Kirby Smart met with UGA donors last week at Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte. A person who was in attendance shared some of the details from his remarks on DawgsCentral’s subscriber forum. Some of Smart’s remarks caused me to look back on how UGA got to the top of the sport. They also provided insight that made me see UGA’s offensive coordinator change in a new way…
There has been a fair amount of hand wringing amongst certain factions of the Georgia fan base since Todd Monken’s hiring by the Baltimore Ravens a little over a week ago. The distressed parties are broken into two groups.
There are those who are lamenting the loss of Monken, the man who called plays for Georgia as it tore off 29 wins in 30 games and captured back-to-back national championships in 2021 and 2022. This seems like a rational thing to be concerned about. Monken’s offense rolled through the College Football Playoff, putting up 107 points in two games. The team set a number of offensive records and ranked among the nation’s best teams in pretty much every meaningful offensive category.
It’s fair to say that the person who helped orchestrate that kind of output isn’t a guy that anyone would want to lose. To be worried by that loss, regardless of how Monken is eventually replaced, seems like a rational thought for a fan to have.
The other group out there are those who are also distressed by Monken’s exit, but are even more upset that he was replaced by Mike Bobo. The fight over whether or not Bobo is or isn’t a good hire has been litigated across social media over the last 8 days. I’ve thought about it a lot, and here is my honest take…
If I was starting a college football program from scratch right now I probably wouldn’t call up Mike Bobo to be my offensive coordinator. That’s why the context of this hire is so important to consider. Smart isn’t starting his program. This is not 2016. This is 2023. Georgia is college football’s standard bearer. The Bulldogs aren’t a program on the rise.
Those who are the most distressed by Monken’s exit from Georgia would point out the clear change in offensive firepower that happened over the last two seasons. I want to take you back to a time not that long ago where folks were convinced that UGA would never have an explosive offense under Kirby Smart. Yes, it seems like a long time ago, but it was only a few years back.
The 2019 Bulldogs were just 70th nationally in creating explosive plays (20+ yard gains). That year’s Georgia team led the nation allowing just 12.6 points per game, but they went 12-2 and were held back by an offense that was ineffective in its attempts to modernize. James Coley tried to take UGA out of the run-first philosophy that predecessor Jim Chaney implemented.
In Chaney’s final season of 2018 the Bulldogs ran the ball on 57% of downs. Coley evened out UGA’s run/pass ratio a bit, with 2019 UGA throwing the ball on 47.5% of downs. The problem was that UGA wasn’t successful in doing so. Smart spoke candidly about Georgia’s offensive ineptitude after their 37-10 loss to LSU in the 2019 SEC Championship. In hindsight, it was a turning point for Smart.
He came to the realization that his offense must be dynamic enough to go blow for blow with the best units his defense would come up against. Georgia might shut down 13 out of 14 opponents in a given year but no matter how good UGA’s defense might be, they would eventually run up on an offense that was too good to be held down for four quarters.
Enter Monken. The last two years have made it easy to forget, but Georgia didn’t turn into an overnight juggernaut when he came to Athens. There were some speed bumps (starting D’Wan Mathis to open 2020, being too pass happy at times without the personnel to execute the scheme) in that first season. Still, Smart remained committed to Monken’s efforts to modernize UGA from a scheme and balance standpoint.
You know the rest of the story. Georgia persevered through uncertainty at the quarterback position until Stetson Bennett fully flourished in 2022. Only then did we see the UGA offense reach its final form under Monken. Only then did Smart’s commitment to being one of college football’s best offenses fully pay off.
The modernization of UGA’s offensive attack was a process that took at least 3 years. One could argue it was 4 if you count Coley’s attempt to make UGA more balanced in 2019. The offensive failures of that season taught Kirby Smart a valuable lesson… Half measures will not suffice.
Many who are upset by the Bobo hire point to that 2019 offense and the internal promotion of James Coley that preceded it. They look back at what happened and ask themselves if Smart is committing the same error. I think the struggles of the 2019 UGA offense, and what resulted from them, can actually tell us a lot more about how to dissect this hire.
The most defining characteristic of the Jim Chaney offense was his commitment to the Zone Run scheme. The 2018 Georgia offense ran Zone concepts on 88.1% of its rushing attempts. While Coley did commit to more passing plays in 2019, he also continued with his predecessor’s commitment to Zone. That year the Dawgs ran Zone concepts on 83.9% of their plays.
