FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema issued a statement Friday night acknowledging his comments in Searcy regarding a recently deceased California football player were “unintentionally hurtful.”
Bielema referenced Ted Agu, who died during a team training run earlier this month, in response to a question about an NCAA Football Rules Committee proposal aimed at slowing down up-tempo offenses before addressing the White County Razorback Club in Searcy on Thursday night. His statement Friday came minutes after Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour called the remarks “beyond inappropriate.”
“It was brought to my attention that remarks I made yesterday evening while discussing a proposed rule change were unintentionally hurtful,” Bielema said in his statement. “I am very passionate, as we all are, about the serious nature of protecting the well-being of student-athletes. Earlier today I was interviewed by Andy Staples to explain my stance on the proposed rule. In my press conference last night, I referenced information about the tragic loss of a life of a student-athlete. My comments were intended to bring awareness to player safety and instead they have caused unintended hurt. As a head coach who works with young individuals every day, the passing of Ted Agu is a reminder to us all how short and precious life is.
“I would like to extend my deepest condolences and sympathy to the Agu family, Coach Sonny Dykes and to the University of California family.”
Bielema offered his first public response to the recent proposal, which will be voted on by the Rules Oversight Committee on March 6. The proposal would not allow teams to snap the ball before the 29-second mark on the 40-second play clock.
Bielema has long been a vocal supporter of slowing down hurry-up, no-huddle offenses, insisting player safety is the driving force behind his stance. He used Agu’s death to try to make his point in Searcy on Thursday night.
Bielema said Agu had sickle cell trail. He said Bielema said “half a dozen” of his current players have sickle cell trait as well.
“If one of those players is on the field for me, I have no timeouts, I have no way to stop the game and he raises his hand to come out of the game and I can’t do it, what am I supposed to do?” Bielema said. “What are we supposed to do when we have a player that tells us he’s injured?”
Bielema also was asked for his reaction to critics who believe there’s no hard data to support his stance that no-huddle offenses are dangerous for players.
“Death certificates,” Bielema said in Searcy. “There’s no more I need than that.”
Bielema spoke with Sports Illustrated on Friday morning, believing his comments regarding Agu were taken out of context. He told SI.com’s Andy Staples that he referenced Agu’s death to raise awareness of sickle cell trait.
“The reason I brought up the Cal player is this: We all have sickle cell players,” Bielema told SI.com. “To me, it’s the most scary individual thing we face. There are no signs. There are no indicators. You test every one of your players when they come in. And there are players who come in that have no idea they have it.”
Bielema’s comments have been met with sharp criticism. The most notable came from Barbour, who attended a memorial service for Agu on Friday.
“Bret Bielema’s comments about our Ted Agu are misinformed, ill-advised and beyond insensitive,” Barbour posted to her Twitter page minutes before Bielema responded. “Using the tragic loss of one of our student athletes as a platform to further a personal agenda in a public setting is beyond inappropriate.”
Bielema was not available for further comment Friday night.
Neither was athletic director Jeff Long, who issued a statement on his Twitter page.
“Appreciate @BretBielema clarification today of the intended purpose of his remarks. Losses like Ted Agu are painful and incomprehensible,” Long posted on his page. “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Agu family and Univ of California family. Working with Coach Bielema day in and day out, I’ve seen his sincere passion for the well-being of our student-athletes.”