Smart lays out plan, Shaw new rules on Day 2

Matt Lowe

July 13, 2016 at 12:50 am.

Jul 12, 2016; Hoover, AL, USA; Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel. Photo Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Jul 12, 2016; Hoover, AL, USA; Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to the media during SEC Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-The Wynfrey Hotel. Photo Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was the most impressive of the four coaches that represented their teams at SEC Media Days on Tuesday, but there was no denying that league coordinator of football officials Steve Shaw’s early-morning presentation on added rules changes supplied the most food for thought.

Smart spent 11 years as an assistant (nine at Alabama, one at LSU and one with the Miami Dolphins) working — and learning — from Nick Saban before he landed his dream job at his alma mater. And his first-ever visit to Hoover as a head coach couldn’t have gone any smoother considering he played the part of a calm, cool, collected point man for a program that ranks second only to the Crimson Tide in wins in the league over the last four seasons (40-13 overall; 23-9 in the SEC compared to Alabama’s 50-6, 28-4 mark).

He opened his first Media Days as UGA’s lead man by thanking the media (imagine that?) for the job it does covering the conference. He also reiterated the importance of Commissioner Greg Sankey’s conference motto: “It just means more.”

But more importantly, Smart laid out his thought process of how he went about assembling a staff and his plan for future success.

“In December, I was given an opportunity of a lifetime, and I haven’t slowed down since,” Smart said. “My first objective was to assemble a great staff. Every guy that I hired had been in an SEC school in some capacity. I thought that was important. A lot of NFL experience on our staff. I thought that was important.

“The next objective for us, after assembling the staff, was setting the tone in the strength and conditioning program. We were able to hire Scott Sinclair from Marshall, and he hired a great staff. And those guys are really driving our players and getting great gains in the strength and conditioning program.

“Our student-athletes in Georgia have responded well to the new expectations. We’ve driven them in the weight room. We have a mantra now of “Attack Today,” ATD. And they’ve done that every day, day in and day out. These kids have come to work, and they’ve worked hard in the weight room. They’ve responded well to Coach Sinclair’s staff and our coaching staff being in there.”

The new Georgia coach followed that up by saying: “I really think, in order to push kids and coach kids the way we want to coach them, we’ve got to have their trust. It takes quality time, it takes being truly invested in them as a person to earn that trust, and our staff has made that a top priority to spend that quality time with our players so we can have their trust and make great demands on them to be great student-athletes at the University of Georgia.”

Smart will have a young team to operate with when his Bulldogs open the season against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on September 3. And, as it stands heading into fall camp, his top two tailbacks, Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, may still be in recovery mode.

Michel broke his left forearm in an ATV accident in early July, and Chubb is still recuperating from a horrific knee injury he suffered in a 38-31 loss to Tennessee last year. Throw in the fact that the Bulldogs may also start true freshman Jacob Eason at quarterback, and there could be a lot of inexperience in Georgia’s backfield when the Smart era officially gets rolling against a capable Tar Heels bunch.

“Sixty-three percent of our team is going to be sophomores or less, so we’ve got a young team,” Smart said.  “We’re excited and honored to be part of the Chick-fil-A kickoff game. We get to play the divisional ACC champs in UNC. Coach (Larry) Fedora does an outstanding job with his program. Always has.”

Shaw sets tone

The morning cup of coffee on Day 2 was accompanied by an experimental and several new rule implementations presented by SEC head of officials Steve Shaw.

While most new rules were focused on the initiative to continue to improve player safety, an intriguing new experimental instant replay rule that will take place in 2016 reiterates the need to “get it right.”

When I say get it right, I mean the SEC’s determination to give its officials every resource available to make the correct call on the field.

In addition to replacing old replay equipment with a new Quad system, which will allow officials to see every angle of replay at a faster speed, the league has been working on a video center at the conference’s home office in Birmingham that will house three replay officials.

Those officials will have live feeds and communications to the officials in the field at every venue in which there is a game. If there is a stoppage and a call for a replay, the three in Birmingham will collaborate, along with the replay official on the field at the particular game that signaled for the replay, to come to a conclusion. The replay official in the field will then be the final say in the call on the field.

“Now, talking about the stadium, there’s absolutely — other than the technology added, there’s no change there,” Shaw explained. “The replay official in the stadium will still be the primary person to make the final determination of any overturn or not. They will also be primarily to stop the game. But with that collaborative communications, now, when we go into a stop, we’ll be able to talk together and ultimately what we believe is come up with the right answer through that collaborative process.

“The expectations that we have are really twofold,” Shaw added. “Number one is consistency. You know, if you have a targeting foul in an early game on a day, you want the same outcome in the targeting foul in the last game of the day or from September to November. We have to have that consistency in replay.

“The second goal is to avoid any what I call incorrect outcomes. We can’t live with incorrect outcomes. So, I think through this process we’ll do that.

“Now, will we add more time to the process? The expectation is no, but we’re going to have to learn. Last year our average replay stop was 1:21. This is not about time, it is not about speed, it’s about getting it right. But the expectation is that we will not add time to the process. And we’ve averaged — last year we averaged about two stops per game, so if we can hold that time consistent, I don’t think fans will even know that process is going on.

