FORT COLLINS, COLO. — There were moments of doubt for Mike Bobo. Like Dec. 30th of last year.
A week into his new gig, Bobo found himself sitting alone in his new second-floor office at Colorado State’s McGraw Athletic Center. He recalls it being minus-12 degrees that day. His car wouldn’t crank. The entire state was buried under a historic snowstorm.
Meanwhile, the Georgia Bulldogs had just put the finishing touches on a 37-14 thumping of Louisville and former defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in the Belk Bowl. Bobo watched the game in its entirety. Moments after the conclusion, quarterback Hutson Mason and Georgia’s offensive linemen texted Bobo a photo of them embracing in celebration.
“While you’re freezing your up there,” the message said, “we’re down here in Charlotte taking care of business for you! Signed, the best offense in Georgia history. ”
Bobo still laughs at the recollection.
“It was kind of like that my first three or four days, until that winter storm finally passed,” he said this past Monday, a sunny and warm day in Fort Collins.
Sensing Bobo’s mood in those early, cold days, Colorado State linebackers coach Marty English came into his new boss’s office and told him, “Come with me, Coach.”
English put Bobo in his car and drove him three miles west down Elizabeth Avenue. There, with Horsetooth Reservoir and the front range of the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, English took Bobo to an overlook to show him a prime view of CSU’s Hughes Stadium.
“It was unnnnn-real,” Bobo said, drawing out the syllables in his South Georgia lilt. “You ride up there and see the water, the mountains, the stadium. I couldn’t see the mountains for like four days. Now I’m sitting there looking at it, taking it in, and I’m like, ‘Look where I’m at.’ It’s just beautiful out here.”
And it has kind of been clear skies and smooth sailing ever since for Bobo.
A little bit of doubt and trepidation could be expected. Bobo is, after all, the consummate Bulldog.
A native Georgian, he played quarterback for the Bulldogs and married Lainie Meshad, a niece of Vince and Barbara Dooley. Including two graduate assistant years, he has spent 17 of his 18 years in coaching wearing the red and black of his alma mater.
So it was not without a considerable amount of thought and quite a bit deliberation that Bobo finally decided to move on. Now, embedded as the 22nd head coach in Colorado State history, he has to remind himself why he was so slow to leave.
“The reason I was (at Georgia) for such a long time is I believed in how we did things,” Bobo said as he leaned back in his office chair and placed his hands behind his head. “Not only practice-wise and game-wise, but how we treated the players, how it was a family atmosphere. I believe that’s why we had such consistency there, because we were consistent with the players and the program. And I plan to apply a lot of those principles here.”
Bobo’s decision to pursue the Colorado State job before the Belk Bowl last December was actually part of a scheme that he’d been hatching for a long time with his close pal Will Friend and some other select coaching buddies. As he and Friend worked together over the last four years at Georgia, Bobo as offensive coordinator and Friend as line coach, they’d often talk during down times about what it might be like if they ever had the chance to run their own show.
These two are kindred spirits. They’re the same age, both are from rural football families, Friend from Philadelphia, Miss., Bobo from Thomasville, coaches’ sons who went on to play big-time college ball. They first met when Friend joined the Bulldogs’ staff as a graduate assistant in 2003 and Bobo was a young quarterbacks coach.
Friend would leave in 2005 for Gardner-Webb, then went with Neil Callaway to UAB and become offensive line coach. When Stacy Searels left UGA for Texas after the 2010 season, Friend credits Bobo for lobbying for him to get the job with the Bulldogs.
“They could have hired anybody in the country, but Mike stood on the table for me because he felt like he knew what we could do together,” Friend said in an interview at the CSU football complex. “Not only were we close and our families were close, but professionally he stood up for me and gave me a chance. So there was no way I wasn’t coming to try to help him in his first chance to be a head football coach.”
In the public sector, there was some uncertainty whether or not Friend would join his friend. After Bobo was named head coach on Dec. 23 and Georgia went to the Belk Bowl and Friend accompanied the Bulldogs to Charlotte. They weren’t making it easy on him. They offered him a substantial raise and whatever guarantees they could throw in with it.
But the truth is, this deal had been worked out before Bobo accepted the job.