The reliance on Zone concepts meant UGA’s offensive line was designed to just go be big and move people straight downhill. In 2019 a very talented unit had a lot of missed assignments and a lot of games where it failed to effectively move people off the line of scrimmage. There were times that the passing game didn’t work because the run game wasn’t able to get enough of a push. There were others when the run game didn’t work because the passing game was ineffective. One could argue which phase of the game was the chicken versus the egg at the time, but the point is that UGA’s Zone concepts relied on RB’s who could properly read the full OL and find a crease. On a lot of plays they also needed all five linemen to move their men in order to be effective. If a defense had a defensive lineman who matched up favorably against one of Georgia’s linemen consistently then it could doom UGA’s run game for large spells. When it wasn’t working, Georgia did not have a release valve.
When Monken was hired he started to transform UGA’s run scheme. In 2020 the Bulldogs were 71.7% Zone Scheme. Then in 2021 he turned UGA into a team that was almost totally balanced between Zone vs Gap Scheme. The Bulldogs ran Zone on 51.7% of plays. That is something that is quite rare in football at any level. I believe it was his and Smart’s plan all along but it requires more nimble and athletic linemen to run the pulls that are part of the Gap Scheme run concepts.
The implementation of the Gap Scheme gave UGA a release valve for the games when its offensive line wasn’t able to physically dominate at the point of attack. A perfect example would be the 2021 National Championship. Georgia struggled to move Alabama up front for much of that game. Instead of fighting a losing battle the Bulldogs started to get Bama on its heels with misdirection and pulling linemen. The result was James Cook’s 67-yard 3rd quarter run that started to change the game in Georgia’s favor. Another example of this was Georgia’s second half comeback against Missouri in 2022. The Dawgs blew assignments and got whipped up front for much of the night, but Georgia went to Gap Scheme in the second half and won the game on the shoulders of its rushing attack down the stretch.
A coach does not simply wake up one morning and decide to become a 50/50 Zone vs Gap rushing attack. It takes years of recruiting linemen with enough size and speed to do both well. The 2021 Bulldogs having the ability to call that play in that moment against Alabama was the result of long-term planning coming to fruition. That planning was the result of Kirby Smart consistently evaluating his program and doing enough self-scouting to recognize Georgia’s weaknesses.
Yes, Todd Monken changed Georgia’s offense, but it was Kirby Smart who allowed him to do it.
There seems to be a notion that UGA’s offense was pulled into the modern era despite a begrudging Smart wanting otherwise. In reality, it was Smart who hired Matt Luke and Stacy Searels, two guys with a ton of past experience running Gap Scheme concepts, to coach his offensive line.
For our purposes it is a bit more pertinent to look at Smart’s hiring of Luke. That happened in December of 2019 after he was fired by Ole Miss. Luke joined Georgia during bowl practices and was on the sideline against Baylor, replacing Sam Pittman after he was hired as the head coach at Arkansas. When he was brought on board it signaled a philosophical shift. Monken was hired at UGA in mid-January of 2020, which would indicate the shift in run game philosophy was decided on by Smart before Monken’s influence was ever part of the Georgia program.
An offensive coordinator is hired to run whatever offense the head coach wants them to. Yes, coordinators across the sport are given varying levels of autonomy. Still, the idea that Monken designed UGA’s offense in a way that went against what Smart already wanted is one that I would challenge. What we do know is that Monken beautifully executed the modernization of the UGA attack that Smart desired.
So… Why the hell am I bringing this up now and what does it have to do with Mike Bobo? That brings me to Kirby Smart’s comments to UGA donors in Charlotte. There were multiple times where he referenced working with a sports psychologist, and it became clear that he is always looking forward. This quote is from the post on the DawgsCentral forum about Smart’s remarks…
“They worked together to look at teams that have been successful over a long period of time. Kirby posed this question to the audience, "What sports team has had the most success over the past 100 years." The audience was stumped initially... The correct answer is the All Blacks. From their Wikipedia Page, "The New Zealand national rugby union team, commonly known as the All Blacks, represents New Zealand in men's international rugby union, which is considered the country's national sport. Famed for their unmatched international success, the All Blacks have often been regarded as the most successful sports team in human history."
Where this applies to Georgia, is Kirby and company have been studying the All Blacks to find out why they are so successful. How have they been able to continue this same level of success for so long?”
The admittance from Smart that he has looked far into the future of his program and laid out a detailed blueprint is what made me start looking backwards at how UGA’s offense got to this place to start with.
