HOOVER, Ala. (WIAT) – The back and forth had already started earlier in the day between Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.
Malzahn, who is known by many for his up-tempo style of play on offense, has been vocal in his claims that the Tigers plan to be the fastest offense in the country, always operating in the speed of play usually associated with a two-minute drill.
“Offensively, we’re a two-back run play-action team that will run our offense at a two-minute pace the entire game,” Malzahn said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football. We feel like, if you can execute our offense at a fast pace, it’s a big advantage. So we’ll be striving for that.”
That idea is not something that sits well with Bielema. New to the SEC and all that it requires of its coaches, Bielema did not shy away from letting his opinion on that style of play known during his first tour through SEC Media Days.
Bielema believes the up-tempo, no-huddle style of play is dangerous for the athletes. When he expressed that belief on Wednesday, he was asked about Malzahn’s dedication to that offensive format. He didn’t back down.
“Gus is an educated man. He’s got his own faith and belief. But what I said, I didn’t just throw that out there,” Bielema said.
When Malzahn made his appearance in the main media room, he was informed of Bielema’s comments on the matter.
“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” he quipped. “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.”
That response, while honest, did not sit well with Bielema. He was quickly informed of Malzahn’s comments, and his response was nothing less than the most heated, passionate answer to any question asked during the SEC Media Days thus far.
“I’m not a comedian. Everything I say is things I truly believe in. When I go into a young man’s home, when you go to recruit a kid that’s 17 years old, move him halfway across the country, you can look a mom and dad in the eye, and you say, ‘I’m going to look out for the personal well-being of your son in everything that I do.’ It’s going to be a game day, a practice, a conditioning session, I am trusting you to give me your son to come play for me,” Bielema explained.
But he wasn’t done.
“If I have a son that I have brought to this campus and I don’t look after his personal well-being, I have lied to that parent.
“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 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.”
Whether it’s a thinly-veiled whiny rant because he wants to be allowed to substitute his players or an honest concern, he insists his opinion on the matter comes from experiences he’s had that has made him ever-aware of the need to be concerned about the safety of his players.
“I’ve had a situation that I’ve had to call a parent because their son may not make it through because of either an injury, not make it through life, but the next day, whether he can play football or not. To me that’s real. That’s the job I have to protect,” he continued.
“It’s not a joke to me. It’s something that I really feel strongly about. It’s not rhetoric.”
Auburn and Arkansas don’t face off against each other until Nov. 2, but it’s safe to say the match-up will be greatly anticipated after Wednesday’s back and forth.