ATHENS — Dan Lanning was right there in his regular spot, gathered with his outside linebacker charges between the 10- and 20-yard lines on the western end of the eastern-most field on Georgia’s Woodruff Practice Fields.
Glenn Schumann and James Coley were also in their usual spots, Schumann with the inside ‘backers on one end of the football complex and Coley on the complete opposite end with the quarterbacks. All of them were taking their usual hands-on approach with their respective position players.
At one point, Coley was down one knee showing Jake Fromm how he wanted him to take a snap from center, as though Fromm had never done that before. Schumann held the back of a linebacker’s shoulder pads, pushing and steering him toward the place he wanted him to end up when the action went live later.
From that standpoint, the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ first spring practice looked no different than any of the others in the last four years under head coach Kirby Smart. Where those guys’ jobs are different this year are in the team meetings that precede and follow these practices. That’s where the actual coordination that coordinators do gets done.
It’s been in that arena that Georgia’s veteran players are seeing a difference in styles from the new coaches. They used a lot of action words to describe them, like fiery and rowdy and energetic.
“I feel like he brings a lot of energy,” senior defensive tackle Michael Barnett said of Lanning, who led the defensive team meetings Monday and Tuesday. “The young guys love the energy. That’s something new.”
Said senior safety J.R. Reed: “Coach Lanning is a lot younger than Coach Tucker, so he’s going to bring more fire. He can get a little more rowdy than Coach Tucker can. A lot more fire, a lot more energy.”
The 32-year-old Lanning replaced the 47-year-old Mel Tucker as Georgia’s defensive coordinator this season. Tucker left to become the head coach at Colorado, which came as no surprise to Smart.
The 28-year-old Schumann will also have a hand coordinating the defense, though the primary responsibility remains with Lanning.
Coley, who will turn 46 on April 14, is closer to middle age than his defensive counterparts. He has also been a coordinator before, handling that job at Miami and serving as co-coordinator at Florida State. But he also has a decidedly different personality and style than his predecessor. Jim Chaney is 57 and, though known to bark orders pretty loudly when needed, was decidedly less frenetic and energetic than than always-pacing Coley.
As for exactly what the offense will look like under Coley’s unfettered guidance, beyond “balanced” nobody seems to be certain at this point.
“We’ll have to see,” quarterback Jake Fromm said. “Coach Coley called plays for me in the spring game my freshman year, but that was a long time ago and I can’t write down what plays he called. But I think he’ll be great. I’m excited for it and I can’t wait.”
In general, all three coaches are in place as Georgia’s coordinators because Smart doesn’t want much to change. If you haven’t been paying attention the last two years, the Bulldogs have won 24 of 29 games over that span, which included winning one championship and playing for two others.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?
But one of the inevitabilities of winning at the highest levels of sport is there is going to be attrition, especially if things are going well. So when Tucker left to be a head coach and Chaney left for Tennessee to do the same thing for a bunch more money, Smart was not caught by surprise.
That said, Smart wouldn’t say whether he conducted a coast-to-coast national search before settling on his staff’s current configuration or if elevating Coley and Lanning was the plan all along.
“I don’t think you ever know exactly what you want to do,” Smart said. “… At the end of the day when you have (two coordinators) doing it like Jim and James did, they share a lot of that responsibility. … And I had a lot of confidence in Dan and Glenn even last year. Not everybody knows what goes on behind the scenes — and I think that’s okay that not everybody knows that — but as the head coach you’re in all these meetings, you’re in on all these decisions. You know how much involved Dan Lanning and Glenn Schumann are in the game planning process. … So I have a lot of confidence in those two guys, which is why they got hired.”
So it sounds like this was pretty much the plan all along. But we can’t be entirely sure.
Smart also hired Todd Hartley, a former Georgia staffer to coach tight ends, and Charlton Warren to coach defensive backs. Only Warren is a true newbie to the whole “Georgia Way” phenomenon. Smart said he had not known Warren previously before he brought him in from the University of Florida.
Asked about it before the first spring practice, Reed was eager to find out what Warren — a graduate of the Air Force Academy — was going to be like on the practice field.
“I expect him to bring more energy and demand more out of us,” the third-year starter said. “He’s very strict about a lot of things, and I think that’s going to bring a lot of discipline to our secondary.”
The bottom line, though, is while all these new coaches will certainly bring some new wrinkles with them, the ultimate charge is to keep intact the overarching philosophies that have served Georgia so well under Smart.
“Look, we’ve been really successful at running the ball,” Smart said of the offense. “That’s who we are at Georgia. We’re not going to go recreate the wheel and say, ‘okay, now we’re going to open and be an empty spread team every down and go high tempo.’ You do what makes you successful.”
Maybe you’re a little more energetic about it.