While those who prefer to look on the bright side might view offensive coordinator Mike Bobo’s departure from UGA for the head coaching job at Colorado State as an opportunity for Mark Richt and Greg McGarity to make an exciting big-name hire, the more cautious among us see what a major challenge is presented by the loss of the record-setting playcaller, top-notch quarterbacks coach and ace recruiter.
Since taking over the playcalling from Richt at the end of the 2006 season and becoming offensive coordinator in 2007, Bobo had grown into one of college football’s foremost offensive tacticians. In 2014 Bobo led a Georgia offense that averaged 41.7 points per game, which ranked eighth nationally, and racked up 454.9 yards of total offense per game.
No, Bobo wasn’t perfect on every call. Sometimes, as in the infamous first-and-dumb play in Columbia, he got too cute when all that was called for was more of the same thing that got you there. Occasionally, he overreacted to injuries by tamping down his high-powered offense too much, as happened last season with the running game and early this season in the passing game. Other times, he would go too conservative as Georgia tried to sit on a lead.
But as a longtime observer of the Dawgs put it, as frustrating as Bobo could be, he went from being frustrating about 50 percent of the time in his early years as playcaller down to 10 percent or less. And over the past couple of seasons he called some brilliant, near perfect games.
There’s no doubt that, amid its defensive ups and downs over the past few seasons, Georgia won some games that it otherwise would have lost because of the quick-strike, never-out-of-it nature of Bobo’s offense.
There was always the minority faction in Bulldogs fandom (disproportionately present in the comments on this blog) that preferred to call him Coach Boo-Boo and blamed him for every misfortune that befell UGA football.
But those folks are about to enter into be-careful-what-you-wish-for territory as Georgia deals with the impact of losing Bobo, who reportedly might take a couple of Bulldogs staffers with him (most notably offensive line coach Will Friend) and whose departure might spook some of the Dawgs’ 2015 recruits (and not just on the offensive side). UGA also wants to make sure it keeps top-ranked quarterback prospect Jacob Eason of the 2016 class on board.
Certainly, no one in the Bulldog Nation should begrudge Bobo making the move to CSU, which not only will pay him nearly a million bucks more than he was making at Georgia, but, if he’s successful, will set him up nicely as a candidate for a future head coaching job back in the SEC (at UGA or elsewhere).
As for replacing Bobo, in the immediate future Richt must decide how to deal with the Belk Bowl. Since the days of his own faceplant trying to put together a UGA coaching staff and call plays for FSU in the 2000 BCS championship game, head coaches are mostly not inclined to have a lame duck coordinator coach in a bowl game. Considering no one else on the staff has recent experience calling plays, the likelihood is that, at least for the game against Louisville, Richt himself will run the offense.
Beyond that, he has three broad options: resume calling the plays on a long-term basis (not very likely); promote Bryan McClendon or one of the other assistants to offensive coordinator and hire a new quarterbacks coach to also call plays; or, the most likely scenario, hire an experienced playcaller whose offensive sensibilities jibe fairly closely with his own.
Considering UGA’s tightfisted reputation, you might think Georgia would be hard-pressed to afford a comparable replacement for Bobo, but the hiring of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt away from national champ FSU last year (for considerably more than Bobo was making on the offensive side) shows McGarity is capable of loosening the purse strings enough when he deems it necessary. (Chances are McGarity also might have to pony up some more money for Georgia to hold on to Pruitt.)
Richt and McGarity were widely hailed for hitting a home run with Pruitt’s hire, but getting lightning to strike like that in successive seasons might require even more bucks and a bit of luck.
Among those experienced signalcallers already available, former Bama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is considered an early favorite by many. Or Richt might again look to his old home, FSU, and try to lure away one of the Seminoles’ co-offensive coordinators: Lawrence Dawsey (who also coaches wide receivers and is known for his recruiting prowess) or Randy Sanders (who also coaches quarterbacks and has coordinated offenses at Tennessee and Kentucky).
There’s always the possibility, of course, that Richt might decide to take a page out of Nick Saban’s book and go for an unlikely high-profile hire, as Bama did last year when it installed former Tennessee/Southern Cal head coach Lane Kiffin as offensive coordinator in a move that looked like a mixing of oil and water but ended up working well for the Tide this season. Knowing UGA, I’d say this approach is a longshot.
Whatever direction Richt decides to go in, there’s no way the departure of a staff fixture and top recruiter like Bobo doesn’t shake up Georgia’s football program in a major way.
In fact, it could wind up being the biggest challenge Georgia’s head coach has faced as he begins his 15th season in Athens.
What do you think? Feel free to share your own views on which direction you’d like to see UGA go in replacing Bobo.
I’ll be back this weekend to answer some Junkyard Mail. In the meantime, I hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season and wish all of the Bulldog Nation a Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.