Bobo Doesn't Feel Vindicated Yet

ATHENS – At the tender of 36, Mike Bobo sometimes looks grizzled.

The stubbled beard. The receding hairline. The voice that cracks.

Maybe it's the job. Maybe it's the five kids. Or it could be all the criticism he's come under at his alma mater, the only place he's ever really known.

"He can get a little frustrated at times," said Aaron Murray, who as Georgia's quarterback probably sees Bobo more than any other player. "But if I had five kids all under the age of (six), and four freshman quarterbacks and no other quarterbacks, I'd lose a couple hairs too. But coach Bobo's a great guy."

He also remains the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator, a fact that might have seemed surprising earlier this season. The Bulldogs were 1-4 and many blamed the offense, specifically its play-caller.

Fans needed a piñata, someone to blame, and when head coach Mark Richt wasn't getting it, Bobo was the pinata. At one point a caller to Richt's radio show asked the coach on the air if "We can get rid of coach Bobo."

Richt didn't answer. But after the regular season ended, he had a one-word response when asked if he wanted Bobo to keep calling plays: "Yes."

By then, Richt had the stats and production to back up the decision:

Georgia has the league's fourth-best scoring offense, putting up at least 30 points in the last seven games. The Bulldogs' record (6-6) seemed more tied to a struggling defense, and the absence of star receiver A.J. Green for the first four games.

During Green's four-game NCAA suspension, the Bulldogs averaged 352.3 yards and 24.3 points per game.

After the star receiver's return, they averaged 414.5 yards and 39.3 points per game. Bobo's play-calling has also been criticized for not being creative enough, but a couple stats could dispute that:

- The Bulldogs had 63 plays (including special teams) of at least 25 yards this season, compared to 43 for their opponents.

- Inside the red zone, the Bulldogs ranked 12th in the nation in converting: They got a touchdown 34 of 54 times, a field goal 14 times, with the six empty chances coming on three turnovers, two missed field goal and failed fourth down attempt.

Bobo was asked this week if, after all the early-season criticism, he felt vindicated.

He offered a slight grunt before answering.

"You know, if we'd have gotten an SEC championship, I would've felt better," he said. "But to be honest, I don't read that stuff. You feel it, because you felt it because you've got people saying, ‘Hey hang in there, you're getting tons of (criticism).' But the bottom line is I just keep grinding every day, trying to make the position I coach get better every game, and us improve as an offense."

Bobo and his wife Lainie have five children, including four-year-old triplets. But as Murray alluded, the job of being quarterbacks coach may have been an even bigger source of stress.

Once Zach Mettenberger was dismissed from the team after spring practice, the Bulldogs were left with just two scholarship quarterbacks, and two more walk-ons. None of them had played a down in college.

But Murray ended up having an outstanding season (24 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and 2,851 passing yards). That came under the tutelage of Bobo, who in his 10 years as Georgia's quarterbacks coach has also guided David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matt Stafford and Joe Cox to big seasons.

Bobo's own playing experience as quarterback (when he was team captain in 1996 and 1997) is a big reason for that success, according to Murray.

"He talks about it all the time: He made his mistakes when he had opportunities to go out there and make plays," Murray said. "So he's not as hard on us, because he knows it's gonna happen. He's been in that position. He's been through it, he's been harassed, people booing him, he's been through the great times too. He's been through it all. So it's nice to throw it off him and have him be able to relate to us."

Murray also laughs when asked about the play-calling criticism.

"I don't know why people complain," Murray said. "We're gonna set about six records this year. We're gonna score 30 points in eight straight games. I mean that's all due to play-calling. I don't know how you're gonna complain when we're throwing 30 points on the board.. … If you go back and look through the games that we've lost, most of it's due to our errors: fumbling it, throwing interceptions, us not taking care of the ball."

Tight end Orson Charles, who should be a key part of next year's offense, suspects the fans that want the offense opened up will get their wish next year.

"When we lost those four straight games, everybody was telling everybody that we have to fire coach Richt and Bobo and whatnot. And we just stock together," Charles said. "Now that Aaron has a year under his belt, he knows what Aaron can and can't do. Now he'll feel comfortable bootlegging him, making him run, throwing the deep ball, (the stuff) that he's proven this year."

Whatever Bobo may be thinking privately, he remained unbowed in his public comments. Yes, he was personally gratified by Murray's development, but he doesn't want the quarterback to be satisfied.

"Definitely I'm pleased with that, that we got better as the season went along. But still finishing 6-6 is not where we want to be at Georgia," Bobo said. "Do I think we're a long way off, no, I think we're very close to getting where we want to be."

Richt turned over the play-calling to Bobo late in the 2006 season. Since then, according to UGA historian Patrick Garbin, the Bulldog offense has actually out-produced the team when Richt was calling plays.

Some fans may still clamor for a change. But there's no sign Bobo is going anywhere.

"I'm happy he's my coach," Murray said, "And I'm excited for the next three years to be with him."

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