ATHENS — The two longest-tenured assistant football coaches at Georgia stood at opposite ends of the artificial turf practice field on Wednesday.
You could hear Bryan McClendon hollering at the wide receivers from 85 yards away. Probably further. You could watch John Lilly trotting beside Jay Rome as the senior tight end smashed into a sled, then thudded a scout-teamer. His coaching could only be heard within a 10-yard radius.
Including McClendon’s time as a graduate assistant, he and Lilly have a combined 15 years of coaching experience at Georgia—equal to the Mark Richt era.
While the two can’t hold a candle to Gary Campbell, who has been the running backs coach at Oregon since 1983, or Bryan Stinespring, who has been at Virginia Tech since 1990 and that school’s tight ends coach since 2006, McClendon and Lilly’s combined tenure provides consistency and connection at Georgia. The other seven assistant coaches are all in their first or second year on Richt’s staff.
“I definitely think any type of familiarity that you can have, in any situation, I think helps,” McClendon said.
According to CoachingSearch.com, only four current college tight ends coaches have a longer tenure than Lilly: Stinespring, Danny O’Rourke (Navy), Shayne Wasden (Troy) and Tom Osborne (Oregon). And of those, only Osborne has consecutively coached the tight end position for the duration at the school.
“When you have different coaches within the time you’ve been at one place a certain coach might like one thing or prefer one technique as opposed to another,” fifth-year tight end Jay Rome said. “Having the same coach for the entire time I’ve been here, you just have a level of consistency. I know what Coach Lilly expects. I feel like everyone in the room knows what he expects from us.”
McClendon’s tenure, on the other hand, saw change. After being a running backs coach from 2009-2014, McClendon moved to lead the wide receivers this year. He also picked up the title of passing game coordinator, to go along with recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach.
Both Lilly and McClendon have experience with Richt beyond just coaching at Georgia.
Richt and Lilly coached at Florida State together; Richt was the Seminole’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Seven years after getting the Georgia job, Richt recruited Lilly to go from Tallahassee to Athens.
“I was kind of in the trenches with him as offensive coach,” Richt said. “So there’s that camaraderie that’s a little bit different than it is now because when you’re the head coach, it’s just a little bit different.”
McClendon played under Richt from 2002-2005, when the Bulldogs won two SEC championships.
Lilly, who also oversees the offensive special teams, has coached two tight end draft picks, as well as All-American punter Drew Butler and current Vikings kicker Blair Walsh. His natural demeanor and experience has given him a mellow demeanor.
“I guess that’s why they put the kickers with him,” senior kicker Marshall Morgan joked. “He’s kind of seen every situation over time, so he’s kind of relaxed about it. … You don’t see him blow up too much.”
Lilly and McClendon both have consistent veteran starters in sophomore tight end Jeb Blazevich and senior wideout Malcolm Mitchell. When bringing in a new coach, not only does he have to acclimate to the coaching staff and atmosphere, but his players have to acclimate to him. And as a starting player, there is comfort in knowing where you stand with your coach.
“You’ve got to regain their trust,” Morgan said. “If you’re going to play, it’s all about trust. It’s good if you have to keep proving yourself, but you also want to know you’re the guy so you’re not every day stressed out about it.”