ATHENS — There was never much doubt that Kirby Smart, when he got a head coaching job, was going to run a pro-style offense. It was what he had seen work at Alabama and, until last season, at his alma mater Georgia, where Smart’s good friend Mike Bobo built a prolific offensive system before jetting off to Colorado State.
But how exactly Smart put together his offensive staff at Georgia was insightful. It was not a hodge-podge approach of just hiring the best people he could at each spot, or even about just hiring an offensive coordinator and letting him pick his people.
No, to hear Smart tell it, the five men he ended up with on the offensive side was about bringing in different minds and backgrounds, with the ultimate aim of being a well-rounded system.
“You’ve got to be able to have balance, which is why we hired the staff we hired,” Smart said on Wednesday.
Smart broke it down this way: New receivers coach James Coley, who had been the offensive coordinator at Miami, has “been in a lot of different passing systems,” has also been in the NFL and around Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
“He and (Jim) Chaney have similar lineage,” Smart said, referring to his new offensive coordinator.
Both Coley and Chaney have been with Scott Linehan, the current Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator and former St. Louis Rams head coach, who Smart called “a great offensive mind.”
Chaney has also worked with new offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who was so respected in the industry that Georgia had to give him a three-year contract and $650,000 annual salary to lure him from Arkansas. (That’s more than Bobo ever earned while Georgia was setting offensive records.)
Pittman has been in a number of offensive systems, but his trademark is recruiting and developing big, physical lineman.
“We’ve got to improve the offensive line, we’ve got to get bigger people,” Smart said.
This year’s team started sophomore Isaiah Wynn, who’s listed at 280 pounds, at left tackle for the latter half of the season. So the line could see a lot of jugging. It also has to replace two linemen who started most of the last four years (tackle John Theus) and three years (tackle and guard Kolton Houston).
Then there are Shane Beamer (tight ends) and Dell McGee (running backs), who each offer up a different kind of experience.
Beamer was mainly brought to the staff for his recruiting ability and special teams coaching. But he also has experience under Steve Spurrier at South Carolina and his father Frank at Virginia Tech. So that’s another voice in the room. Plus, Beamer is close personally with Smart, who has also known Coley for years.
McGee is relatively new to college, having come from Georgia Southern, and prior to that serving as an analyst on Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn. But McGee most impressed Smart when he was the longtime head coach at Carver High School in Columbus and Smart was recruiting his players.
“Every time I’ve gone to Dell’s high school, I’ve always thought about the respect I had for him as a person first and foremost,” Smart said. “I can’t tell you how many times Coach (Nick) Saban and I went through the whole Gabe Wright and Isaiah Crowell process where I thought ‘Man, this guy is a really reputable person. He’s going to be a great college coach one day.’
“He took the steps to do that. He went and worked at Auburn. He went and got his job at Georgia Southern. He did a great job recruiting for two years. I don’t think there’s a person more qualified for this position, as far as in the state. Well-respected as a person, as a coach, has proven himself, and he’s done nothing since he’s been here to disappoint me at all. I’m looking forward to working with Dell. As far as those kids, they really like him. I think it’s a great deal for us.”
Georgia’s offense finished the year ranked 83rd nationally in total yards gained. So it’s no surprise that none of its coaches are returning, though Smart did try to keep running backs coach Thomas Brown, who chose to follow Mark Richt to Miami. And assistants John Lilly (tight ends) and Bryan McClendon (running backs and receivers) were both part of those staffs when the Bulldogs’ offense was great.
Now the offensive staff is all new. Whether it will be equal to the Bobo years, or even better, remains to be seen. What Smart has at least tried to ensure is that it will have just one over-arching philosophy: Balance and adaptability.
“We’ve got to win football games,” Smart said. “Ultimately we’ve got to do what’s best for our offensive system and what we have.”