Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Bret Bielema has never been a fan of the no-huddle offense. It’s become something of a running joke in college football circles because Bielema seemingly exhausts every opportunity to bemoan the dangers of playing fast and champion his substitution rule–a 10 or 15 second substitution period after every play depending on the variation of the proposal–for reasons of safety.
Since his time at Wisconsin, and now, more prominently that he is in Fayetteville, Bielema has been vehement in his opposition of the no-huddle. He worries about the safety of defensive linemen who can’t get off the field for a substitution during extended drives, and he read a study that says over the course of a year the no-huddle can add five more games worth of plays than an offense like his that runs at a more plodding pace.
So when a former star pupil of his from Wisconsin, linebacker Chris Borland, decided to hang up his helmet last week because of concerns about the lasting effects the game might have on his health, Bielema knew he’d need to tread lightly. He said as much in a Sporting News interview with Matt Hayes last week.
And then, in typical Bret fashion, he doesn’t tread lightly at all. “He just can’t help himself,” Hayes says in a piece that encourages we listen to the embattled head coach as he uses Borland’s decision to retire to reopen the discussion of pace’s influence on player safety.
Who knows, maybe Bret Bielema does have a legitimate gripe and safety is his only concern. Perhaps in a decade we’ll have genuine evidence that indicates increasing the pace of play to maximize the efficiency of an offense is detrimental to a player’s health and the necessary changes will be implemented.
We’ll have to begrudgingly acknowledge that Bret was right all along.
However, it certainly doesn’t help that as Bielema lines up in the I-formation and methodically chews up clock as he charts a course down field like it’s a nautical chart, he continues to advance the anti-pace agenda without the self-awareness to think, “Maybe my way is dangerous too?”
It’s difficult to argue with the fact that running more plays lends to the risk of having more potentially violent injuries until you look at the way Bret Bielema uses his fullback as an object of blunt-force trauma.
So as he uses the retirement of one of his former players in the prime of his career to advance his personal agenda, making mention of the dangers of no-huddle offenses creating more high-velocity collisions between 245 pound linebackers and 230 pound running backs, it might be worth popping in an Arkansas tape and taking a look at the way they play.
What’s more likely to create potentially violent collisions, an offense that doesn’t huddle and is designed to attack the flanks and get playmakers the ball in the open field, or one that lines up with nine players in the tackle box and sends a fulback into the defensive backfield unabated whenever possible to be used as a battering ram?
How many times in Wisconsin practices did Chris Borland find himself on the receiving end of a power to his side of the formation that saw him in the crosshairs of one of Bielema’s blocking backs?
Because it’s one thing to have a discussion about pace of play as it pertains to player safety, but it’s another thing entirely to use a promising career cut short to advance the same tired aspects of a narrative you’ve created. If Bret Bielema wants people to take him seriously, he’ll have to make more than a passing reference to a study he read that said teams that play faster run more plays.
And he might want to save the grandstanding for another day. One where someone’s career doesn’t have to end, preferably.