New UGA coordinators could be ‘source of excitement’ for Bulldogs
Georgia football fans crave a national championship, and this season might be the year their wait comes to an end. However, the first step toward making that happen is for UGA coach Kirby Smart to lead the Bulldogs to a third-straight SEC East title. With that in mind, DawgNation is proud to present — in partnership with Georgia’s Own Credit Union — the “Own the East” series. A season preview content series focused on what it will take for UGA to dominate the division once again, and possibly return to the College Football Playoff.
Georgia finds itself in the unique position of competing for a national championship with brand-new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Jim Chaney, the architect of Kirby Smart’s offenses through his first three seasons as UGA coach, has departed for a big contract at Tennessee. And Mel Tucker, UGA’s former defensive coordinator, is now head coach at Colorado.
The reaction from fans to the departures has seemingly varied. On the one hand, Chaney’s brand of play calling wasn’t always popular. And Tucker, while not disliked, wasn’t lauded the way some other UGA assistants are — such as offensive line coach Sam Pittman and running backs coach Dell McGee.
Yet, their absence still leads to questions about how UGA will be different this season with James Coley leading the offense and Dan Lanning in place as the Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator.
In the latest edition of DawgNation’s Own the East season preview video series (linked above), former UGA All-American Jon Stinchcomb says he’s not concerned.
“I think it’s a source of excitement — especially with Coley,” Stinchcomb said. “He’s not green behind the gills. He was an offensive coordinator at Miami. He’s been on campus for a couple years now. He knows the system. He knows the players. He knows the guys. He’s not fresh to this team, but he does bring fresh ideas and a fresh approach — which could be exciting.”
Whether or not Coley’s presence makes the offense more energized remains to be seen, but he has said that his own enthusiasm won’t change much just because he’s been promoted to offensive coordinator.
“I think I never lost my excitement,” Coley said. “Every challenge is new. Every coordinator job is new. Every position job is new. The people you’re around cause that to be new… When you get the opportunity you’re excited, but then you jump into it, and… it is what it is. It’s what you do… I don’t sit down there at night going, ‘Wow! How great!’ I’m down there at night going through scripts.”
What exactly are these offensive “scripts” Coley speaks of, and how will they be different from his predecessor, Chaney?
Obviously, he isn’t going to reveal all his secrets, but he was at least willing to provide a glimpse.
“I think in the pro-style game you coordinate to your players,” Coley said. “‘Players not plays’ is a little cliche [we use] in the coaching profession, but it’s the truth… Coach Smart is all about players, not plays. He definitely preaches that to us. Sometimes as coaches you forget, and you’re like ‘man, this scheme is intriguing,’ but are your [best] players touching the ball with this scheme?”
In other words, the “fresh approach” from Coley might have more to do with his personality and communicating style than it does with drastic changes to the Bulldogs’ offense.
“I don’t know that there’s been an adjustment,” Coley said. “I’ve been here several years. I think the philosophy that we have here at Georgia is that: Who’s touching the ball? Are they the guys that are going to give us the biggest impact? You’ve definitely got to play to your strengths.”
Much the same way Coley might maintain the offensive philosophy previously in place at UGA, Lanning might also seek continuity on defense — if for no other reason than the influence of Smart.
“He’s been around and he’s not doing it alone,” Stinchcomb said of Lanning. “I’m pretty sure Coach Smart’s going to have his fingers in everything they do — still giving him some autonomy, but let’s be honest, Coach Smart is a defensive coach.”
Lanning agrees that Smart’s prowess on the defensive side of the ball is an asset as he navigates his first season as defensive coordinator.
“It all starts with our head coach,” Lanning said. “And lucky for me, every day where I’m having to question how I’m operating as a defensive coordinator, I can look to my left and ask the guy who was the best defensive coordinator in the nation for nine years.”
However, for as much as Lanning and Coley talk about maintaining the philosophies that were in place prior to them taking over in new roles, there also could be some growing pains. And there are lingering issues in which UGA’s previous coordinators had limited success.
ESPN recently highlighted some of those concerns — citing three “ifs” standing in the way of a national championship for UGA as Coley and Lanning prepare for their first years in new jobs.
“If offensive coordinator James Coley can make a difference in the red zone, if defensive coordinator Dan Lanning can dial-up pressure and if the defensive front is a little less flexible,” wrote Bill Connelly regarding the Bulldogs’ top concerns.
Coley and Lanning will undoubtedly be in the spotlight while attempting to fix those issues. However, both coaches are seemingly comfortable with that level of attention.
It’s a new situation for both men, but as Stinchcomb said, sometimes new can be exciting.
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