Georgia’s new offensive coordinator is hardly a stranger. Mike Bobo played quarterback for the Bulldogs back in the 1990s. He worked on Mark Richt’s coaching staff for more than a decade, including a lengthy stint calling the plays.
Despite all that familiarity, Bobo might be under more scrutiny than anyone associated with the two-time defending national champs. His task is straightforward yet daunting: Keep Georgia’s offense rolling toward an unprecedented third straight title.
“We know this job has pressure,” Bobo said after practice Thursday. “I’ve sat in this chair and felt those pressures, but I’m older and I think I have more experience now to handle those pressures and focus on our football team.”
He returned to his alma last year in a behind-the-scenes analyst role. When Todd Monken left the Bulldogs to take the same position with the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, Bobo was a logical choice to succeed him.
But there’s quite a standard to maintain.
In Monken’s last game running the offense, Georgia routed TCU 65-7 for the national championship.
“Each year, you try to figure out your identity as an offense,” Bobo said. “Whether I was sitting here as the coordinator or Coach Monken came back, you’ve got to figure out what pieces of the puzzle fits to what things that we did well last year and what we’re going to have to change.”
This is a bit of a do-over for the 49-year-old Bobo, whose career hit some major roadblocks after he left Georgia in 2014 to take his first head coaching job at Colorado State.
Bobo went 28-35 with the Rams before he was cut loose after five seasons. He moved on to South Carolina, accepting the offensive coordinator job under fellow Georgia alum Will Muschamp, but Muschamp didn’t even last the season. After the Gamecocks lost the final three games with Bobo as interim coach, it was time to move on again. He became the offensive coordinator for new Auburn coach Bryan Harsin, but that turned out to be another one-and-done when the embattled Harsin fired Bobo shortly after a four-overtime loss to Alabama.
“For whatever reason, those things didn’t work out, and when those things don’t work out, you look at yourself in the mirror,” Bobo said. “You don’t point fingers or make excuses.”
He’s trying to pass on that resiliency to his offensive unit.
“I tell the players that there will always be moments where we have failures,” Bobo said. “You keep getting yourself back up on your feet, because what’s on the other side of failure is success.”
Bobo’s success as Georgia’s offensive coordinator, the sequel, will likely come down to how well the quarterback plays.
He won’t have Stetson Bennett, the former walk-on-turned-Heisman Trophy finalist who improbably guided the Bulldogs to those back-to-back titles. Bennett’s backup, Carson Beck, appears to have the inside track to the starting job, but third-year sophomore Brock Vandagriff is still in the mix with the season opener against Tennessee-Martin about three weeks away.
“We were very fortunate to have Todd the time he was here, the growth he allowed us to make, the confidence he exuded with the players,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Obviously, the quarterback is a major, major part of that, and we had really good quarterback play last year. A lot of times your offense is predicated off your quarterback play, so how well will our quarterback play? That’s the question.”
But Smart is confident that the transition from Monken to Bobo will be a smooth one. There were no other changes to the offensive staff, and one of the things Bobo learned from his predecessor was leaning heavily on all that knowledge in the coaching room.
“I think a lot of people look at offensive coordinator as an island and this guy that sits over there and comes up with this stuff himself,” Smart said. “Well, they have 15, 20 meetings a week … where each coach gives a presentation of ideas or things they can do offensively, and he gets to sit back and be the decision maker on what’s in and what’s not.”
In addition to relying heaving on input from the other offensive coaches, Bobo expects to adopt many of the shifting and motion formations that were a big part of Monken’s scheme. The Bulldogs were adept at creating mismatches that made things especially tough on the defense.
“Mike is a tremendous coach,” said Dell McGee, who is in charge of Georgia’s running backs. “He was a sponge under Coach Monken, and he is going to do a tremendous job for us. I think the way we are geared and structured under Coach Smart, we didn’t change a lot from a philosophy standpoint. We are still status quo on what we are going to do.”
Bobo believes he’s an improved version of the coordinator who left Georgia nearly a decade ago to run his own program.
His time as a head coach didn’t work out, but it served him well.
“When you’ve sat in that chair as a head coach, you know everything that the head coach is dealing with,” he said. “Before, you wondered why the head coach might do something or why we’re not doing this. You don’t know what all a head coach has to balance. I think it makes you a better assistant.”