SEC Media Days: Coaches tussle over safety of fast-paced offenses

HOOVER, Alabama — When Gus Malzahn first heard that some coaches believed his hurry-up, no-huddle offense was unsafe for players, he thought it was sarcasm.

“To be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” he said.

When that comment was relayed to new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, things got interesting in a hurry.

Raising his voice and speaking forcefully, Bielema said he was convinced that forcing players to remain on the field for multiple snaps without rest increasing the risk of serious injury.

“The personal safety of my players is paramount,” Bielema said. “It’s not a joke to me.”

Auburn’s first-year coach has built his career upon the hurry-up offense, beginning as an innovative high school coach in Arkansas.

But some coaches, including new Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, have said that rules should require that defenses be given time to substitute players. Otherwise, he said, defensive players might go an entire drive without rest, increasing the risk of injuries.

Malzahn doesn’t buy it.

“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 fatigue and there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield,” Malzahn said.

“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 fast-paced teams.”

Conveniently for the assembled media, Malzahn and Bielema shared the same time slot at SEC Media Days on Wednesday.

Bielema’s passionate response on an otherwise dull day could make this year’s Auburn-Arkansas game more interesting than expected.

The two camps are digging in, with Bielema, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Florida’s Will Muschamp on the traditional wing and Malzahn and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze leading the hurry-up side.

Tennessee coach Butch Jones plans to use a hurry-up offense.

“We do want to play up-tempo but I think in order to play great defense sometimes you have to protect your defense,” Jones said.  “If that means slowing the tempo down, we’ll be able to do that.”

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