College football players aren’t the only ones who will be reporting for fall camp soon.
SEC officials have their own gathering to get ready for the season next week in Birmingham.
A point of emphasis for officials in the conference and nationwide is to keep coaches from going too far – literally – when arguing a call.
“We have talked to every coach about it,” said Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator of officials. “If a coach comes out onto the field of play, so in the green grass, and protests an officiating decision, it’s an automatic unsportsmanlike conduct foul.”
Going onto the field of play to make a case will draw a penalty now instead of a warning under NCAA rules.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart got a warning last year at Kentucky before the Bulldogs drew a penalty after the second time.
“Certainly all us coaches have gotten our assignments; our coaches are going to hang on to us and make sure we don’t go across that line,” Smart said.
The one hanging onto Smart on the Georgia sideline is Scott Sinclair, the Bulldogs’ director of strength and conditioning, who has grabbed Smart by a belt loop or back of a jacket to pull him toward the sideline.
“We’ve always had a ‘get-back coach,’” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And we think we need more than one maybe. But, look, I think some of the things that’s happened in college football should not be tolerated.”
Arkansas’ Bret Bielema admitted that he was used as an example in the SEC spring meetings for going overboard when he went onto the field in a loss to Alabama last season.
“Steve Shaw showed us a lot of examples of coaches going all of the way out to the hashmark,” Saban said. “And I think those coaches should have been penalized. And if those coaches were penalized, and we didn’t have sort of that kind of tolerance for that kind of behavior, maybe we wouldn’t need a rule like this that is really sort of a sledgehammer.”
Coaches will have to learn to live with blowing their top on the sideline and not taking it onto the field.
“In the past you would see an official walk a coach back to the sideline in an attempt to defuse the situation,” Dennis Hennigan, ACC supervisor of officials, told reporters last week. “That will not occur in 2017. Coach steps on to the field to object to a call, there will be a flag thrown, and it will be a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.”
Coaches on the field to signal plays won’t be affected, he said.
“The purpose of this rule is not to try to eliminate emotional reaction of coaches in the heat of the moment,” Hennigan said. “Our coaches are passionate. It’s an emotional game, and we expect them to react emotionally. All we want is for that to occur on the sideline and to leave the field of play to the players and to the officials.”
Both Smart and Saban worry about a tight game being swung by a penalty on a coach arguing on the field.
“I hope that this is not a circumstance and situation that affects a game in the fall, because it is pretty restrictive. But it is what it is,” Saban said. “It’s the same for everybody. We’re going to do the best we can to manage it. … I have a tremendous amount of respect for the way those guys have treated me in the past. And I’m hopeful that I can be respectful enough of them not to ever put them in this position, or any of our coaches put them in a position, where they have to penalize us … and penalize our team, for not being able to behave properly on the sidelines.”
Saban and Smart can be two of the more expressive coaches on the sidelines.
Saban chewed out then offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin during a game last season. Smart has been known to go airborne during the heat of a game, which is fine as long as his feet don’t carry him too far on the field.
“I’m obviously concerned about it at a critical time, but it is the rule, and we follow the rules,” Smart said. “And I think as head coaches we got to set a good example, and I think that’s what the rules are in place for. It would be a good job, challenging job to manage that, especially at critical times in the game. You’d hate to see a game decided by something like that. But it’s the rule. We’ve been briefed on it, and we all got to adhere to it.”
Florida’s Jim McElwain and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp also can get fired up on the sidelines.
“We do have a get-back coach and I think (AD Ray) Tanner) is going to put another one on payroll,” Muschamp said. “He’s allowed to tackle.”
Muschamp joked he’s “found a loophole” in that it “has to be both feet out of the white,” on the sideline.
Shaw said the intent isn’t about penalizing coaches.
“We’re doing this to change the coach’s behavior, keep them in the team area, in the white, if they want to have a discussion with our officials,” he said. “That will be a pretty big change, but I think our hope is our coaches adjust, and it becomes a nonissue.”