Clemson's Dabo Swinney, Chad Morris Know 'Saban Rule' Debate Isn't Over

Greg Wallace@gc_wallaceFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2014

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CLEMSON, S.C.—Chad Morris had more pressing obligations Wednesday afternoon, so the news caught him a bit by surprise.

Shortly after Clemson’s first spring practice of 2014 wrapped up, a reporter told Morris, Clemson’s high-powered offensive coordinator, that the NCAA Football Rules Oversight committee had tabled the “tempo rule” for 2014, meaning that it would not be implemented this season.

“So it’s not going to be a five-yard penalty for going too fast?” Morris quipped. “It’s not going to be a delay of game?”

Not this year, which means Morris and other tempo aficionados can rest easy. Well, at least for now.

The "fast pace" debate is done for this year, but don’t look for it to fade away completely.

Tabling the issue doesn’t remove it from the conversation. It only allows both sides to prepare studies on whether or not high-tempo offenses truly impact player safety.

“I guess they’ll study it for a year to see what the impact is,” Morris said. “It’s a whole impasse, a whole ‘nother issue.”

That issue has divided college football for the last month, with several prominent coaches including Alabama’s Nick Saban and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema (both of whom run power-based, clock-chewing offenses) speaking out in favor of the rule and other coaches of high-tempo schemes like Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin and Morris’ boss, Dabo Swinney, speaking out against it.

Rodriguez had the most creative response, unveiling a video parody of the '90s action classic Speed to frame the issue in a hilarious, but effective manner.

Saban deployed a curious analogy to, comparing up-tempo offenses and the risk of injuries to the risk of cancer in those who smoke cigarettes.

“The fastball guys say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic,” Saban said. “What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’ ”

Alabama coach Nick Saban was a major proponent of the "tempo rule" now tabled by the NCAA.
Alabama coach Nick Saban was a major proponent of the "tempo rule" now tabled by the NCAA.Rusty Costanza/Associated Press

Swinney said he “does not think it’s a safety risk” to have an up-tempo offense. Clemson’s fortunes have been revitalized by Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle scheme. Since his arrival in 2011, the Tigers have gone 32-8, putting together three consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1987-90 and consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in program history.

In 2013, the Tigers averaged 40.2 points per game while running 79.8 plays per game. By contrast, Alabama averaged 38.2 points per game while running 63.5 plays per game, a striking difference.

“I just think there’s an agenda there,” Swinney said. “Where does it stop? Are we going to say if a guy motions across, he can’t stand still until the defense gets re-set? Where do these things stop? Our offensive guys are taking more snaps than our defensive guys. The truth of the matter is, it’s not very often that we snap the ball inside 10 seconds, but there are times when we want to do it. It’s a basic part of our offense.”

And don’t get Swinney started on the idea that the rule would be relaxed in the final two minutes of each half.

“So it’s about player safety, but we wouldn’t have it in the final two minutes?” he said. “Do we not care about our players in the final two minutes? Sometimes you’re down three touchdowns with four minutes left. You want to go.”

In Swinney’s eyes, the debate isn’t about player safety, but rewarding those teams who are physically fit and mentally tough.

“Part of winning football games is strength and conditioning, mental toughness,” he said. “We have guys in shape because we train that way. We’re mentally tough because we practice that way. We have guys playing a bunch of snaps while defensive guys are rolling in and out. UCLA has a guy that plays both ways. Is that a player safety issue? I just don’t buy into that.”

Swinney feels the game is slow enough as is.

“This game is really kind of slow,” he said. “We must have 22 TV timeouts most every single game, plus we get three to use. They may as well just give everyone another timeout.”

Morris said news of the rule “was sprung on everybody,” adding that “there were some agendas out there, that we all know.”

Chad Morris' fast-paced offense has revitalized Clemson's program.
Chad Morris' fast-paced offense has revitalized Clemson's program.RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

He and Swinney talked several times about the issue and said it was a major worry for his fast-paced system.

“Had it not been the concern,” Morris said, “you wouldn’t have seen as many head coaches rally as quickly as they did for this.”

For now, the debate will rest.

But tabling the tempo rule will give both camps a chance to hone their arguments for next winter, when the rule could come back in a different form.

Hurry-up supporters won a skirmish this week, but the fight isn’t over.

“We have a great game,” Swinney said. “It’s exciting. To have to hurry up, sit there and wait to snap the ball…I don’t see it as something that should be part of our game.”


*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes for this article were obtained directly by the author.

*Connect with Greg on Twitter @gc_wallace