Bret Bielema stepped up to the podium at SEC Media Days, stood his ground, punched back and may have single-handedly defined a rivalry – with Gus Malzahn and Auburn.
Bielema was asked about comments Malzahn made earlier in the day. The new Auburn head coach was asked for his opinions regarding comments from coaches, like Bret Bielema, about rules changes to slow down the pace of offenses, citing player safety concerns.
Malzhan said, “Really, I thought it was a joke at first, when people were talking about injuries and all that.”
To which Bielama fired backed, forcefully: “He thought it was a joke?” Bielema asked.
The reporter responded. “That’s what he said.”
Then Bielema went on a tear. “I’m not a comedian. Everything that I say is things I truly believe in. When I go into a young man’s home… When you go in to recruit a kid who is 17 years old and you’re going to move them half way across the country and you can look a mom and dad in the eye and you can 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 on game day. It’s going to be a practice. It’s going to be a conditioning session. I am trusting you to give me your son to come play for me.’
“And if I have son, that I have brought to this campus and I don’t look out for his personal well-being, then I have lied to that parent,” Bielema said. “And 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. And if that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that’s my fault. And 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.
“I’m looking at it as the head coach point of view that the personal well being and safety of my players is paramount,” he said. You can hear Bielema’s full response in the video clip below.
Malzahn didn’t end with his criticism with coaches who have complained about player safety concerns. He went on to question the integrity of some coaches who he believe try to slow down the pace of the game by faking injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
“It’s like saying that you don’t let the defenses blitz after first down because they’re fatigued; there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield,” he said.
“You know, I think if they’re going to look at anything, I think what we need to look at is the defenses faking injuries to slow down a paced team,” Malzahn continued. “I think that’s the integrity of football.”
Bielema’s response? He said he’s not an actor, either.
After Bielema’s appearance on the main-stage podium, he appeared in the press room to field more questions and talked about his style of football and what he hopes his Razorback football team achieves – offensive balance.
“To become a good team, you must be able to run the football when everybody in the stadium knows you’re going to run the football,” he said.
His example was in a game against Michigan while he was the head coach at Wisconsin. “You know, I knew I had a good team when we played Michigan, and we ran the ball 28 times in a row. That’s when I knew we had a good rushing football team.”
“A good rushing offense is when it’s fourth and one and they know I’m going to run over right tackle and that’s what we do,” Bielema said.
Bielema was asked his thoughts on his Razorback team likely being voted at or near the bottom the SEC West this season, to which he responded, “The lower, the better.” His team has a chip on its shoulder, and that’s just fine with him.
Tough talk, smash mouth, brash and bold- It’s football, y’all. And we’re one day closer to the Bret Bielema era taking the field.
Bret Bielema during the main-stage Q&A with members of the print media:
Malzahn video, particularly starting at the 1:47 mark of the tape:
Brett Bielema press room Q&A:
And here is an overview of what media are saying about Bret Bielema, post SEC Media Days.