SEC coaches defend Urban Meyer's decision to leave Tim Tebow in the game
While the debate continues over whether Florida quarterback Tim Tebow should already have been out of the game when he was injured against Kentucky last week, coaches of several of the Gators' biggest SEC rivals defended Florida coach Urban Meyer on Wednesday, saying they don't see a problem with Tebow or other starters still being on the field with a 24-point lead.
With 3:57 remaining in the third quarter and the Gators leading 31-7, Tebow was sacked and suffered a concussion when he hit the back of his head on teammate Marcus Gilbert's knee as he fell to the ground.
In the ensuing days, Meyer has been questioned several times about why he hadn't taken Tebow out of the game at that point. Some of his colleagues say they understand that decision.
"I think obviously this is about whether Tim Tebow should have been in the game or shouldn't have been in the game, but 31-7 in the third quarter is not a game that's out of reach,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "One score and an onside kick and that team's right back in the game. Basically, we didn’t take our starters out (last week) until we were ahead of Arkansas 35-7 with about halfway through the fourth quarter.''
Saban noted every situation is different, and coaches often time have a tough time deciding when the time is right to pull starters, but said making that decision with the quarterback is complicated.
"Quarterback is a little bit more difficult position because it’s important to get the next guy experience, but it’s also the position that makes all the decisions in the game and a few bad ones (decisions) can really let the other team back in the game,'' he said. "So I certainly wouldn’t have any issue with the way that was managed at Florida.''
For LSU coach Les Miles, the lesson about starters vs. backups was learned early from one of the legends of the game, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
"I can remember a hundred years ago when I was an assistant coach on Schembechler’s staff and I said 'Boy this is the time we need to substitute Bo', and he said “Shut up.’’ He said we keep our starters in there and fight like hell to the end. And I didn’t think that he had it exactly right, and then as a head coach I think back on some of those things and I say you know what? He’s exactly right. You finish this thing right.
Miles said a head coach has to make the best decision for his team, players and what he feels is best to win the game.
"It’s always a tough thing,'' Miles said. "The main thing is you want to finish the game in solid, solid fashion how you started it. It’s one where the coach weighs the responsibility of getting the starters out with the responsibility of finishing this game well and executing to the end.''
Former UF coach and current South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier noted that he always tried to make sure backup players were rewarded with an opportunity to play, if possible, but not at the risk of losing the game.
"Sometimes you worry about whether a guy should be in there when it’s all over with,'' Spurrier said. "But on the other side, you can’t be worried about injuries all the time. You’ve got to let your guys play. But we always made sure that it was well in control before we started taking them out.''
Florida's drive began with 7:34 remaining in the quarter and Tebow was injured on a 3rd-and-8 at Kentucky's 11-yard line.
Meyer said he and his staff constantly evaluate when it's appropriate to take starters out of the game, and most likely Tebow would have come out at the end of that offensive series against Kentucky.
"We always discuss it as a staff, but ultimately it's my call,'' he said. "If we go in and score right there, I think we do yank him out of the game, and yank Maurkice Pouncey who had a shoulder injury. But you also want to make sure you secure the game. . . We didn’t feel, when you’re a three-score game, you need to make sure you take care of your business. Three scores in college football these days – that’s something you’ve got to close the game out.''