Bielema, Malzahn mend fences

HOOVER, Ala. -- Who can forget Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn, a pair of first-year coaches in the SEC, taking shots at one another during last year's media days?

Bielema's first of several run-ins with the Auburn coach ignited around the Arkansas coach's concerns for player safety in a no-huddle, hurry-up system and led to a back-and-forth public banter between him and Malzahn throughout the 2013 season.

It's now Year 2 for both coaches. They have talked on the phone a few times since last July, and though there hasn't been much talk about player safety, there's a new level of respect between them.

"We do have conversations within the room as SEC coaches that are very respectful and very true," Bielema said Wednesday. "I think he doesn't hold anything back. I don't hold anything back. I have a tremendous respect for him and his staff and what they did. I think it's a tool to motivate my group right now.

"I can't say that we're breaking bread together and going to dinner when we can, but I'm not throwing bread at him and rocks and everything else."

Bielema initially proposed various rule changes in the spring of 2013 that would slow down no-huddle offenses in an effort to promote player safety. Malzahn's thoughts when he heard it? He thought it was a joke.

"As far as healthy 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," he said.

Bielema wasn't joking, though.

"I'm not a comedian," he later said. "You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that's my fault. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in whether I'm on offense or defense."

The Malzahn-Bielema exchange was followed by another bit of banter between the Arkansas coach and another Auburn coach in August following an injury to Arkansas tight end Austin Tate. It continued in October with Bielema's complaint against the Tigers' coaching staff as a result of game video Auburn shared with the Razorbacks, footage Bielema said painted a less-than-complete picture of the Tigers' plays.

"I go over in detail our players, our coaches, our media in-house and, of course, how we release information," Bielema said at the time. "I forgot to review this with the Auburn staff."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.