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July 20, 2013

Pressure’s on for new SEC skippers

HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spent part of his first turn at Southeastern Conference media days calling concerns about the hurry-up offense causing more injuries “a joke.”

A few hours later, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema delivered a rebuttal. He’s not a comedian, he said. He just wants “normal American football.”

The coaching churn was heavy in the SEC during the offseason and now four new faces make their debut this fall. Bielema, Malzahn, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Tennessee’s Butch Jones inherit vastly different circumstances at their respective schools and have different styles, but all will be judged by the same stark standard: wins and losses in the cutthroat conference.

The SEC is the land of big egos, big stadiums and even bigger football budgets, and the four coaches — who have agreed to contracts worth about a combined $60 million — have quickly tried to mark their territory.

The Bielema vs. Malzahn dustup was a good example. Those two teams will meet on Nov. 2.

Bielema, 43, might be the SEC’s most intriguing hire. The Razorbacks pried him away from Wisconsin after a successful seven-year run with the Badgers.

His power offense is almost a complete 180 from former coach Bobby Petrino’s air-it-out philosophy and he has virtually no experience recruiting in the areas that are normally fertile for the Razorbacks, like Texas and Oklahoma.

But as his passionate display at media days showed, Bielema will not be intimidated.

“This team has all the ingredients as a head coach that can make teams win,” Bielema said. “I haven’t been through an SEC schedule, through the stadiums, I haven’t been through an away game schedule quite like the one we face. I do know this: We have a team that’s very hungry, a group of coaches that are very gifted, we have a staff that is very talented and a lot of years to back that up.”

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