Mike Bobo coaches with a player’s perspective. He wants the Bulldog 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 may 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. Play comes one day a week, the other six are for preparation. It is intense if you want to succeed. 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 their mishaps are more critical to the eye and by nature 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 himself, one who passionately identifies with the work ethic — is the most underappreciated coach in Bulldog history. That was the way it was for him as a player when he quarterbacked Georgia from 1994-97. He was never flashy, just a yeoman performer who didn’t impress with strong-armed passes, zipping about or dodging linebackers with deft moves that left jockstraps on the turf. He got the job done. Victory was usually a companion on fall Saturdays.
Bobo played with pride but 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 committed the unthinkable. He 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 foolish 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-yard touchdown pass to receiver Corey Allen just inside the goal line. We are talking about inches.
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. I made a terrible mistake but got away with it,” Bobo says.
The victory came about because Bobo, cool under fire, moved the Bulldogs from his own 18-yard line with 1:07 left in the game to the end zone. Georgia had to have a touchdown to tie. There were no timeouts remaining. He worked the clock, throwing sideline passes to Hines Ward, getting first downs to stop the clock in masterly fashion. No Georgia quarterback has ever been more Johnny Unitas–like in moving a team down the field. His one flaw could have been fatal when he took that sack. The premature celebration stopped the clock and allowed him to complete the tying ouchdown pass. In four overtimes, Bobo only threw two passes and relied on the rushing competency of Robert Edwards to match Auburn, touchdown for touchdown, until the Georgia defense held on the home team’s last possession to win the game 56-49.
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 talked football with," 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 ’bout long scrimmage plays for starters. Nobody refers to Bobo’s offense as Air Georgia, but the Bulldogs are cogently adept at moving the football with a penchant for big plays, as the following statistics reveal:
- 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 TD passes (five) against one of the toughest pass defenses in the country, defeating Nebraska, a much better team than advertised, 45-31.
Mark Richt brought the Florida State passing game to Georgia in 2001, and the Bulldog offensive production was a hit from the start. By the time he got here, rule changes began to favor the offense, and, by comparison, his stats outdistanced most standards: Richt’s first team averaged 32.1, and his offenses were above 25 points per game every year thereafter. Bobo took over as offensive coordinator in 2007 and advanced production significantly. 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 Bulldog offense drop below 30 points per game, and that offense wasn’t bad at 28.9.
The stat that jumps out at an observer from 2012 is that the Bulldogs averaged 7.1 yards per play. Did anybody notice? Richt did. The players and the coaches noticed, but you never heard Bobo bring it up. Never the self-promoter, he has this to say about last year’s glittering offensive performance: “It means nothing. We all could get fired in January,” he laughed, taking the pragmatic view that your reputation in football lasts from week-to-week. It only matters what you did the most recent Saturday.
Other schools have taken notice for years. 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.
Some of that is only natural. 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. That that happened to be one and the same with Bobo is something he embraces 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 that 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 aged nine 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 in the spring of 2012 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, owing to losing 70-31 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game — went toe-to-toe with the Bulldogs. “They were very disciplined on pass defense,” Bobo says. “They were the No. 1 pass defense in the country. We knew we could not make any mistakes on offense to move the ball on them.” Nebraska had just scored on an interception return and was leading 14-9 in the second quarter.
After the kickoff, Bobo decided that Nebraska, which emphasized quarters coverage, might be vulnerable to the play-action pass he had gotten from Gruden. With Malcolm Mitchell, who is usually the “X” receiver (to the field), 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 “Y” receiver (to the boundary) in the X position. King got behind the secondary, and Aaron Murray connected with him for a 75-yard touchdown pass.
As he recalled the big-play opportunity that put Georgia out front for keeps, Bobo grinned at the vicissitudes of the game. If a Nebraska player makes a big play, then the pass might have gone for naught. “Sometimes a player lines up out of position and will make a play. That is just part of what goes on in games, which we have no control over and, in some cases, we cannot talk about.”
He knows that, while he could set the record straight when critics sound forth, it is best to quietly go forward, preparing for the next game. The talk show callers and bloggers can yap away endlessly as they analyze results, never understanding the nuances that only a coaching staff is exposed to.
Life is good, and nobody knows that better than Mike Bobo. “We live in a great town and community. 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 Mike Bobo’s approach to running Georgia’s offense. That he is running the offense well is not lost on those who count — from Coach Mark Richt, Greg McGarity, the athletic director, and the true experts, like Jon Gruden.
Don’t forget, too, he is a Georgia boy, with a Georgia degree, which motivates him to do his best for his alma mater.