FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has been one of the most visible proponents of slowing no-huddle offenses in college football.
But throughout his public stance, backlash after comments regarding recently-deceased Cal player Ted Agu last month and criticism that he is using player safety to disguise a schematic agenda, Bielema stressed his motivation has never changed.
"Obviously, the part that I’ve been a proponent for the whole time was player safety and I’m not going to waver on that," Bielema said. "I think that’s the only thing as coaches we should be able to commonly say. People can interpret what I’m trying to say, but I know this: Grandma always said, ‘If you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.’ I know what I’ve said the whole time through."
Bielema briefly touched on the topic once again during Arkansas’ pro day inside the Walker Pavilion on Thursday. His comments came roughly an hour before the NCAA Rules Committee voted unanimously to throw out a proposal that would require teams to wait until the 29-second mark on the play clock to snap the ball.
The decision took the potential rule — which South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier recently referenced as the "Saban Rule" after Alabama coach Nick Saban — off the table before it was scheduled to be voted on by the Playing Rules Oversight Panel today. Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, who is the chair of the rules committee, told USA Today that the members listened to comments from head coaches and conference commissioners after the proposal was initially introduced on Feb. 12.
Only 25 of the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision coaches supported the proposal, according to a survey conducted by ESPN. There were 93 coaches against it.
Bielema said in Searcy he feared for players with the sickle cell trait, believing they could be in danger playing against no-huddle offenses. Teams that run no-huddle offenses — which include Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss in the Southeastern Conference Western Division — make it difficult for defenses to substitute players.
Bielema was not available for comment after news of the proposal being tabled broke, but spoke about the intense debate that carried on the past three weeks.
"What it’s brought to light is the game of football is very popular," Bielema said earlier Wednesday. "We’ve been able to argue different points. The whole thing, I’ve stayed … It’s hasn’t been a schematic (issue) or anything. It’s all been about player safety, and I’m not wavering from that because that’s all it’s about."
Loewen Tears ACL
Bielema said Arkansas has only endured one significant injury during offseason work this winter. Tight end Mitchell Loewen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee during and will be sidelined for several months.
"He has already had his surgery and I saw him up in the weight room (Tuesday)," Bielema said. "Our goal is hopefully to get him back for the opener."
Loewen’s injury will test Arkansas’ depth at tight end this spring. Sophomores Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle and Alex Voelzke are the top players returning at the position. Loewen was primarily used as a blocking tight end last season, but caught two passes for 29 yards and a touchdown.
Marshall on Offense
Korliss Marshall has not moved over to defense. Marshall — who was expected to slide over to safety after helping the Razorbacks at running back last year — remains on offense as Arkansas closes in on the start of spring practice.
Bielema indicated Marshall will continue to work with a group that includes Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, Kody Walker and Denzel Evans.
"I don’t know how much I will practice J-Will in live scrimmage situations," Bielema said. "But Alex, Korliss, Denzel Evans, Kody Walker — we are going to use him at tailback. We are going to use Kody a little bit we used Kiero (Small) a year ago where he will be lined up at fullback and tailback. So those guys we want to get in some work."
Bielema said he’s moving closer to hiring a new recruiting director after Chris Hauser’s departure last month. In fact, Bielema said he would have one candidate on campus Tuesday night.
"I have got a good group of probably four people that I am going to bring on campus and have a chance to sit down with our staff and go over and meet with them the next two weeks," Bielema said.