Bielema’s tough offseason

opinion by Maylon Rice

Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.

Arkansas Razorback head football coach Bret Bielema learned the hard way this last week to stick with the basics of football. (Is there an easy way when having to swallow ones’ own foot and ego-fed pride?) He needs to leave out naming names when trying to drum up public opinion for his notable cause for a rules change in college football.

We’ve heard again and again our first-year coach’s proposal to “slow down” high octane, no-huddle offenses, like those run by SEC’s Auburn University and the University of Oregon way out on the left coast.

His new proposed rule, to be considered by an NCAA Rules Oversight committee on March 6, would allow players on the defensive side to have a 10-second “no play window,” which would make it easier to substitute defensive players as well as players on either side of the ball who might be injured, Bielema says.

All sounds well, good and proactive – something needed in the injured ravaged sport of college football. Even the most revered coach in modern University of Alabama history, Nick Sabin, holding sway in Tuscaloosa, agrees at least in theory with Bielema’s proposed rule change. This is not some far-fetched idea, but it may not be as popular as our new coach wishes the idea would be among his peers.

What Coach Bielema said at a routine fan-based gathering at the White County Razorback Club in Searcy the other night made the local nightly news. Bielema, in making a case for a proposed rule that would force teams to wait 10 seconds between plays to allow defensive substitutions, referenced the recent death of University of California player Ted Agu. Trouble often comes when you name names. His comments made the national news. And then the comments went viral on the internet. Nothing good happens when that occurs.

Here’s what the athletic director of the University of California had to say about the situation: "Bret Bielema's comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive. Using the tragic loss of one of our student athletes as a platform to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond inappropriate."

In a prepared statement to the public less than 24-hours after his talk, and recounting his apparent miss-step, Bielema said: "It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful. I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes.

"In my press conference last night, I referenced information about the tragic loss of a life of a student-athlete. My comments were intended to bring awareness to player safety and instead they have caused unintended hurt. As a head coach who works with young individuals every day, the passing of Ted Agu is a reminder to us all how short and precious life is. I would like to extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Agu family, Coach Sonny Dykes and to the University of California family.”

Bielema said his proposal is safety-based — saying he wants to be proactive and make a change before a fatal injury. And for that we can salute him. But maybe our coach needs his own 10-second timeout before he fires off the lip, especially before gatherings of the public and the media.

Our coach even got into politics with push for player safety by dropping the name of President Barack Obama.

Uh oh. Now he’s done done it.

Apparently, the coach does not know that Arkansas has never given President Obama its voter support. In fact, quite the contrary. Arkansas’ current political climate may be  turning as red as Razorback stadium on a fall afternoon.

Bielema said the fact that President Obama wouldn’t let his son (if he had one) play football is a reason to take the safety issue seriously. Someone from the athletic administration ought to quickly tear a page out of former UA Athletic Director J. Frank Broyles rule book on coaches. In his deepest Georgia drawl, Broyles would probably say, “Nevah, nevah bring politics into your speeches, the office or on the field. Nevah.”

We have no doubt that the new coach, who has literally spent most of his adult life in football facilities coaching the sport, knows his stuff. His seven years at the University of Wisconsin, bears out his success. However, his first year at Arkansas last year, was less of a success than Bielema wanted. The players were disappointed. So were the fans.

Expectations of 2014 are high. Fans want to hear more about the 2nd year of Bret Bielema and their beloved Razorbacks than listen to their coach harangue about needed rule changes.

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My advice to the big lovable “player’s coach” installed in Hog Heaven these days upon the Hill in Fayetteville is simple: Talk more about next year. Talk less about rules and coaching philosophy. And, oh yeah, impose upon yourself a 10-second rule before launching into another off-the-cuff remark, even if it is in the safe confines of a Razorback Club meeting in our state.

If all else fails, coach, heck, just have the crowd stop and call the Hogs.

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