Bielema: Safety Concerns Fact, Not ‘Fiction’

HOOVER, Ala. — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and Auburn’s Gus Malzhan were pitted as opponents in a pace of play war of words during SEC Media Days last July.

Malzahn didn’t add any fuel to the fire in front reporters at the Wynfrey Hotel earlier this week.

Bielema didn’t really take the bait — at least regarding Malzahn — either.

Bielema steered relatively clear of stoking the pace of play fire during his media rounds Wednesday. He was asked about his relationship with Malzahn, how firm he was in his belief the issue pertains to player safety, and his response to Missouri coach Gary Pinkel’s earlier assessment that any health concerns were “fiction.”

“I’m probably more of a reality-based moving guy more than fiction, I guess,” Bielema said, providing his only attention-grabbing retort to the opposition. “I think I deal more in what I know, what I see, what I believe.”

Bielema has never been shy about entering the fray when it comes to the pace of play debate, which has been one of the intriguing in college football over the past year. He had to apologize earlier this spring after referring to the death of Cal player Ted Agu and added “death certificates” were the only proof he needed to show the dangers of quick snap attacks.

Bielema and Malzahn are on opposite sides of the pace of play spectrum. But Bielema said he and Malzahn have spoken on the phone a couple times about issues — “none of them have been player-safety related” — and added there is “nothing but a tremendous amount of respect” between the coaches.

“I can’t say that we’re breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can, but I’m not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else,” Bielema said.

He didn’t throw rocks at anyone else, either, Wednesday. Even after Pinkel strongly rejected any notion that up-tempo offenses lead to health concerns earlier.

“I don’t buy the health issue in any way,” Pinkel said. “It’s never happened. No one has ever come to me all those years and said, ‘Gosh, I’m really concerned about the health of our teams playing these fast-paced offenses.”

Bielema said he has no problem facing up-tempo offenses. In fact, he said there’s “nothing more enjoyable than to see a no-huddle offense sitting on the sideline and can’t stand it.” But he won’t stray from his player safety beliefs.

“Our responsibility as coaches is player safety,” Bielema said. “However that comes about, whether it be a 10-second rule in the future, whether it be a substitution mandatory rule that a committee comes in place and sets in college football, I think the game is going to be a safer one because of it.”