War Eagle Extra

Nick Saban steps into controversy on disciplining players, Bret Bielema takes shot at rivals over same issue

One of the continuing storylines at SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel this week is the fallout from an ugly offseason.

The conference has a number of programs with players facing discipline issues from cases of domestic violence to drug charges.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spent Monday morning explaining why four players who were arrested on drug charges in April weren’t going to miss any playing time.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart had to spend a portion of his first appearance at SEC Media Days talking about the seven players arrested since he took over the job in late December.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen faced repeated questions about the university’s decision to admit five-star defensive line recruit Jeffery Simmons. Simmons was caught on camera hitting a woman on the ground.

The list includes Alabama — Alabama’s Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones were arrested on weapon and drug charges — and Tennessee — the football program is part of a Title IX lawsuit filed against the university over cases of sexual assault.

Not ever program has a cloud hanging over it, a point Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was happy to make when he stepped to the podium Wednesday.

“You don’t have to ask me if I’m going to suspend anyone for our first game,” Bielema said. “It doesn’t even come up in our program.”

Bielema explained his approach to decreasing the number of discipline issues at Arkansas, relating it back to advice he received from his former coach at Iowa Hayden Fry.

“I learned a very valuable lesson from Coach Fry, and he always said you recruit your own problems. When we were recruiting, I was going down to recruit in certain areas,” Bielema said. “I had Chicago, Minnesota, South Florida, and he would always remind me of that, Bret, you recruit your own problem problems, you recruit your own problems, and I've always taken that to heart but I have taken into account we still have a roster in the senior class are ones that I didn't recruit, they've been great, great. It's a methodology.”

The Arkansas coach’s comments came while Nick Saban was arguing with Paul Finebaum on SEC Network about the coach’s decision not to suspend Robinson and Hootie.

“I don’t really care about answering the critics because I’m going to do what is right for the players,” Saban said. “If the players really did anything that wrong they would have got charged with something. There weren’t charges brought against these guys. Do we condone the behavior? No, but you are innocent until proven guilty in this country regardless of whether you get convicted in the media or not.”

The two had a heated exchange off-camera during a commercial break providing an interesting backdrop for Bielema’s players answering questions from reporters in the main ballroom. When the program returned the break, Finebaum said it was the angriest he’s ever seen Saban.