ATHENS – Had he landed the job a season earlier, it probably would have been considered a cushy gig.
Instead, running backs coach Bryan McClendon's first year on the job has been a bit more of a trial by fire.
Gone was Knowshon Moreno, the foundation of the Bulldogs' fearsome backfield for the past two seasons. In his place was a talented depth chart with virtually no experience and no clear frontrunner for carries.
It wasn't anything close to a simple job for a first-year coach, but McClendon said he's learned a lot along the way.
"I've definitely grown, but it's not so much about me," McClendon said. "My job was to get those guys ready to play on Saturday and be there for them in whatever they need off the field. But a lot of it is just those guys and bringing in guys you don't mind being there for. I think I've got a room full of them."
That bond has blossomed as the season has progressed. In the early going, the running game was a mess. Five players – six, if you count cornerback Branden Smith, who earned reps on offense this season – were fighting for carries in the fall, and injuries and inconsistency plagued the unit in the early going.
The result was a dismal showing on the ground. Through six weeks, Georgia was last in the SEC in rushing and had turned in just one performance of more than 100 yards on the ground – and even that was bolstered by one long run by Richard Samuel.
But as the season went along, players got healthy and McClendon and the rest of Georgia's coaching staff got a better feel for the personnel. The results were dramatic. The Bulldogs' tailbacks tallied at least 130 yards on the ground in each of their final six games and ended the regular season with a dominant performance in which both Caleb King and freshman Washaun Ealey zoomed past the 100-yard mark.
"He's done a great job with us all year and you can really tell just watching us on the field that as a unit we've really been getting better all year," fullback Shaun Chapas said of McClendon's efforts. "That's something he preaches every day."