“I’m in Las Vegas about to walk in and talk to the president and I’m on the phone with Will going, ‘this is our chance; I gotta know if you’re in,’” Bobo recounted. “We’d been talking about it for four years going, how we wanted to go somewhere and build something on our own and start our own culture. This was it, and I knew I couldn’t do unless I knew I had the staff I wanted.”
Friend wasn’t the only one Bobo wanted.
Bobo had known Tyson Summers since his days as a defensive backs coach at Tift County High School. He got to know him better when he served a year as a graduate assistant at Georgia in 2005. Summers went on to coach at Georgia Southern, UAB and, most recently, Central Florida.
Both men always had the same recruiting territory, so they’d often meet and talk on the road. They determined that they’d like to work together if they ever got the chance.
“We were able to talk about football and talk about recruiting philosophies and different ideas and that relationship grew as time went on,” said Summers, who is now Bobo’s defensive coordinator. “Over the years I told my wife, ‘when Coach Bobo gets his opportunity, we’re going.’”
With assurances made, Bobo accepted Colorado State’s five-year, $7.75 million offer and went to work. And now there is a decidedly Southern flavor to his staff. Bobo also brought Ronnie Letson from Georgia to coach quarterbacks and former Bulldogs’ quarterback Joe Cox serves the team as an offensive graduate assistant.
For Bobo, the timing could not have been better, personally or professionally. At Georgia, Bobo had done pretty much all he could do. He’d groomed a No. 1 draft pick in quarterback Matt Stafford and led an offense that established records for yardage and scoring each of the last three seasons.
Bobo’s work wasn’t always appreciated by a small segment of the fan base. That wasn’t an impetus to leave but, in a way, perceptions were.
“Having played there, having coached there so long, sometimes you become part of the woodwork,” he said of Georgia. “People still see you as that guy that played here. It was time to change, time to grow.”
Of course, Bobo had five young children and a headstrong wife to consider. Turns out they were on board, too.
“He texted me and asked me what I thought about going to Colorado,” Lainie said. “I said, ‘great, I’ve been wanting the kids to learn to snow ski.”
Said Bobo: “It was the perfect time, because Drew, my oldest, just turned 11 and is going into sixth grade. Nobody was in middle school, nobody was in high school, I didn’t have teenage girls. I stay at Georgia, three or four more years, and then’s the best change for them. This was a good age to move them.”
Bobo has taken all the knowledge that he acquired the last 15 years with Richt and is essentially transferring it all to Colorado State. Call it UGA-Mountain West.
“There are little subtleties that I changed, but the protections, the run calls, the route concepts are the same,” Bobo said. “We were successful there. That’s why. You’ve got to do things you believe in as a coach, and there a lot of things about what we did at Georgia that I believe in. I want to be physical, I want to put people on their heels by giving them different formations. But I’ve got to do what we can do here, what we can do with the people we have.”
Bobo has some good parts to work with. The Rams, who were 10-3 last year under coach Jim McElwain, return seven starters from a unit that averaged 33 points and 480 yards a game. Of course, two of the four starters were rather notable. Left tackle Ty Sam Sambrillo was selected in the second round of the NFL draft by the Denver Broncos and record-breaking quarterback Garrett Grayson went in the third round to the New Orleans Saints.
While there is a quarterback competition — which sophomore Nick Stevens has all but locked up already – the strength of the Rams’ offense is in its wide receiving corps. Most college football fans are aware of Rashard Higgins, a junior from Texas who was named a consensus first-team All-American after averaging 145.8 yards receiving a game. But it goes well beyond him. Including senior Joe Hansley, sophomore Xavier Williams and about a half-dozen other top-notch targets, the Colorado State receiving corps would be the envy of a lot of SEC teams, including Georgia.
Bobo can’t wait to see if his way works.
“I wanted to be head coach but I also wanted to be the head coach at the right place,” Bobo said. Other opportunities have come up. The opportunity here intrigued me because of they had success, first of all, and you’re not going to a program where you have to re-energize and rejuvenate the fan base. You’re not going in there to do a complete overhaul that could take 10 years off your life. There’s some passion here for this football program. They’ve been playing football for a long time. That right there made me think this would be a place I’d want to be a head coach. It’s a beautiful place to live, a great place to raise a family, all those things were here.”