“But let me tell you what this thing is not, and this is very important. What this is not, it is not perfection. Okay? Perfection is a difficult thing to define in officiating. There are gray plays. I can tell you, I can sit our 14 coaches at a table, put a play up, and there are some great plays that we wouldn’t get agreement at that table. So it’s not about perfection, but it is about consistency and avoiding any incorrect outcomes.”

*Rewinding to the player safety issue;  last year the conference experimented with a medical observer, a situation where instant replay is allowed to stop a game at the request of the appointed observer to make sure a player isn’t injured — which only happened one time a year ago. It is now a rule.

“So only one time?” Shaw asked the media in attendance. “Well, if that was your son, it would have been worth it?”

He added: “But the big value in this, what we got from the feedback of the medical personnel, was the dialogue with the medical observer. Because the medical observer has the video, they can see hits. They can see impacts and they can pass information to our medical people about what happened on a specific play to help them diagnose and get a player back as soon as possible.

“So, we’ve really gotten a lot of benefit there and we will continue that and we’ll have a neutral medical observer at every game at an SEC venue. So now that is an absolute rule.”

*On targeting fouls, Shaw had this to say: “There’s no change to our officials on the field. The rule book says when in question, it’s a targeting foul. It’s not Shaw, it’s not anybody else. The rule book says when in question, it’s a targeting foul. And if it’s close, we expect our guys to get the marker on the ground on the field.”

Shaw added: “I’m really excited about the broadened authority that replay will have, and the first part of this is now the replay official can create a targeting foul from the booth. And now it has to be an egregious situation. The first thing you say, oh, no, replay. Well, we went through all of last year, all of our video, and we actually had two plays for the season, two plays that we feel like the replay official would have come in.”

*Targeting will be in play on a sliding ball carrier: “So, really the change here is now by rule definition a sliding ball carrier — and they’ve got to slide feet first, and the slide starts when they obviously give themselves up,” Shaw said. “But once they’ve obviously given themself up, sliding feet first, they become a defenseless player.

“What does that mean? Why is that important? Well, even though before it could have been a late hit if he was down, but now because he’s defenseless as a sliding ball carrier, if there’s forcible contact to the head or neck area, it now converts to a targeting foul.

“The opportunity here for defenders is when you see that player go into a slide, pull up, stay away from his head, and hopefully there’s a player change of behavior there that helps us. Again, a player safety-type situation.”

*Coaches will have one extended timeout per half. Shaw explained: “Before in a game — every one of our games are on TV now. If all the TV timeouts had been exhausted and a team called timeout, they would automatically — you see our referee signal 30-second timeout. Well, the coaches talked, and they said sometimes TV finish late in the game, but we really need to talk strategy, and a 30-second timeout is very difficult to do that.

“So now once per half the head coach can extend. And this is the signal you’ll use when communicating with the officials. If he calls a timeout and TV is completed and it would have been a 30-second timeout, he can now extend it to a full team timeout so he can discuss strategy with his team.

“The other thing I’ll mention, during extra periods, during overtime, you don’t carry overtime timeouts, but each team gets one timeout per overtime period, and that one the coach can decide if he wants to extend it to a full team timeout.”

*Unsportsmanlike conduct on a coach: Two unsportsmanlike penalties on a specific coach, whether it be a head or an assistant, will result in an automatic ejection. Last year the league administered 16 sideline warnings and had only three 15-yard penalties (two came on former Auburn assistant Will Muschamp in the 2015 Iron Bowl).

*Shaw on blocking below the waist: “Where you could block low is now moving from the eight yards wide which would include the tight end to now the tackle box. So those people in the tackle box can block below the waist until the ball leaves that tackle box. And a player in the backfield that’s lined up stationary there can block below the waist but can’t leave it and come back in and block. That eliminates the H-back kind of looping around and blocking around. Another change to make the game safer.”

*Tripping: Any form of tripping will be a penalty. No more whipping across the shin to bring a ball carrier down.  No tripping whatsoever will be allowed.

*If there’s a penalty on team ahead with less than two minutes remaining the clock will start on the snap. Said Shaw: “If there’s a foul by the team ahead in the score, some parameters around it, but the clock will start on the snap. And that really is a good change, because before — and we used like the last five minutes of the half where the referee kind of has his discretion, but now in the last two minutes it’s set by rule, and so that’s good.”

*Some facts on pace of play and substitutions: After successfully adding an eighth official to every crew, the results were positive for the league according to Shaw. “We added an eighth official. I mentioned that up front. Really very successful. We managed the game, the up tempo very well, but everybody’s fear was we’re going add this guy, a lot more penalties in the game, right? Well, the Delta year over year — in 2014 we had 12.96 fouls per game. Last year, 13.0. So the Delta was an 0.04 increase in fouls. So we helped manage preventive officiating, and I think all of that was good.”

*Shaw on the unsportsmanlike penalties drop as a results on improved safety methods: “I think we made good progress there again. We had on average less than one per game in the SEC last year. So we need to continue that trend. I know a few years ago we made some changes there. We thought we were ruining the game. But I think we made the game better. We don’t see these great demonstrations as a guy is running for a touchdown. So I think that’s been good.”