ATHENS — Bryan McClendon has sought a lot of advice from a lot of people — including Mark Richt — since being appointed Georgia’s interim head coach for the TaxSlayer Bowl. But his best tip so far came from his 8-year-old son, Bryan, Jr.
“I told him we were going to do a press conference, and I asked what I should do,” McClendon shared at his first news conference at UGA Wednesday. “He said ‘Just make sure there’s nothing in your nose.’ I said ‘okay, I think I can handle that.'”
Richt infamously failed on that front when he was fighting a nasty cold during a news conference earlier this season. But Richt was fired as the Bulldogs’ head coach on Nov. 29 after Georgia completed a 9-3 regular season.
Richt has since landed a job at his alma mater, the University of Miami. And Kirby Smart, a UGA letterman and the Alabama defensive coordinator the last eight years, has since been named Richt’s successor.
In between, McClendon was tabbed to lead the Bulldogs in its Jan. 2 matchup against Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl. And it was Richt, who recruited him to play wide receiver at Georgia and hired him as a graduate assistant in 2007 and running backs coach in 2009, that McClendon sought for advice about his new appointment.
“I reached out to him the first day and said, ‘Hey man, I’m really going to need some input from you,’” McClendon shared. “His main thing was just to make sure that I think through everything in the aspect of how this is going to affect 125 kids and the whole staff, not so much what’s best for five people or 10 people or anything like that. You’ve always got to think of the greater good when it comes to certain things.”
Richt, in Miami on Wednesday, confirmed that he’d spoken to McClendon about the new challenge before him.
“I hope he goes 1-and-0,” Richt said via text message. “I’m a huge fan of B-Mac. I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”
It’s definitely new ground for McClendon, who has ascended rapidly through the coaching ranks. All his experience has come at Georgia, where he excelled as a wide receiver and his father, Willie McClendon, remains a legendary tailback and former assistant coach.
After serving as an offensive G.A. for two years in 2007-08, Richt elevated McClendon to running backs coach in 2009 after Tony Ball moved out to replace John Eason as receivers coach.
It certainly could be argued McClendon improved his position during his tenure. After inheriting Washaun Ealey and Caleb King, McClendon brought in Isaiah Crowell, Todd Gurley, Keith Marshall and Nick Chubb.
McClendon gets credit for recruiting all of them to Georgia. No coincidentally, he was named national recruiter of the year in 2012.
“Coming from a position coach, you’re thinking about what benefits your position more times than not,” said McClendon, who took over receivers after Ball left for LSU following the 2014 season. “When you’re going to Coach to make a request, you’re saying, ‘hey, can we do this or can we do that?’ And you’re thinking about how it’s going to benefit your guys. Now uou’ve got to do that for everybody now. That’s the one thing that has been really eye opening, in that regard.”
Georgia’s players definitely liked hearing that “B-Mac,” as they all call him, was going to serve as their head coach through the bowl game. Obviously none of them have a close relationship with new head coach Kirby Smart. And since McClendon has also carried the titles of recruiting coordinator, passing coordinator and assistant head coach during his last few years with the Bulldogs, they all seem to have some sort of connection with him.
“We all love him,” said junior quarterback Greyson Lambert. “We’ve had team meetings and he brings a lot of energy and a lot of fun to it. He’s definitely making us continue our work on academics up through the finals time. He’s out there overseeing the runs and all of our workouts. He’s definitely the head coach right now.”
Said senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins: “I’m definitely proud for him and excited about that. “B-Mac is just a great individual. I respect the man with the highest amount of respect somebody can have. He’s a hell of a coach and a hell of a man off the field and I’m proud of him.
“We really want to win this for B-Mac. Even though he’s the interim coach, he’s the first black head coach the Georgia football team has ever had. So it’s a big step in his career and his future. It’s vital to win for him.”
McClendon doesn’t know exactly what this temporary assignment might mean for him. He has not yet been guaranteed a spot on Smart’s staff at Georgia and is not willing to discuss whether he has any plans to head elsewhere if that doesn’t work out.
People with knowledge of the situation say he’ll have the opportunity to join Richt in Miami and his name has been connected with openings on the staff of new South Carolina coach Will Muschamp.
In the meantime, McClendon said the experience can’t do anything but enhance his chances of one day becoming a head coach.
“I definitely see how it could help,” he said. “To look at anything beyond this bowl game, to be honest with you, is kind of difficult to do right now. Will it help in the grand sense of things? I think it could. To be put in this position definitely helps you understand and have a better appreciation for the guy in this position, for sure.” ave been great.”