ATHENS, Ga. — Mike Bobo coaches with a player’s perspective.
The Georgia offensive coordinator wants the Bulldogs quarterbacks to have fun.
But to enjoy such experience, a dedicated emphasis has to be placed on discipline and the work ethic.
All work and no play might make Johnny a dull boy! You might believe that old saw, but quarterbacks who don’t want to be dull boys must first subscribe to the notion that hard work is the first step toward success. Games come one day a week. The other six are for preparation.
Quarterbacks have to be smarter than the rest of the team. They have to know their assignments and yours, too. They have to be more disciplined than the rest of the team. Their miscues and mishaps are more critical to the eye and are of greater consequence, which affects their ability to lead the team.
Of all the coaches I have known at Georgia, Bobo – an unbending overachiever who passionately identifies with the work ethic – is the most underappreciated coach in Bulldogs history.
That was the way it was for him as a player when he played quarterback for Georgia in 1994-97. He was never flashy. He was just a yeoman performer who didn’t impress with strong-armed passes, zipping about or dodging linebackers.
He simply got the job done.
Bobo played with pride, not ego. He coaches the same way.
Yet as a player, he made plays. He found a way to win, the classic example coming in the Georgia-Auburn game in 1996, the Southeastern Conference’s first overtime game. That has to be one of the greatest performances ever by a Georgia quarterback, but Bobo is the first to note that it should not have been.
It was a case of an opponent faux pas, which favored Bobo’s team.
With the clock ticking away, Bobo failed to get the ball off and took a sack. The game should have been over, but an Auburn defender took the ball in a moment of premature celebration and began running down the field. The official had to stop the clock to get the ball back. This allowed Georgia to line up, giving Bobo time to spike the ball and get off one final pass, which happened to be a gem of a 31-yarder to receiver Corey Allen just inside the goal line.
Every now and then, Bobo will show that final series to his quarterbacks, reminding them that if the other team had not done something stupid, he would have never been the hero.
“I want them to understand what not to do,” Bobo says, “I made a terrible mistake but got away with it.”
Second-guessing the quarterback and the play caller – Bobo could write a book about each subject – is indelible in football fandom’s unrelenting landscape. But how could anybody not take the time to review and factor in all the data?
The cold, hard facts cause his associates to shake their heads in dismay when Bobo is criticized. Don’t ask the critic next door. Ask people like Jon Gruden, the Super Bowl–winning coach of the Tampa Bay Bucs and now the analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
“Mike Bobo is one of the sharpest young coaches I have ever met,” Gruden says.
Georgia’s offensive production in 2012 not only enabled the Bulldogs to win 12 games and the SEC East title, but registered high nationally on the stat sheet. How about long scrimmage plays for starters.
• 20-plus yards (90 plays), ranked No. 3 in the country.
• 30-plus yards (45), No. 3.
• 40-plus yards (28), No. 2.
• 50-plus yards (15), No. 2.
• 60-plus yards (9), No. 3.
The Bulldogs set 16 offensive team records a season ago, including most points for a season, 529, and highest average points scored per game, 37.8.
Georgia also set five bowl records, including passing yards (427) and touchdown passes (five) against one of the toughest pass defenses in the country, defeating Nebraska 45-31.
Bobo took over as offensive coordinator in 2007 and increased production. His first offense averaged 32.6 and only one year – 2009, when Joe Cox began the season on the sick bed on the road at Oklahoma State – did the Bulldogs offense drop below 30 points per game. And even that offense wasn’t bad at 28.9.
Never the self-promoter, Bobo has this to say about last year’s glittering offensive performance: “It means nothing. We all could get fired in January.”
Bobo could have left Athens lately for other coordinating positions with big raises, but he politely declined to interview. He could have had a lower-division head coaching job by now but realizes that being Georgia’s offensive coordinator is better than being a head coach at a lot of schools.
He grew up in the state, played high school football for his father, George, in Thomasville, and quarterbacked his favorite team in college. At Georgia, he had fun, made friends, and learned that there is fulfillment in a career if you can find a place to coach that is similar to where you played. Bobo embraces that with the greatest of affection and commitment.
He loves Athens, he loves Georgia, and his family — parents and in-laws — are within reach, which means downtime is a grand old time with the family.
Golf and fishing are nice diversions for him, but when his coaching nose is not butting up against the grindstone, he treasures family time. With five kids age 9 or younger, Bobo goes from one action-packed environment to another, loving every minute of it.
Even so, Bobo tries to stay on top of his game from one season to the next. He spent time this spring with Gruden.
In those sessions, the conversation had to do with lead-zone concepts, high-percentage pass plays and no-huddle formations. Gruden gave him a play-action pass off the sprint zone, which Bobo filed away. Georgia practiced the play during the season but never used it in a game. It would lead to a fortuitous moment, however.
Nebraska — which was a much better team than many forecasters realized — went toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs.
“We knew we could not make any mistakes on offense to move the ball on them,” Bobo says.
After Nebraska scored on an interception return and was leading 14-9 in the second quarter, Bobo decided that Nebraska, which emphasized quarters coverage, might be vulnerable to the play-action pass he had gotten from Gruden.
With Mitchell, who is usually the X receiver (to the boundry), out with a concussion, Bobo sent word to the sideline to ask the officials to place the ball on the left hashmark. In such situations, the officials will put the ball where requested. He then directed the sideline coaches to put Tavares King (normally the Z receiver, to the field) in the X position. King got behind the secondary, and quarterback Aaron Murray connected with him for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
Life is good, and nobody knows that better than Bobo.
“We live in a great town and community,” Bobo said. “We have a program which attracts the best players. I work for a great man who happens to be our head coach. We are stable in an unstable profession. Coach Richt is so unemotional on the field, which is an asset many do not appreciate. He never panics and, as a result, our team never panics.”
Bobo has a similar personality except that he is more of a fiery type, giving to occasional outburst. If things don’t go well, he can lose it, maybe given to shouting epithets in the coaches’ booth in the press box, but he has a relaxed and even style for the most part.
His philosophy is to pressure the players in practice and create a relaxed atmosphere for the games.
“You do you work in practice, that is where you win games,” he said.
On his wall there is framed piece of prose written by author T. Alan Armstrong, which underscores his last point: “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their character.”
That has become the essence of Bobo’s approach to running Georgia’s offense. That he is running the offense well is not lost on those who count — from Richt to athletic director Greg McGarity, to the true experts like Jon Gruden.
Don’t forget, too, Bobo is a Georgia boy, with a Georgia degree, which motivates him to do his best for his alma mater.