ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart expressed plenty of excitement and enthusiasm about the direction of his program and the additions to the staff on Wednesday.
But when it came to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, a coach he obviously must respect and have confidence in, Smart seemed careful not to say too much too soon.
The Bulldogs’ 2020 season expectations are already soaring.
“We’re excited about what Todd brings to us,” Smart said when asked about the hire during his National Signing Day press conference.
To be fair, there isn’t much more to say at this point. Smart conceded Monken didn’t have much to do with this signing class.
Further, Georgia’s no-nonsense head coach said, because the roles on the staff aren’t complete, the new direction of the offense “will play out as we go along.”
Smart did reveal that he was briefly on the same staff with Monken at LSU in January of 2005.
“Coach Monken and I crossed paths at LSU,” Smart said. “He came in with Les Miles’ staff, and I was there for a month, or three or four weeks, before I came here.”
Indeed, Smart was the running backs’ coach on Mark Richt’s Georgia staff later in 2005, a 10-3 team that won the SEC Championship Game.
Monken was on the other side of the field that December day, working as LSU’s pass game coordinator.
Obviously, both men have risen through the coaching ranks a great deal these past 14 years.
Monken’s 2018 Tampa Bay offense set franchise records for total yards, passing yards and passing touchdowns, despite using two quarterbacks during the season.
The 2018 Bucs averaged 320.3 yards through the air with quarterbacks Jameis Winton and Ryan Fitzpatrick combining to complete 65.3-percent of their passes.
“Really what I took away from (the Air Raid) was being able to throw to win,’’ Monken said after taking the Browns’ job last season in a Cleveland.com story.
“That really to me was the Air Raid. You had a certain amount of run game, you ran a lot of the same concepts and you could throw to win. That was really it. Like any offense, it works a lot better if you have good players.”
Georgia returns 5 of 11 starters from an offense that scored a 26-14 Sugar Bowl win over Baylor, including the game’s MVP, receiver George Pickens.
The Bulldogs have ushered in graduate transfer QB Jamie Newman from Wake Forest to take over for departed junior Jake Fromm.
Newman possesses dual-threat ability, bringing an escapability element to the pocket as well as the potential to make yards with his legs as well as his arm.
Monken was on staffs coaching future first-round NFL draft picks JaMarcus Russell at LSU, and Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State.
Both Russell and Weeden ranked in the Top 10 nationally in passing efficiency direction. That’s a statistic consistent with Smart’s model for offensive success.
Georgia’s passing game ranked 72nd in the nation last season with 223 yards per game. The unit was strapped by the loss of the top five receivers from the season before and a rash of six injuries at the position.
Smart referred to it as a “merry-go-round” receiver rotation, citing the challenge to establish any sort of consistency with different personnel on the field each week.
Smart announced the hiring of the 53-year-old Monken on Jan. 17, triggering more offensive staff change that led to former offensive coordinator James Coley leaving a week later to become Texas A&M’s tight ends coach.
The shuffle first started when Arkansas hired former UGA offensive line coach Sam Pittman to become its head coach.
Within two days, Smart hired former Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke to replace Pittman as the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach. Luke had served as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator for the Rebels before getting the head coaching job.