By Robert Carter
North Jefferson News
HOOVER — The annual gathering of sports writers, television crews, sports-talk radio shows and assorted Internet bloggers and ranters has become almost as much of a spectacle as college football itself.
The 2013 edition of Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Riverchase Galleria’s Hyatt Regency Wynfrey Hotel drew more than 1,200 media representatives — more than the media day held before the Super Bowl — with an extra helping of ESPN, which had just signed on to run the new SEC Network cable channel that begins in August.
Somewhere in the midst of the three-ring circus, the head coaches of the 14 teams in the SEC made their way to the podium for questioning, with particular attention paid to the host state’s two representatives: Alabama’s Nick Saban, on a quest for a third straight BCS championship and fourth in five years; and Gus Malzahn, returning to Auburn to right the Tigers’ listing ship.
With crystal footballs accumulating in the Crimson Tide trophy case, the inevitable question to Saban arose about comparisons to legendary Tide coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Saban bristled at the question, but only slightly.
“I don’t think I have any reason that anybody should do that,” Saban said. “I think Bear Bryant is probably the greatest coach in college football in terms of what he accomplished, what his legacy is.
“I think the biggest thing that impacts me is how many peoples’ lives he affected in a positive way, players that played for him, because they all come back and say how he affected their life.”
Malzahn was asked about the up-tempo offensive scheme he has planned for the Tigers, a scheme which has come under criticism from some of his fellow coaches for possible safety issues on the defensive side.
“When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke,” Malzahn said on Wednesday. “As far as health or safety issues, that’s like saying the defense shouldn’t blitz after a first down because they’re a little fatigued and there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield.”
Saban wasn’t amused when asked about Malzahn’s response on Thursday.
“It's not a joke to me. It’s something that I really feel strongly about,” Saban said. “If you want to play hurry-up offense, play it. I’ll play you, I don’t care. But it doesn’t mean that I cannot try to protect my players offensively and defensively. I have just as many offensive players as I have defensive players. That's the facts.”
Malzahn’s primary offense will be play-acton with two backs “that will run our offense at a two-minute pace the entire game. Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football.”
But the Auburn coach still hasn’t settled on a quarterback to run that hurry-up offense.
“We don’t know who our quarterback is,” Malzahn said. “We have four guys. Going to give them an equal shot, figure out who gives us the best chance of winning.”