For the last week-plus, coaches have weighed in on different sides of the spectrum on the hurry-up, no-huddle offense debate.
Both sides have points. Both sides have made strong arguments to support their causes.
Both sides have also missed the boat entirely so far.
Some coaches – former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, to name a few – can credit their livelihood to innovative spread attacks that utilize tempo as a weapon.
On the other side are coaches with Midwestern backgrounds and the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality. Plenty of successful coaches line that sideline – coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, the two most vocal opponents of the HUNH offenses.
The divide is as large as the one separating baseball statisticians arguing the merits of new-school stats like WAR against old-school numbers such as RBIs.
For offensive systems, the spread, tempo-based attack has been the great equalizer. Put fast, dynamic athletes in space, create confusion on defense with a frenetic pace and see if someone can bust a huge play.
Saban has maintained that football was created as a game of intense action followed by a pause. That, after all, is what separates football from rugby or basketball.
“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 last year on an SEC teleconference following his team’s win over Ole Miss – another HUNH program.
Saban went on to discuss the defensive inability to substitute players and – by the end – some aren’t even able to get lined up because they are so tired. That, he contended, increases the likelihood of injury.
“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 asked.
It’s a fair question because the HUNH offenses have clearly changed the entire dynamic of college football – creating previously unheralded parity.
Then again, so, too, did the forward pass. That innovation, though, at least made the game safer for just about everyone save for the quarterback, receivers and defensive backs.
Saban and Bielema should be careful while arguing for player safety, though.
Remember, many of the behemoths fans see on football Saturdays are not playing at natural weights. It’s difficult for offensive and defensive linemen to approach the 330-pound mark in a lot of cases. They do so because their position coaches and head coaches instruct them to.
Well, it’s not for their own safety. It’s for wins and losses.
What Saban and Bielema have focused on are short-term injuries – bruises, broken bones, torn ligaments. They make their contentions while omitting the long-term effects of the players asked to pad on tens of pounds that will later become problematic.
If a player suffers a short-term injury while playing, he has an entire training support staff there to help expedite a full recovery.
When players reach unhealthy weights and stop playing football, who is there to help them return to appropriate dimensions?
Bielema and Saban are smart to challenge the new trends in college football. They shouldn’t be so quick to overlook those that put the game where it is today.
If the chief concern is truly player safety, is it a bad thing to encourage conditioning? Is it a bad thing to stop encouraging defensive linemen to reach weights of 300 pounds? Is it bad for linebackers to be motivated to play at weights in the 220s rather than 240-plus?
Media days are starting to wind down. This seems like a good time to regroup and start rethinking the debate.
Perhaps this time the coaches can actually touch on the bigger-picture points rather than stances that help either side win one or two more football games per season in 2013 and beyond.