ATHENS – A month ago, before all the chaotic events that would ensue, it was pointed out to John Lilly that he had a good winning percentage as the play-caller for Georgia’s offense.
“At this stage, yes.” Lilly said, smiling. “Don’t mess with perfection, right?”
Well, guess what …
A year after Lilly’s debut as interim offensive coordinator went about as well as could possibly be imagined, it’s happening again. This time it’s under very different circumstances, and thus more difficult circumstances.
For those that don’t remember: Lilly, the tight ends coach, took over the play-calling in the lead-up to last year’s Belk Bowl after Mike Bobo took the head coaching job at Colorado State. It was a good reason for Lilly to step in, and the Bulldogs routed Louisville, 37-14, behind 492 yards from the offense.
This year Lilly is only back at the controls because the firing of head coach Mark Richt also led to the early departure of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. So it fell again to Lilly, who this time isn’t auditioning for a job: Jim Chaney has already been hired as offensive coordinator. This time Lilly is just trying to help end this rough season on a good note, before he himself heads into an uncertain future.
“Lilly obviously is going to call plays a little differently than Schotty,” senior offensive lineman Kolton Houston said. “But what did we have, 500 yards of offense last year in the bowl game? That maybe gave us a little more excitement. So we’ll see.”
Lilly was a popular choice among his players to take over as offensive coordinator for the bowl. Partly was the memory of last year.
“I guess he earned that right last year,” senior receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “And hopefully he’ll do as well as he did before. I’m sure he will.”
“I told him we’re doing the same thing we did last year,” senior tackle John Theus said. “That’s the plan.”
Except they can’t just hand it to Nick Chubb this time. Chubb, who rushed for 225 yards in last year’s bowl, is out after knee surgery.
“We’ll figure something out,” Theus said. “I’ve got a lot of faith in coach Lilly to call plays.”
There’s also just a lot of affection for Lilly among the players.
“He’s kind of like B-Mac (interim head coach Bryan McClendon), everybody loves Coach Lilly,” senior tailback Keith Marshall said. “It’s fun out there at practice, and I think he’ll do a great job.”
There are reasons not to be as optimistic for Lilly’s sake this time around. For one, the performance of this year’s offense versus what it did last year. For another, last year Bobo left after bowl practice in Athens, so the game plan for the bowl had basically been installed. Lilly was just executing it and calling the plays.
This time it’s on Lilly to also put in the gameplan. Players who spoke after Thursday’s practice said nothing really has changed with the offense. Lilly, after all, comes from the same offensive background as Richt and Schottenheimer.
All told, if Georgia goes out there and has another great performance, it may be time for other schools to take a longer look at Lilly, 47, as a potential coordinator.
“I think everybody when you get in this profession would love that opportunity,” Lilly said. “I’m glad when it came up when it did we were able to go out and execute and win the game. It’s not something you wake up every day and think about.”
That was in November. Now, it’s back to the spotlight role.