ATHENS – When Sony Michel came to the sideline after his fumble in the Rose Bowl, Georgia running backs coach Dell McGee was there to offer a word.
“Just keep your head up,” McGee recalled telling Michel. “Go get an opportunity to win the game. There’s still a lot of football left.”
McGee wasn’t trying to take credit for what happened next – he was just answering a question – but there’s little doubt that two years after being hired at Georgia, McGee has made a big impact on the program.
Yes, he inherited a pretty good room: Michel and Nick Chubb could probably be coached by a graduate assistant; the two ego-less stars are hardly difficult to manage. But McGee, who helped recruit three more talented tailbacks, has had to manage those personalities, also while recruiting even more elite talent that soon will arrive at Georgia.
And not just at tailback. Justin Fields, the 5-star quarterback who signed with Georgia last month? McGee was the lead recruiter. Not to mention, Georgia also reeled in 5-star tailback Zamir White and 4-star tailback James Cook.
“I think having a high school background, and dealing with high school parents and kids, I’ve had a lot of success reaching those kids and understanding what they’re looking for in a college,” McGee said. “Just selling Georgia’s not hard. It’s a great university. Top 15 education university. We’re starting to get where we want to on the football field. Hopefully, getting those recruits in, that will continue.”
McGee might have been recruited a bit this offseason as well, as his recruiting prowess hasn’t gone unnoticed. He acknowledges that he had “some” inquiries but is staying put because he likes the direction of the program, and he and his family love Athens.
Plus, McGee is a Georgia man, as those who follow high school and college football in this state well know.
McGee, who went to Kendrick High School in Columbus, went out of state for college. He was a two-year starter at Auburn in the mid-1990s, and had an interception in the 1993 Iron Bowl to preserve Auburn’s undefeated season.
But McGee eventually returned home and took over the program at Carver High School in Columbus, which he turned into a powerhouse. Carver at one point had seven straight seasons of at least 10 wins. It helped to have Jarvis Jones and Isaiah Crowell along the way. But McGee built the staff and coached up an entire program.
He made the jump to the college level in 2013, joining Auburn as an analyst. The Tigers played in the National Championship Game that year, so McGee isn’t new to that atmosphere.
Then McGee joined the staff at Georgia Southern, where he was running backs coach – until his final game, when he became head coach. Willie Fritz had left for Tulane, and McGee was named interim coach for the GoDaddy Bowl, leading the team to victory.
“I never wavered on what I thought about my coaching ability,” McGee said. “There’s a lot of coaches that can be successful on this level. I just think it comes with the opportunity. Opportunities aren’t always presented. I was very fortunate to work with Coach Fritz at Georgia Southern, learned a lot from him, and definitely blessed to be working with Coach Smart at Georgia.”
At Georgia, McGee has earned a reputation among his players as even-keeled and fair.
“He treats us all the same way,” Michel said.
That also meant Michel wouldn’t be benched just because of one fumble. And when just a field goal would suffice to win the Rose Bowl in double overtime, Michel got the chance to atone and finish it himself.
“It’s only fitting that he wins the game,” McGee said afterward in Georgia’s celebratory locker room. “I’m just so happy for him. He got a chance to redeem that fumble with the winning touchdown. It’s really great for him, really great for these seniors, and really great for the University of Georgia.”