A year ago today, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart made what felt like a pretty sizable move in hiring long-time Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran to an on-field role. Cochran, who had served as Alabama’s strength and conditioning coach since Nick Saban’s arrival, would be Georgia’s special teams coordinator starting in the 2020 season.
Given Smart’s ties to Alabama and Cochran’s relationship with the Crimson Tide, the move seemed to send shockwaves through the sport.
A year later though? Well, Alabama just won another national title while Georgia went 8-2 and did not play in the SEC championship game for the first time since 2016.
Attributing Alabama’s success or Georgia’s shortcomings in 2020 to Cochran though would be a truly wild move. That would overstate his role as both a strength and conditioning coach and as a special teams coordinator.
It’s far too soon to fully grade the Cochran hire and its impact on the Georgia program. But one year after his hiring, we can look back and see how the first-time on-field coach did with the Bulldogs and examine what it might mean for Georgia going forward.
Special teams shine under Scott Cochran
For never having coached special teams in an official capacity, Cochran did a pretty great job in his first year at Georgia.
Punter Jake Camarda became one of the best punters in the country. The junior was named a finalist for the Ray Guy Award and led the SEC in punting average. Sure there might still be the occasional four-yard punt, but Camarda undoubtedly improved under Cochran.
Georgia had to go about replacing legendary kicker Rodrigo Blankenship. In stepped walk-on Jack Podlesny, who. did about as well as you could ask. He connected on 13 of his 16 attempts this past season, while making all of his extra points.
Podlesny’s best game came in the Peach Bowl win over Cincinnati when he made all three field-goal attempts including a 53-yard game-winner with just seconds remaining.
— GEORGIA HEROES (@GeorgiaHeroes) January 1, 2021
Georgia also excelled in other areas of special teams. The Bulldogs led the SEC in kick returns of 30-plus yards with nine and 40-plus yards with four. Georgia also blocked three kicks over the course of the season, tying for the most in the SEC.
How much of the credit goes to Cochran will never be truly known, especially when you fact in Smart’s long emphasis on special teams play. But in going from former special teams coordinator Scott Fountain to Cochran, it seems like the Bulldogs made improvements along this front.
Recruiting impact is still yet to be seen
Much was made of the Cochran hire in part because of the perceived impact he would have on the recruiting front. Alabama players so frequently raved about his ability to connect with young players.
With Cochran now being able to get out on the road and recruit more away from the facility, it seemed like the Bulldogs would really benefit in this area.
“He was somebody that you knew you could go to talk to about anything,” former Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs said. “He found a way to get the best out of each and every player in the program.”
If you judged Cochran’s recruiting ability based on where Alabama and Georgia finished in the 2021 recruiting rankings, you’d probably come away a little disappointed. The Crimson Tide signed the best class in the history of recruiting. Georgia signed the No. 4 recruiting class, its lowest ranking since the 2016 cycle.
Once again, that’s a myopic way to view Cochran’s impact as a recruiter. Due to the pandemic and the NCAA’s dead period, Cochran was kept off the road and limited to only Zoom calls and texts with prospects. There is also the fact that at Georgia, position coaches are often the lead recruiters for recruits who will go on to play at their position.
With Cochran working as a special teams coordinator, he isn’t afforded that luxury. So he was often given the secondary recruiter designation when it came to working with recruits. He still went on to play a big role in landing players like Amarius Mims and Xavian Sorey in this past class. He just didn’t do it as the lead recruiter.
Georgia did recently pick up a commitment from 2023 wide receiver Daquayvious Sorey, and Cochran served as the lead recruiter there.
Given Cochran’s background in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisana it will be worth noting how much success Georgia has in pulling kids out of those states going forward. If you’re pulling top talent from Alabama and Louisiana, it likely means you’re beating out Alabama and LSU for those types of players.
That is where we might get the best idea of Cochran’s impact as a recruiter for Georgia.
So what does Scott Cochran’s future look like?
Cochran made a handful of headlines in his first year at Georgia. There was the time he got roasted for trying to help Georgia claim it played a role in developing the likes of Julio Jones and Dont’a Hightower.
Developed & earned…. WHO’S NEXT? pic.twitter.com/OCOwY14x4G
— Scott Cochran (@CoachYeah) April 23, 2020
He also revealed he was worried he was going to lose his job at Alabama after some comments he made at practice before the 2008 Georgia-Alabama game were picked up.
Mostly though, Cochran was a net positive for Georgia in his first year on campus. Players frequently spoke highly of his energy and enthusiasm while Georgia’s special teams more often than not helped win them games.
Ultimately, Cochran came to Georgia because he wants to one day become a head coach. Moving to an on-field role will help facilitate that. There were multiple reports stating that Cochran angled hard for the Vanderbilt opening which ultimately went to Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea.
Rarely do special teams coordinators become head coaches. But Cochran pretty clearly isn’t your run-of-the-mill special teams coordinator. Maybe with a few more years of success on Georgia’s various special teams units and perhaps a more front-facing recruiting role, Cochran can join the likes of Sam Pittman and Shane Beamer as former Georgia assistant coaches who went on to become Power 5 head coaches.
Looking back at Scott Cochran in his first season with Georgia football
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