Why Kirby Smart made a rare misstep by tabbing Mike Bobo as Todd Monken's replacement
After Georgia dropped a 65-point hammer on TCU to become the first team to repeat as national champs in 11 years, I made the case why Todd Monken was the best assistant hire of the Playoff era. It was Monken’s modern pro-style, tight end-heavy offensive sets that were at the root of the best UGA offense in program history. A team that was stuck in the mud offensively as the 2010s closed got a shot of life when Kirby Smart hired Monken, who had been squeezed out of his offensive coordinator gig in the NFL.
A little more than 3 years later, Georgia fans got the worst possible personnel news on Tuesday morning.
Monken is going back to the NFL. Even worse? Smart kept the offensive coordinator job in-house and promoted Mike Bobo.
Yeah, Bobo. As in, the guy who held an offensive analyst title this past year at UGA after getting fired as Bryan Harsin’s one-and-done offensive coordinator. As in, the guy who was supposed to save Will Muschamp’s job at South Carolina when he was hired there for the 2020 season, which saw the Gamecocks boast the No. 98 scoring offense in a 2-win season. As in, the guy who was Mark Richt’s right-hand man for 14 of his good, not great 15 years in Athens.
If you think Bobo is about to pick up where Monken left off, it’s probably for 1 of 2 reasons. Either you didn’t appreciate just how incredible of a schemer that Monken was, or you believe Smart can do no wrong.
I’ll agree to disagree with that and say that replacing Monken with Bobo is a rare misstep for Smart.
Don’t get it twisted. I understand the positives. The goal is to try and keep continuity ahead of UGA’s 3-peat bid. Georgia has 2 quarterbacks who already had multiple seasons in Monken’s system, and that’s not including Gunner Stockton, who’ll compete for the starting job in his second season in Athens. In theory, Bobo got an opportunity to learn the new Georgia offense under Monken, and that should bode well for an accomplished roster that’s loaded with as much talent as there is in college football.
In reality, I’m skeptical that Bobo is the one who’ll maximize that talent.
Georgia had as much talent as anyone from 2017-19. What did it not have? The right scheme and the right play-caller. The Dawgs were too predictable. It’s why in 2019 they averaged 223 passing yards per game and when they faced AP Top 25 finishers, they averaged just 20.8 points and with a third-year starting quarterback. Under Monken in 2022, those numbers jumped to 46.6 points per game vs. AP finishers and 296.8 passing yards per game.
Monken is the guy who could execute an up-tempo offense at a high level. Bobo is the guy who said as recently as 2020 that the no-huddle offense has led to “football has fundamentally gone downhill because of going so fast.” In the 2 years following those comments, Bobo ran SEC offenses that ranked No. 11 and No. 10 in the conference in total plays, and neither group cracked the top half of the conference in yards/play.
Bobo’s FBS ranks in scoring offense and yards/play since he left Georgia after 2014 are … underwhelming:
(Don’t forget that a year before Bobo arrived at Colorado State, Jim McElwain led a 2014 offense that ranked No. 4 in FBS in yards per play.)
I look at Bobo’s post-Georgia résumé and think that’s pretty underwhelming for someone that’s about to have full autonomy for the likely preseason No. 1 team in America on the heels of consecutive national titles. Usually, guys who haven’t run a top-half FBS scoring offense in 6 years aren’t no-doubter replacements for national title favorites. And if your argument is “but look what he did a decade ago,” tell me how many assistants get hired for decade-old feats.
Clearly, it helped Monken that he knows the Georgia program as well as anybody having spent 23 seasons there as a player or coach, and it probably didn’t hurt that he and Smart were college roommates and remained close friends. There’s a trust factor that Smart doesn’t have to worry about.
But should that really be a determining factor for such a coveted vacancy? That’s the bigger problem with the decision. Within minutes, Monken’s move to the Ravens was met from a report from Seth Emerson about Bobo’s succession. It’s possible that Smart did some digging during the past couple of weeks as Monken interviewed for NFL jobs and that no outside candidate caught his eye, especially given the odd timing of the hiring cycle.
At the same time, you can’t tell me that Bobo would’ve been the top candidate if the Georgia offensive coordinator vacancy truly went public. And if the assumption is “well look at all the coordinators who turned down Alabama,” I’d argue those are 2 different situations with their own pros and cons that would’ve impacted potential candidates. You owe it to your program to at least survey the market.
We know that loyalty is everything for Smart. It’s fair to wonder if loyalty blinded him on this decision.
It’s wild to think about the sliding doors of this Georgia run had Smart hired Bobo in Dec. 2019. At one point, that felt like a real possibility before Bobo ultimately went to South Carolina and joined forces with his other former Georgia teammate, Will Muschamp. You could say that loyalty might’ve blinded Muschamp, too.
Time will tell if Bobo can live up to the ridiculously high bar that Monken set. It’s a much different bar than when Bobo took over Georgia’s offense in 2007. Back then, Georgia was 5 years removed from boasting a top-40 offense and it was 25 years removed from playing for a national title. At different times in his first tenure at Georgia, he was both the savior and the goat … and not the good kind of “goat.”
This version of Georgia is much more black and white. This isn’t just about whether Bobo runs the football enough. This is about whether he helps or hurts UGA’s shot at another national championship. That’ll determine his second run in Athens.
Hopefully, for UGA’s sake, Bobo spent his time as an analyst — that was his first season in a non-on field role in 23 years — becoming a sponge. The more he soaked in from the mind of Monken, the better.
A 3-peat depends on it.