Wednesday, July 24, 2013

July 24, 2013
In order to comprehend who we are, we must understand where we come from. Such is a brief synopsis of Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal moral philosophy work After Virtue.

Recently Nick Saban, Alabama head football coach, and Brett Bielema, new Arkansas head coach, have gone on record saying that "hurry-up" offenses are dangerous and bad for the game; that it creates more potential for injury.

I am not going to bore people with the entire detailed specifics, but I will say that they are actually wrong. The 2012 numbers show that the OPPOSITE is true; slow it down three-yards and a cloud of dust type football teams actually suffer higher rates of injury. That's not supposition, Nick, that's fact.

We know what Brett Bielema's problem is; he lost three consecutive Rose Bowls one of them toa  team he though he should have beaten. Never mind that he cannot keep track of timeouts and does not understand the kickoff return rules, he watched De'Anthony Thomas gash his defense for two long runs while LaMichael James methodically picked apart the rest of the defense along with Darron Thomas and Lavasier Tuinei. No, it had to be the hurry up that was the real problem.

Believe it or not, the up-tempo offense Oregon runs is not new and it is not unique. It was pioneered by Sam Wyche and the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 80's and early 90's. The Bengals were the first team to implement the hurry-up as a base offense. Tehy were moderately successful with the offense, but it was nearly perfected by a much stodgier coach, Marv Levy when Jim Kelly arrived on the scene in Buffalo. Circumstances always seemed to prevent the Bills from winning a Super Bowl, but Kelly, Thurman Thomas and the rest of the Bills made the 60 minute hurry up offense a thing of beauty.

At the professional level, especially in the 90's, it took special types of players to run this offense. Not everyone could do it and you had to have the exact right personnel. With the smaller roster sizes it was difficult to practice at warp speed. After Jim Kelly retired, the hurry up quickly retired with him. 

Chip Kelly brought it back with a vengeance. With deeper rosters in college and players more eager to listen and please without the ego of professionals, he was able to perfect a hurry-up like no one else. Cue cards. Hand signals. You name it and he thought of ways to get plays off faster and faster.

Saban and Bielema are right to an extent. Fatigued athletes demonstrate altered motor control strategies, which may increase the risk of injury. Studies have concluded that fatigue does, in fact, have an impact on the potential for injury. But most of these studies focused on recreational athletes not highly trained college football players. As stated earlier, anecdotal statistics from the 2012 season seem to suggest otherwise.

So what exactly are Saban and Bielema afraid of? Are their concerns truly about player safety or are they about job security? Nick Saban has no issue with job security, He has a job at Alabama as long as he wants and that appears to be ending no time soon. Bielema? He probably has a much shorter leash. Arkansas had limited amounts of high success under Houston Nutt and then Bobby Petrino, so their fans expect high standards. If he doesn't deliver quickly, he could be in a heap of trouble.

The real dilemma that they face is the perceived supremacy of the SEC. Texas A&M showed that speed and pace CAN take down the giant that is the Alabama Crimson Tide. If they can do it, why not Oregon?

 Do I think that Nick Saban is afraid of Oregon? No. Do I think he does not want to see all of college football; the tradition he loves of ground and pound; gone the way of the do-do bird? Yes. This is where it all lay.

Bret Bielema is from the coaching tree of legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry who was part of the Frank Broyles coaching tree; this is old-school football from which Bielema hails. His success has come with behemoth offensive lineman and big powerful running backs.

The interesting twist in Nick Saban's opposition is that he is part of Bill Belichick's coaching tree. Yes, that would be the same Bill Belichick who last season returned the hurry-up no huddle offense to the NFL.


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