Kirby Smart is always planning, always looking forward, and always thinking about the next move. College football is a slow moving sport, and by that I mean that we often do not get to see philosophical shifts or the new ideas of a coach come to life on the field until years later. It takes time to implement scheme changes.
What should give those worried about the Bobo hire some relief is the fact that Smart seems fully committed to Georgia’s offense continuing on its current path. The personnel has been recruited to ensure the Bulldogs will continue forward with the multiple TE sets that made them so lethal in 2021 and 2022.
The day Bobo was hired it was made clear to me that Georgia would move forward with the same scheme and terminology that it has used for the last 3 years. In essence, the “Todd Monken Offense” and the “Georgia Offense” are now one in the same. I am sure that Bobo will add some of his own influence to the playbook, but keeping things as they are is similar to what Nick Saban did at Alabama after Lane Kiffin left. Every coordinator hired at Alabama is there to run the playbook that is in place, excel at game planning, and put some of their own wrinkles into the system. Smart has emulated Saban’s organizational structure many times in the past, and on some level it appears he is doing it again with this move.
I said at the start of this piece that Bobo probably wouldn’t be the guy I hired if I was building a program from scratch. That said, under these circumstances I would give him the job. UGA just went 15-0 and is headed into an offseason QB competition. The continuity makes perfect sense.
The marriage between Monken and Smart worked because they had a philosophical agreement over what Georgia’s offense should be. Bobo already knows what it is and he already understands the expectation. Bringing in an outside OC and asking them to keep the same playbook in place could have led to uncomfortable dynamics or struggles over philosophy.
Bobo was a large part of UGA’s game planning in 2022, and a lot of his focus was on third-down and red-zone situations. Georgia was 3rd in the FBS, converting 52.07% of its third down attempts (they were also 1st in the FBS with an 86.67% conversion rate on fourth downs). The Bulldogs also led college football with a scoring percentage of 98.67% in the red zone. The Bulldogs excelled in the areas where Bobo was contributing.
I have written before that Todd Monken was the best play caller I’ve seen at Georgia. That’s because he was. I can’t tell you whether or not Bobo will pull all of the right cards in those moments, but I can tell you that having more talent than the opposition is the most reliable way to make a play caller look good. As far as acquiring that talent, Georgia is getting a fantastic recruiter in Bobo. His track record is an impressive one. If you’re judging Bobo by something he did in 2013 then don’t, it’s apples and oranges.
When writing about UGA’s offense throughout 2022, I talked about my “Monken’s Long Con Theory.” I believed that he only called his best plays when the game was close and he needed them. The rest of the time he kept things pretty vanilla and used large chunks of Georgia’s schedule to have his team work on things it needed to get better at. It is fair to ask if this will continue under Bobo. When I look at the whole of Georgia Football, I believe that Smart is the orchestrator of the long con as much as anyone.
Remember, the UGA defense did the same thing as the UGA offense in 2022. Things stayed vanilla when the Bulldogs were playing an opponent that was capable of challenging them and the game was close. You never saw any exotic blitzes, pressure packages, or personnel groupings. The Bulldogs played their base stuff on defense until late in the year. In the CFP they unleashed a ton of pressures that we never saw during the regular season. Again, I think it’s fair to say that Monken was executing Smart’s philosophy.
In Smart’s remarks to the crowd in Charlotte he spoke a lot about keeping his team in the right mindset. He also talked about keeping himself and his coaches in the proper state of mind, and working with the sports psychologist to do so. What seems clear is that Kirby Smart knows the secret to winning big in college football is not just recruiting the best players, but also keeping them dialed in and motivated.
In talking about the Bobo hire he mentioned how he wants coaches that “have an edge.” This was in reference to mentality and desire to succeed. Smart spent the last year with Bobo, and he thinks that his new OC possesses the same type of tenacious desire that he requires from his entire organization.
Smart is the CEO of Georgia Football, and he made a hire that would preserve the already stellar corporate culture that he has carefully built. He hired Todd Monken to execute the plan that he put in place to modernize his offense. He hired Mike Bobo to continue executing that plan.
Only time will tell us if Georgia is able to sustain that same level of success, but time has already told us that UGA’s recent success was the result of Kirby Smart looking far into the distance as he mapped out the future of his program after the offensive failures of 2019. It was then that he put the plans in motion that eventually resulted in Georgia’s 2022 offense. Knowing that, I would give him the benefit of the doubt as he continues executing his vision.