Nick Saban's Attitude on Uptempo Offenses Grating to Other Coaches

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Nick Saban's Attitude on Uptempo Offenses Grating to Other Coaches
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When Nick Saban talks, the world stops revolving on its axis. Its inhabitants listen.

His status among college football fans is at an all-time high. He earned it.

As Alabama's head football coach, Saban has won three of the last four BCS Championships. Winning has made him the god of college football. And his flock will continue to worship him.

But not everyone is a believer. Some are starting to question his words of wisdom. 

In October of 2012, Saban offered his opinion on uptempo offenses. From Alabama.com:

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.

The team gets in the same formation group, you can't substitute defensive players, you go on a 14-, 16-, 18-play drive and they're snapping the ball as fast as you can go and you look out there and all your players are walking around and can't even get lined up. That's when guys have a much greater chance of getting hurt when they're not ready to play. 

If this looks like whining, that is because it probably is.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Saban is a defensive-oriented coach. It's quite possible that he does not like defending the fast pace of certain offenses. Last year's sole loss just happened to come against Texas A&M, which runs an uptempo offense.

In retrospect, Saban's comments come off as petulant and immature. 

If Saban is that concerned with player safety, maybe Alabama should not be playing the likes of Georgia State or Chattanooga. Isn't the discrepancy of talent between Alabama and Chattanooga so significant that the injury risk should be taken into account when schedules are made?

No coach wants to see his players hurt. But Saban's criticism over an offense that beat his team's vaunted defense—Texas A&M led Alabama 20-0 after one quarter of play—is transparent.  

Isn't this really about his team possibly not being able to defend against a team like Texas A&M? The demise of power-running football and the growing popularity of uptempo offenses?

Saban probably isn't looking forward to playing the Aggies again. Nor possibly playing Oregon in a BCS title game. That would make any coach cranky. 

Saban has no scientific evidence that uptempo offenses carry a higher injury risk. He did try to clarify his comments to the Houston Chronicle:

"Everybody misinterpreted what I said about no-huddle," he said. "I don't mind playing against no-huddle. … I just asked the question, 'Is this what we want the game to become?' That's for you to answer."

Saban also told the New York Times recently, "I grew up in old-fashioned execution, blocking, tackling…not trying to make the other guy play so fast he can't even get where he's supposed to be. But it is what it is."

Saban wants defenses to dictate the style of play—that is his niche. Saban is used to getting his way, most of the time. 

Not all coaches are defensive-minded. And they are calling him out. 

At Big 12 Media Days on July 23, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen didn't mince words when he was asked about Saban's comments, according to FOXSports Southwest.

Yeah, I'd tell him to get over it because it's not going to change. It's going into the NFL, for crying out loud. There's people being hired in the NFL that have the background in college football to be able to create a little bit more parity.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Johnny Manziel outruns the Crimson Tide's defense

Holgorsen and North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora have answered Saban's criticism of uptempo offenses. Add a Pac-12 head coach to that growing list. 

Cal head coach Sonny Dykes was introduced to reporters at Pac-12 Media Day on Friday. Dykes is a Hal Mumme disciple and will be running the Bear Raid, a pass-oriented offense that may call for as many as five receivers in one formation. Washington State head coach Mike Leach runs a similar offense called the Air Raid.

Dykes was asked about Saban's contention that uptempo offenses may increase injury risk due to coaches not being able to make substitutions for tiring players.

"Tying it to player safety, I don't know if that is a fair assessment because I don't think that makes a whole lot of sense," Dykes responded. He said that he would like a study done on "how much safer players are as a result of spread offenses."  

"Player injuries occur when players play in confined spaces, most of the time," Dykes explained.

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Dana Holgorsen at Big 12 Media Days

"You have offensive linemen falling on people, and opportunities for guys to get hurt when [they] play in confined spaces. When you spread the field out a little bit more, there's more space, there's less of an inclination for somebody to fall on somebody else.

"I think you can make the argument that traditional, old-style, smashmouth football is much more of a health detriment to student-athletes than playing some great football, or playing uptempo football."   

Dykes may have lobbed a thinly veiled shot at Saban. 

"I think we all need to make sure to get our facts straight before we start making a lot of assumptions," he said. 

Saban is the most successful college football coach in the BCS era. That does not mean fans should hang on his every word. Nor assume his theories or assumptions are written in stone as law.

The uptempo offense is revolutionizing college football. It is the future of the NFL.

With or without Saban's blessings. 

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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