HOOVER, Ala. — New Auburn coach Gus Malzahn aims to play “faster than anybody in college football.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talks with reporters during the Southeastern Conference football Media Days in Hoover, Ala., Wednesday, July 17, 2013.
So maybe it’s not a surprise that he would dismiss the suggestion in some corners that hurry-up offenses create safety issues.
“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” Malzahn said.
First-year Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is no Dennis Leary or Lewis Black.
“He thought it was a joke?” Bielema said Wednesday. “I’m not a comedian. Everything I say is things I truly believe in.”
Malzahn’s and Bielma’s first SEC Media Days turned out to be a platform for their view on the issue of whether fast-paced offenses like Malzahn runs can lead to more injuries.
Alabama’s Nick Saban last season voiced concern about the issue.
“I think that the way people are going no-huddle right now, that at some point in time, we should look at how fast we allow the game to go in terms of player safety,” Saban said, according to AL.com.
“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,” he said. “You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that’s my fault. 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.”
Bielema said he’s looking at the situation from a coach’s perspective of personal well-being and safety.
“It’s something that I really feel strongly about,” he said. “It’s not rhetoric.”
Malzahn said if no-huddle offenses are reined in, then the other side of the ball should be looked at, too.
“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,” he 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 pace teams.”
Bielema’s teams at Wisconsin went to the Rose Bowl three consecutive years and he played defensive tackle at Iowa, where he was team captain as a senior.
He said he wanted Arkansas to play “a little bit of normal American football. We wanted to line up with a tight end and a couple of wideouts, a tailback and a fullback and see what we can do.”
Coaches make their first appearances
Georgia coach Mark Richt arrives in suburban Birmingham this morning as the Bulldogs are one of four schools in the spotlight.
The league’s four new coaches made their debuts at the podium in the big room at the Wynfrey Hotel, including Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Tennessee’s Butch Jones.
“It’s great to be here,” said Stoops, hired from Florida State where he was defensive coordinator. “My first SEC Media Days. I’m learning the ropes, making my way around here.”
Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky have had a revolving door of sorts in recent years atop their programs. Auburn’s Gene Chizik was out of a job two years after winning a national title, replaced by former Tiger offensive coordinator Malzahn.
“They’ve really bought into the new day theme and putting the past behind them,” said Malzahn.
Tennessee and Auburn are trying to recapture past glory. The Volunteers are the second winningest program in SEC history behind Alabama and Auburn went undefeated twice in the last decade.
Volunteers defensive lineman Jacques Smith wore a bright orange jacket and went a bit over the top when talking about the program’s tradition.
“This is a winning program. We are the most winningest program in college football history,” said Smith, which might be news to Michigan, which can make that claim. “And there’s a reason why we’re Tennessee and that’s exactly why I’m wearing this orange jacket. It pops out at you.”
Bielema is Arkansas’ third coach in three years after Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith. The Razorbacks went from seasons of 10, 11 and 11 wins to 4-8 last season.
“They’ve gone through a lot,” Bielema said. “Scars are a daily reminder of the things you’ve persevered.”
Players embrace new Volunteers’ new staff
Tennessee’s players seem to have warmed to Jones and his staff.
“They’re more personable,” Tennessee offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James said. “They’re on a level where you almost feel like family. You feel like you’ve known these guys for years like they recruited you. They’ve just done a good job ever since January just making us feel like home.”
Offensive lineman Antonio “Tiny” Richardson said former coach Derek Dooley “was a little more to himself.”
Former Georgia defensive assistants John Jancek and Willie Martinez are now coaching in the SEC East for Tennessee.
Jancek is the coordinator now and Martinez coaches the defensive backs.
Martinez was defensive coordinator at Georgia from 2005-09 and Jancek was linebackers coach.
“One of the things is, of putting the staff together, I wanted individuals who understood what it was to recruit and compete at a high level in the SEC,” Jones said. “So these individuals have brought a lot to the table. Obviously, Willie being a former defensive coordinator in the conference, having great success at Georgia. John being a co-defensive coordinator at Georgia, as well.”
Wildcats’ make noise on recruiting trail
Kentucky is coming off a 2-10 season, but attracted a record 50,831 fans for its spring game in April.
The Wildcats have made inroads early under Stoops on the recruiting trail.
They are ranked 10th in the nation in Scout.com’s rankings after finishing 39th in the 2013 class.
“I feel very good and I like the momentum we have in recruiting right now,” Stoops said. “We plan to continue that. … When you bring these players in on campus, they know what they have. They know what we did last year. They watch practices with us. They just got to believe in where you’re going and where the future’s going of your program.”
Tailback Raymond Sanders think vast improvement can start this season.
“We can be really good,” Sanders said. “Those guys are just going to add on.”
This and that
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is one of 35 on the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award for nation’s top QB. He was a semifinalists last year. Murray will be in Hoover Thursday with tight end Arthur Lynch and defensive end Garrison Smith. … Malzahn on former Georgia cornerback Nick Marshall, now at Auburn and competing at quarterback. “He’ll have a chance. He’s unbelievably talented and has a big-time arm.” … Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen sees the “Egg Bowl” rivalry game against Ole Miss having some more zing to it after “the other school in our state” attracted a lot of attention with its recruiting class and the Rebels snapped a three-game losing streak to Mullen and the Bulldogs. “I think it’s certainly sparking the rivalry even more,” he said. “I think it’s going to make Thanksgiving night an even bigger game.”