ATHENS — The first giveaway that there’s something different about Georgia’s bowl practices is the thumping bass. That’s because the Bulldogs are now wheeling out stereo equipment and couple of giant speakers to play music throughout the workouts.
It’s just one of the subtle changes Bryan McClendon has brought in his new station as interim head football coach.
“Ultimately it was mine, but I got plenty of suggestions,” McClendon said of who’s idea the music was. “But I’ll tell you what, I was for anything that was going to provide a little energy out there. It really falls under that old adage, ‘you’d rather say whoa than sic ’em.’ So you’d rather get them going and have to calm them down rather than it be the other way around. But it’s been very well received. Everybody’s been able to stay locked in. That’s the main thing, you want to make sure you’re not taking away from the focus.”
No, the Bulldogs insist they’ve been well-focused and well-organized in their preparations for the TaxSlayer Bowl. That’s despite having lost their head coach, both coordinators and some other assistants before the Jan. 2 matchup against Penn State.
Head coach Mark Richt was fired, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for Alabama and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left for parts unknown since the win over Georgia Tech completed a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs.
Georgia completed its sixth practice on Monday under the new configuration, which includes McClendon as head coach, tight ends coach John Lilly as offensive coordinator and outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer as defensive coordinator.
Despite all the changes, the Bulldogs insist they’re “getting it done.”
“We come in and work each and every day and focus on the little things and things of that nature,” senior defensive tackle James DeLoach said. “We’re not going to let new coaches or anything like that get us distracted from the task at hand.”
DeLoach is one of the fortunate ones. His position coach — Tracy Rocker — remains on the staff. And DeLoach believes Rocker will remain with the Bulldogs.
“He’s not going anywhere,” DeLoach said. “… I really think Coach Rocker bleeds the red and black. He’s really embraced this program and has really brought God, like me, along with him. I really think he passionately wants to stay.”
Rocker remains an Auburn legend after winning the Lombardi and Outland trophies as a defensive lineman there. He has been with the Bulldogs the last two season’s since leaving the NFL’s Tennessee Titans as an assistant coach.
Rocker, who also carries the title of associate head coach at Georgia, has told DawgNation only that he has a job now and has not considered anything beyond the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Others, such as cornerback Malkom Parrish, are having to deal with wholesale adjustments. Parrish not only lost Pruitt as coordinator but also as his position coach. Sam Pettito, formerly director of player personnel, is now handling cornerbacks.
“He’s a great individual,” said Parrish, a sophomore and 12-game starter. “He’s just like Pruitt, it’s all about technique, it’s about getting to the right spot at the right time. That hasn’t changed. It’s been very consistent. I don’t think we’ve missed heartbeat.”
As for McClendon, he insists he doesn’t know yet what his next move will be. He was the first coach tabbed to stay with the Bulldogs when he was appointed interim head coach after Richt accepted the head coaching job at Miami.
But McClendon was not asked to join other assistant coaches on the road recruiting after Kirby Smart was named the new head coach. That’s generally a sign that you won’t be asked to stay around.
McClendon’s name has been associated with openings at South Carolina and on Richt’s staff at Miami. He said he’ll worry about all that later.
“I’ve kind of kept (the bowl) as my focus and pushed everything else back,” McClendon said. “I’ll tell you what: These three or four days (for Christmas break) are going to give me a good chance to sit down and really investigate and talk to people about what will be best for the McClendon family. But right after that, as soon as the 27th comes, the focus is going to be back to the bowl game.”