ATHENS, Ga. — There are a number of important questions in college football these days, not the least of which is, how did this sport get so screwed up that UCLA–Rutgers became a Big Ten Conference game, and if the Atlantic Coast Conference combines with the Pacific-12, what ocean can rightfully claim naming rights?
But let’s put the money grab of disingenuous, empty-shell university presidents aside for a moment and bring the focus back to something closer to the games.
Georgia has won consecutive national championships and likely will be ranked No. 1 when preseason rankings come out. The Bulldogs will try to become the first program in 87 years — a quaint period in college football when geography and tradition mattered — to win three straight titles.
The Dogs face challenges. They have to replace their starting quarterback. They have to resist dozing off during a schedule that should come with a pillow. They need to affirm some semblance of humility and maturity because the players’ lack of concern over their driving habits suggests they believe they’re untouchable, and that’s a problem for Kirby Smart.
But here’s one of the biggest issues nobody is talking about: Todd Monken is gone.
Now, it’s common in football for the loss of a coordinator to sometimes get too much attention. It diminishes the impact of the head coach and the structures and philosophies he has instilled in the program.
But not everything is plug-and-play. Georgia lost arguably the best offensive coordinator it has ever had. The Bulldogs have won two national championships in the Smart era with Monken and none without him.
Monken’s impact went beyond smart play calling. He did as fine a job developing an afterthought of a quarterback (Stetson Bennett) as we’ve ever seen. Bennett’s strengths and innate leadership abilities clearly were overlooked by most, but Monken put him in an offense that played to his strengths, and he was so effective that more celebrated recruits transferred.
Mike Bobo, who’s back in Athens as Monken’s replacement, is a good offensive coordinator. I realize that’s a polarizing statement among Georgia fans, but there’s enough statistical data to back that up. The question is whether Bobo can do what Monken did — become so good at his job that he elevates the quarterback to unforeseen heights and Smart leaves him alone. Because if he can do that, new starting quarterback Carson Beck will be in good hands, and the Bulldogs can make it three straight. It should help that Bobo returned to Athens last season as an offensive analyst, allowing him to learn how Monken operates.
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Smart understands the concern over Monken’s loss. But he said he had a conversation with Monken after the coordinator decided to return to the NFL to run the Baltimore Ravens’ offense and felt reassured the offense would be fine.
“Once I knew he was leaving, I sat down and had a long meeting with him, and he re-emphasized how good this staff was at doing their job of presenting him ideas,” Smart said. “I think a lot of people look at offensive coordinator as an island, (like) this guy that sits over there and comes up with this stuff himself. Well, they have 15, 20 meetings a week, where each coach gives a presentation of ideas or things they can do offensively, and he gets to sit back and be the decision maker on what’s in and what’s not. Those ideas really helped him.
“(Monken) was quick to say, ‘Coach, you’re going to be fine no matter who you put in that position because you’re going to oversee it and make sure they do it right as the leader, and then they’re going to do a good job because they have pride in their performance as assistant coaches on offense. Whoever you put in that position is going to have good players and be able to be successful.’
“We were very fortunate to have Todd the time he was here, the growth he allowed us to make, the confidence he exuded with the players, and he had a package of offense that he felt confident in that fit the players that he was given. He made the personnel fit in his scheme. I don’t see that changing.”
Smart has lost other significant coordinators. But Mel Tucker and Dan Lanning came from the defensive side of the ball, Smart’s area of expertise. Former offensive coordinator Jim Chaney had some success but wasn’t as universally embraced as Monken before he left for Tennessee to join coach Jeremy Pruitt (oops).
Monken is next-level. He’s already making his impact felt in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson, getting the quarterback to go through training camp without a wristband play sheet, hoping he gets to the line quicker. He wants to speed up the offense and give Jackson more time to make reads and more responsibility.
From Jackson, via The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec: “That’s pretty much what Coach Todd has us doing right now. If we see it, make the audible. If we’re right, if we’re wrong, we’re going to talk about it after the play. We’re going to talk about it in the meeting room. But most likely, I feel like how he’s coaching us, we’re going to be right nine times out of 10.”
Georgia can attest to that success rate. Maintaining that will be the challenge.
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(Photo of Todd Monken and Carson Beck during Georgia’s 2022 spring game: Jeffrey Vest / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)