Bobo – Take 2
After three seasons heading up the Georgia offense, Todd Monken will head back to the NFL. It’s not a huge surprise given 1) Monken’s self-described journeyman status and 2) the interest with which he pursued NFL interviews over the past month. “I’m a vagabond,” Monken admitted in a pre-Peach Bowl interview that sounded almost like […]
After three seasons heading up the Georgia offense, Todd Monken will head back to the NFL. It’s not a huge surprise given 1) Monken’s self-described journeyman status and 2) the interest with which he pursued NFL interviews over the past month. “I’m a vagabond,” Monken admitted in a pre-Peach Bowl interview that sounded almost like a farewell. He was also blunt about the nature of the job. “This is a business,” Monken said. That wasn’t said with a tone of dissatisfaction; it’s the reality for the majority of college coaches who come into their jobs without particularly strong ties to the school. Athens can get its hooks into you especially if it’s your last stop on the coaching carousel – just ask Georgia’s former head coaches. But even the appeal of Athens and the success of the Georgia program wasn’t enough to tie down a professional vagabond used to moving on to new opportunities.
Monken came to Athens in 2020 with a clear mandate to bring Georgia’s offense up to par with those of other national contenders. Disappointing postseason losses in 2018 and especially 2019 showed how far Georgia had to go relative to the teams it considered its peers. Record-setting offenses churning out top draft picks at LSU and Alabama suggested a new approach was necessary if Georgia hoped to break through. Monken began his renovation in the most difficult of circumstances. His first two options at quarterback washed out. The transfer hoped to be Georgia’s answer to the Heisman winners at LSU and Alabama couldn’t shake injury. The leading rusher was coming off two knee surgeries, and the receiving corps wasn’t especially deep. Oh – the installation of this new offense had to take place during a pandemic with no spring practice.
Georgia didn’t break through in 2020, but Monken showed flexibility and creativity by designing successful offenses around two very different quarterbacks. He could win with a run-heavy approach as at South Carolina or air it out against Mississippi State. Despite the uncertainty at quarterback that lasted the entire season (and then some), Georgia was able to find some building blocks around which Monken could construct a devastating attack over the next two seasons.
Three years is a fairly standard tenure for a successful high-profile coordinator. Dan Lanning was Georgia’s defensive coordinator for three seasons. It would have been disappointing but not shocking had Monken followed Lanning out of town after the 2021 national title. We know how this works: teams want to hire the coaches of champions, and we want a program that develops its coaching talent as much as it does its players. It was a pleasant development that Monken returned for an encore in 2022. He was not going to be a Georgia lifer.
Kirby Smart understood that reality and wasn’t caught off guard by Monken’s departure. Georgia immediately announced Mike Bobo as Monken’s replacement. Bobo of course served previously as Georgia’s offensive coordinator from 2007–2014 before leaving to become the head coach at Colorado State. He reemerged in unremarkable one-year coordinator stints at failing Auburn and South Carolina programs before joining Smart’s staff as an offensive analyst.
Bobo left Athens in 2014 at the height of his game. Georgia ripped off a three-year stretch from 2012-2014 averaging 40 points per game and easily finishing in the top 10 of offensive SP+. Bobo was a Broyles Award finalist in 2012 as Georgia became a national title contender. Aaron Murray became the SEC’s career passing leader. Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Michel ushered in a new golden age of Georgia tailback play. As Blutarsky put it at the time, “Bobo’s departure doesn’t come as a relief.” With Jeremy Pruitt’s abrasive style clashing with the rest of the staff and the program falling behind in resources and facilities relative to the SEC, Bobo’s offense was one of the more stable elements of the program.
It’s impossible to discuss Bobo without unpacking a lot of emotional baggage. But for a few years here and there Bobo has been associated with Georgia either as a player or coach since the mid-1990s. That time period covers a lot of ups and downs, and much of it fell squarely in the middle of Georgia’s 40-year title drought. Any player or coach from that era will bear the burden of missed opportunities, what-ifs, and even outright failures. Many Georgia fans will struggle with disentangling themselves not only from their opinion of Bobo from the early 2010s but also from their frustration with the Georgia program of the same time. That was plenty of time to develop a rich lode of playcalls or outcomes we blamed for Georgia coming up short – again.
Bobo might have left Athens as a hot commodity, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing since. His first three Colorado State teams finished 7-6. The scary emergence of an autoimmune disease disrupted his final two seasons at CSU and threatened his coaching career. The stress of coaching and the draining recovery process took a visible toll on the vibrant playcaller we remember. His experiences at Auburn and South Carolina with programs in turmoil couldn’t have been pleasant. Returning to Athens as an analyst was an opportunity to reset, collaborate with another coordinator at the top of *his* game, and consider his plans for the future.
Eight years is a long time. Georgia football has changed. Football itself has changed. Thanks to Monken’s success Kirby Smart has absorbed those changes as well as anyone. With Monken Smart showed urgency by looking outside the program to find someone with fresh ideas and a fluency in everything from the Air Raid to pro schemes. Georgia’s offense might not need that kind of revolutionary change again, but it does need to carry on in the same spirit. Smart would have been in the ideal position over the past year to evaluate how well Bobo has incorporated those same lessons in his scheme and playcalling. On a touchier note Smart would also have had to evaluate whether Bobo after eight difficult years still has the drive and relentless recruiting chops that took him to the top of his profession during his first stint at Georgia.
Ultimately any offense operates with Smart’s blessing and preferences, and Smart understands how dangerous a backslide to 2019 (or, heaven forbid, 2015) would be. I doubt we’ll see the return of the fullback as a glamour position in Georgia’s offense, but, hey – who knows? Fans aren’t known for subtlety, and any strongly-held beliefs about Mike Bobo from 2014 are about to be relitigated. We give it a quarter before the first non-ironic cries of “run the damn ball Booboo.”
Before he calls one play Bobo will be involved in one of the most anticipated decisions of the offseason. Georgia’s quarterback position is wide-open for the first time since 2020. The Bulldogs have three top candidates they’ll be evaluating during the spring and summer. We might have assumptions about the pecking order, but a coaching change can be a fresh start. Choosing a starting quarterback is sometimes not a straightforward or permanent decision. Monken looked for every reason to play someone other than Stetson Bennett, and the position seemed unsettled for two of Monken’s three seasons in Athens. Smart admitted that it took a while to realize the value of Bennett’s mobility. “He overcame us,” said Smart.
Bobo was involved with Georgia’s quarterbacks from 2001-2014 and coached several of Georgia’s titans at the position: Greene, Shockley, Stafford, and Murray. That means he was also involved in the Greene/Shockley platoon in the early 2000s and the in-season tryout that took the first half of the 2006 season and had Joe Tereshinski starting. The coaches decided to redshirt Murray in 2009. Bobo’s final offense in 2014 was productive, but the quarterback room was left in bad shape upon his departure. We look back on those decisions – from Greene and Shockley all the way to Bennett – with clear hindsight. The point is that even the most accomplished coaches can struggle with those decisions. Is that a preview of how the 2023 decision will pan out? Of course not, but it won’t be surprising to see the decision linger beyond spring into August and even into the season. If that happens, it’s likely that the quarterback position will quickly overshadow any talk about playcalling or scheme.