfield."
Bielema, like Saban, favors more traditional offense that features inside running and huddles after every play. And after Malzahn took issue with his stand, he took issue with Malzahn.
"He thought it was a joke?" Bielema said. "I'm not a comedian. Everything I say is things I truly believe in."
Bielema offered no statistical evidence backing claims that no-huddle, up-tempo offenses cause more injuries.
"All I know is this: There are times when an offensive player and a defensive player are on the field for an extended amount of time without a break. You can' tell me that a player after Play 5 is the same player he is after Play 15. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in, whether I'm on offense or defense."
Malzahn said a better rules change would be to look into players faking injuries to slow down fast-paced teams.
"From my standpoint, if anything needs to be looked at, it is the defenders faking injuries," Malzahn said. "That's an integrity part of the game.
Bielema didn't like that either.
"In addition to not being a comedian, I'm not an actor," Bielema said. "I can't tell you how to tell a kid to fake an injury."
Saban wondered last October if up-tempo offenses were good for the game.
"It has obviously created a tremendous advantage for the offense when teams are scoring 70 points and we're averaging 49.5 points a game," Saban said on an SEC coaches teleconference. "With people that do those kinds of things, more and more people are going to do it.
"I just think there's got to be some sense of fairness in terms of asking, 'Is this what we want football to be?' "
Saban said his concerns were about safety as much as fairness.
"At some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety," Saban said. "The team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you can go. You look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up.
"That's when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they're not ready to play."
Second-year Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze also runs a high-speed, no-huddle offense, and he isn't buying Saban's and Bielema's concerns.
"I don't think there's any proof out there that there is any kind of safety concern," Freeze said. "I mean, defensive linemen traditionally and most commonly are more athletic than offensive linemen.
"In this league, defensive linemen are very athletic. They're going to play the same number of snaps that the offensive linemen are. I don't think they're at any more risk health-wise than at the start of the game. It's physical and rough in the trenches to begin with.
"I don't buy into that philosophy at all."
Malzahn said the complaining coaches might as well get used to seeing more no-huddle, up-tempo offenses.
"Pace, you see it in all levels of football," Malzahn said. "It's getting more and more prominent, even at the NFL level. That's the direction football is going, and I like it."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: