ATHENS — Earlier on Sunday it was Kirby Smart who UGA proudly announced as its new head football coach. Later in the day, however, it was Bryan McClendon appearing on a teleconference to preview the next game, the Taxslayer Gator Bowl against Penn State.
That’s where things stand with the Georgia football program right now: One coach on the way in, but with one foot still at Alabama, while McClendon has at least the titular role of holding things together in the meantime.
“It’s definitely been a little different, I would say that,” McClendon said, with a chuckle. “But the one thing that hasn’t been different has been it’s all about the players … You do everything you can to make sure those guys are OK.”
McClendon appeared on a teleconference with Penn State coach James Franklin, who was asked mostly questions about his team and the bowl game. McClendon, on the other hand, was peppered with questions about the chaotic past week, and what will happen going forward.
It’s a strange situation, as the only official change has come at head coach, with Smart replacing Mark Richt, but Smart still planning to coach at Alabama until its season is over. He will be introduced at a press conference Monday and will recruit for Georgia over the next week, as well as start putting together a staff.
In the meantime, the Bulldogs’ nine full-time assistants are all still under contract and in place. And there will be a matter of the bowl game to practice for and play in, and Smart won’t be a part of that.
“As far as the coaching staff, right now everything is still the same as far as responsibility wise, and everybody is still planning on being here,” McClendon said. “Right now that hasn’t changed, which is really good.”
There were some curiously careful responses on Sunday night from McClendon. One came when asked a direct question on whether he wanted to remain on Georgia’s staff.
“I’ll say this, OK: Georgia’s a great place. Georgia’s a fantastic place and it’s been extremely good to me,” said McClendon, 31, a former Georgia receiver who has been on the coaching staff since 2007. “But the bottom line is right now, OK, we’re focused on the Taxslayer Bowl. That’s where all my energy is going to be.”
He also wouldn’t say whether he’s had a chance to meet yet with Smart. The focus, McClendon emphasized again, should be on the bowl game.
“When he does come in, my focus can’t be on that. I think I owe it to all those kids, everyone in this building, to make sure their focus is right,” McClendon said. “Any other type of focus going any other place is not right.”
This sets up to be a chaotic month for McClendon, who actually now holds five titles: Receivers coach, recruiting coordinator, passing game coordinator, assistant head coach and now interim coach. Yes, the latter two cancel each other out, and the third one was just a glorified title.
Still, it’s a reflection of how much is on McClendon’s plate this month.
“It’s definitely uncharted waters for me. All I can try to do is make sure I get as much stuff on the front end so I can kind of see and prioritize,” McClendon said. “But regardless of what titles are next to me I’ve still got responsibilities I’ve got to fulfill. Even if I have to stay here super late at night … you’ve just gotta figure out a way to get it done.”
It was only last week that Richt was fired as coach, something the staff knew was a possibility, but it was still jarring. A day later most of the assistants were ordered to stay off the recruiting trail, only to be told a short time later to resume all their responsibilities.
Players have been asking questions, wondering what would happen. And the coaches still have recruiting and day-to-day responsibilities while also worrying about where they will be working next season.
“It’s been smooth, all things considering, that’s for sure,” he said. “But I’ll say this: The guys, they’ve had to put up and weed through a bunch of things that have been going on all season on. This has been another thing that has drawn the guys together.”