Yes, Nick Saban, This is What We Want Football to Be

Nick Saban

The never-ending evolution of football schemes has resulted in more points lighting up the scoreboard than ever before.  These days, however, it seems like some of the biggest battles in the sport are occurring off the field.  College football has never been more popular in this country, and the sport’s rise in prominence has coincided with an increase in offensive firepower.

Gone are the days of “three yards and a cloud of dust” football, instead replaced with video game-style offensive numbers and defensive coordinators who are happy to give up only 28 points in a game. The business of college football in America is undergoing a huge practical and philosophical shift, and like any other business, there are always those who resist changes.

Alabama’s Nick Saban became the face of that increasing minority in the coaching community when he asked the now famous question: “Is this what we want football to be?” Believe it or not, this statement was actually made less than two weeks BEFORE Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa and shocked the world in the biggest upset of the year.

Earlier this month, the NCAA rejected a proposal that would have slowed down offenses all around the country, and would have literally given a “delay of game” penalty for snapping the ball too quickly.  The ten-second rule, unofficially dubbed the ‘Saban Rule’ by South Carolina Head Football Coach and professional golf hustler Steve Spurrier, would’ve penalized an offense that snapped the ball without giving the defense 10 seconds to substitute personnel, whether or not the offense substituted in between plays (Saban has denied having anything to do with the proposal, which was confirmed by Rogers Redding, NCAA coordinator of officiating).

Jeff Kern

Steve Spurrier

The reasons given for the proposed rule change mostly had to do with “player safety,”  The idea being that up-tempo offenses have somehow increased the number of injuries on the field.  Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema even used the example of Cal defensive end Ted Agu, who, in February this year, collapsed during a conditioning run and later died.

When asked what evidence he had that up tempo offenses posed a greater risk for players, Bielema answered, “death certificates.” This was shortly after the Agu incident, and Bielema later apologized for the remarks. Then again, coaches like Saban and Bielema have yet to explain how going fast on offense is harmful to players, but lining up and running the ball up the gut in what some would describe as “smashmouth football” is not. 

Poor word choices aside, the issue here isn’t that a lot of (almost exclusively) old school coaches don’t like the way the game is changing, it is rather the idea that instead of competing and getting better, they can simply change the rules to protect themselves and their teams. Even if these coaches are completely genuine in their belief that up-tempo offenses are dangerous to players, the bottom line is that there is not, and likely never will be any legitimate evidence to back that up.

The attempted power grab earlier this month by some of the old brass in college football amounts to a last-ditch desperation move by those who have refused, or are simply unable, to adapt.  Even the NFL, which for a long time had been the lone holdout in the football world of “old-school” styles of football, has begun to see teams such as Washington, San Fransico, Carolina, and yes, Philadelphia adapt the spread, up-tempo option attack to the professional game.

The only thing that can slow down the Ducks is the rules committee.

Craig Strobeck

The only thing that can slow down the Ducks is the rules committee.

Of course, this is in addition to the up-tempo attacks that guys such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have been terrorizing opponent’s defenses with for years.  If no-huddle offenses increased injuries, you could make the argument that Peyton Manning should have racked up quite the body count by this point in his career.

After the failure of this latest proposal, this much is clear: college football has changed, and it’s never going back to the way things used to be.  For those who love the game, including Ducks fans, that’s a beautiful thing.


Top Photo: captured from video

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Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby (Writer and Football Analyst) worked several seasons as an assistant football coach at the high school and college levels and is the author of Speed Kills: Breaking Down the Chip Kelly Offense, now available HERE.

  • john b.

    It’s all over for Alabama. Every team should beg to play them. It’ll be an easy win without this new rule. Or not.

    • Mark All

      Oh yes, it is all over for Alabama….. theyve already torn down bryant denny stadium


        Mark go HOME because we could care less about your ALABAMA LOVE FEST!

  • hoboduck

    You have nailed it. The up tempo approach in college and pro ball is here to stay. Saban and his “fat boys” will either adapt or not. Change is the only thing that can be counted on. If all teams go to the spread and up tempo play, the highly touted big OT’s and DT’s, which we seek every year, will become less and less of an issue because speed will be more (or at least as) important than bulk. We will prove that this year when we beat Stanford. Very nice article Alex.

  • Mark All

    Football is changing, but you will always need the fundamentals of the game . I feel alot of that is lost in these fast paced and gimmick offenses. Most of the time they revolve around a player or two, and not the team. Ill take a team that knows how to work together and play for each other than themselves. But thats just my view and im sure it will be seen as old school, and southern but I dont care, its whats been winning national titles so far.

    • Shreveport Steve

      You mean National titles like Auburn and Florida State? Or when Urban Meyer was winning titles with it in Florida?

      • Mark All

        Exactly, the balanced teams won….FSU against the hurry up Aubrun had 35 pass plays for 237 yds and 31rushes for 148 yds and a good defense and held the ball 26:19…..Just like Auburn had 35 pass plays for 265 yds and 50 rushes for 254 yards with a good defense and held the ball for 32:57 against Oregon…..funny how these fasted paced teams slow down and play fundemental football when winning the big game is on the line.

        • @Mark All, What is a Bamma dog doing on a pro Duck web page? Evidently your team lacks anything like it. Perhaps you’re trying to see what it’s like to be a Duck fan. Whatever the reason, don’t go away mad just go away. I’m willing to bet Saban could careless about the fans, as it’s always about him.

          • Mark All

            I’m sorry you are confused…You see Nick Saban is the Coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team, this article was listed on my Google now cards as I have labeled The Alabama Crimson Tide as my favorite NCAA team. That is why I am here. I could care less…not careless…about what Saban thinks about the fans.


        Funny! Some people just don’t like change, and their the one’s in the unemployment line usually. SABAN is an OUTRIGHT TURD and wish he’s just go away and by this I mean go far far away, so we don’t have too here about him anymore. Chip Kelly in my opinion is a better Coach, because he was able to go to the next level and make it work. He was able to adjust to the PRO Players and they him. No one liked Saban at the next level because it’s all about him and I’m sure in his LAME MIND he believe’s it was him that has won those Title’s.

        • Mark All

          Lets compare…..Saban was handed a 4-12 team and went 9-7 and 6-10. After he left they went 1-15, His record was 15-17, while the year before and the year after he left they were 5-27, that is a +10 game shift, but he couldn’t make it work?….Chip was handed a 4-12 team and went 10-6. So one more win in in the first year in the worst conference of the 2013 NFL season means that Chip is more successful at the next level?

  • Grey Thompson

    This is one of the most irresponsible reports I’ve read about the latest rule proposal. It doesn’t even reference the 2008 play clock rule change that resulted in the substitution control issues. Hurry-up football isn’t new, no-huddle existed long before Oregon and Johnny Manziel were household names, and even Alabama itself has used combinations of both under Nick Saban. The blame game isn’t just ridiculous; it’s blinding.