ATHENS — Fantastic. Bravo. Job well done.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart finally promoted James Coley to offensive coordinator on Friday. Or, more accurately, he simply dropped the “co-” from Coley’s title, which already was co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
It’s important to note here that it does not mean that somebody else might come in and commandeer that “co-” in their title. You can bet that Smart is going to do whatever it takes to make his staff as strong as it can be. If that means having to name somebody co-offensive coordinator, so be it.
But make no bones about it, like it was when Jim Chaney was in charge of the offense last year alongside Coley, the one without the “co” in his title was calling the shots. So, to be clear, it’s Coley that will be calling the shots.
What’s that mean for Georgia’s offense?
The most important thing it means is there will be continuity from the last two years to the next one. Quarterback Jake Fromm will be back at the helm for a third consecutive season and, with his level of expertise in this offense, that effectively gives the Bulldogs another offensive coordinator. Maybe that’s the way Georgia needs to go. Name Fromm starting quarterback/co-offensive coordinator?
Kidding aside, Fromm is one major part of an offense that returns mostly intact. The Bulldogs will be looking at a bit of a rebuild at wideout, where leading receivers Riley Ridley, Mecole Hardman and Terry Godwin have moved on. And that’s the case to a lesser degree at tight end, where Georgia will be looking to fill the void of Issac Nauta turning pro and Luke Ford transferring.
But the most important aspect of the Bulldogs’ offense is it returns four-fifths of the starting offensive line, plus a plethora of other former blue-chippers to compete and mix in across the front. Then there remains D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook in the backfield, where they will be joined by newcomers Zamir “Zeus” White and Kenny McIntosh.
That’s a lot of talent for Coley to work with, and he knows what do with it. This is no young rookie coordinator on whom Smart is taking a chance. This is a 45-year-old man who has coordinated offenses for 11 of 19 seasons going back to his three-year stint at Miami Norland High School.
Over that span, Coley has developed a reputation for being a bit a gun-slinging coordinator. That is, he likes his offenses to throw the football downfield. When he was coordinator and play-caller at Miami, the Hurricanes led the nation in “explosive plays” all three years. Coley coached Brad Kaaya to Freshman All-America honors as the quarterback broke the single-season record for passing yards at Miami. Wide receiver Allen Hurns, currently with the Dallas Cowboys, also broke the single season receiving record with 1,162 yards in 2013.
In the midst of that, Miami produced two 1,000 yards rushers in Duke Johnson (1,652 yards in 2014) and Joe Yearly (1,002 in 2015). So Coley knows the value of running the football. And, lest we forget, Coley has been around for every step of success Georgia has enjoyed under Smart. He was one of Smart’s early hires when he took over the Bulldogs before the 2016 season, joining the staff close behind Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman.
So Coley knows exactly what Smart is looking for. Keep in mind, no matter who’s calling the shots on Georgia’s offense, it still remains under Smart’s ownership. And Smart, a defensive coordinator by trade, has always been one who ascribes to the “complementary” football approach. That is, your offense works in tandem with defense and special teams to achieve victory, so one doesn’t conduct itself to the possible detriment of the other. That means the offense doesn’t go hurry-up, spread-’em-out and score as fast as possible all the time and the defense doesn’t sell out with 72 exotic blitz packages in order to create its own big plays.
No, Georgia is still mainly about playing the percentages to win, which means to run the football, control the clock, limit opponents’ big plays and win field position and special teams. So those will be Coley’s marching orders, as they were for Chaney.
Meanwhile, he’s going to be speaking the same offensive terminology and will be working out of the same playbook the Bulldogs assembled the last three years under Chaney and company. That’s nothing but a good thing for Fromm, who can already recite that stuff chapter and verse.
That’s not to say Coley won’t add his wrinkles. You can be certain as he sat beside Chaney in Georgia’s coaching box for those 14 games last season, there are a lot of things he might’ve done different. An offensive assistant for the Miami Dolphins and the Florida State Seminoles with a year as a coordinator and play-caller at Florida International in between, you can be sure that Coley has some of his own stuff he’s been dying to put in.
How long has Smart known Coley was going to be his guy? I’d say right from the outset. But two things likely withheld him from making it official until now: One, the opening period for recruiting cranks back up this weekend, so Coley can jet out on the road carry this new title in his brief case. That certainly couldn’t hurt somebody already considered one of the top recruiters in the game. Two, Smart has continued to hold his cards close to his vest. He’s trying to assemble the absolute best coaching staff he can for 2019, and he’ll need it for what promises to be the most anticipated season in Smart’s tenure. That means exploring every option possible.
So does Smart do something with another “co” title? Possibly. At the least, it would befit Pittman, who has no rival in the country when it comes to his ability to recruit elite offensive linemen and coach them up as well. As we all know, Alabama has an opening for an offensive line coach since Brent Keys was jettisoned to Georgia Tech. There’s absolutely know doubt that the Crimson Tide would look Pittman’s way, themselves of a victim of his recruiting acumen, not to mentioned up-close witnesses to his good work on the field.
Word is, Georgia has done what it needs to deflect that threat, at least for now. Perhaps it will be with a co-title but it will certainly come with new stacks of money.
The same will be the case for Coley, of course, and he’s deserving of whatever raises Friday’s promotion comes with. More than anything, though, this development was the result of Smart and his coaching staff seeking one thing, and that’s those rich championship bonuses UGA offers them for winning SEC and national titles.
Coley’s appointment puts them closer to doing that than any OC who’d be coming in with a shiny new playbook.