ATHENS – Bryan McClendon was coaching his unit, his back to the rest of the team, at a recent Georgia spring practice. Another voice yelled out from across the field.
“Receivers!” offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer called out.
No response from McClendon.
“Receivers!” Schottenheimer called out again.
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Still no response.
Finally, Schottenheimer yelled out: “B-Mac!”
At that, McClendon turned around, and he and Georgia’s receivers trotted over.
After six seasons coaching the running backs, it’s no surprise there would be some adjustment for McClendon, who this spring begins his new job as the receivers coach. But there’s a reason the move was made in the first place: He played receiver at Georgia and in the NFL, so he knows what he’s doing.
“To be honest with you, it feels like I’m back at home,” McClendon said after Tuesday’s practice. “The toughest part about it all was leaving those guys in that room that I was leaving. But those guys took it a lot better than I did initially.”
The move was made in order to get Thomas Brown back to Georgia. Brown, who had been Wisconsin’s running backs coach, took over his former position, while McClendon took over his.
Brown also got the better end of the deal, at least in terms of talent. He inherits Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Keith Marshall and others.
McClendon needs to replace two dependable starters, Chris Conley and Michael Bennett. There isn’t much experience left, other than Malcolm Mitchell, so there’s a lot of coaching up to do.
The task became harder this spring due to a rash of injuries. Of those left, McClendon said Mitchell, Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis have done well, while Justin Scott-Wesley, who had knee surgery in 2013, continues to try to get confidence back.
There’s talent on the way — including five-star recruit Terry Godwin — and the unit presumably will be healthier come this fall. In the meantime, it has been rough.
“When it’s all said and done, I’ve gotta come up with seven or eight guys that can play winning football for the University of Georgia,” McClendon said. “Where they are, whether they’re freshmen, walk-ons, seniors, it’s up to those guys to compete on the field and decide. That’s kind of where everybody is right now.”
McClendon’s star rose in the coaching profession because of his recruiting, although his coaching evidently was pretty decent, too, as evidenced by Todd Gurley and Chubb’s development.
The move to coaching receivers meant replacing Tony Ball, who was known as a detail-oriented and very technical coach. So how has McClendon approached it?
He speaks once a week with Daryl Drake, who was his receivers coach with the Chicago Bears and is now the Arizona Cardinals’ receivers coach.
McClendon can also lean on John Eason, his former Georgia receivers coach who is still with the Bulldogs in an administrative role.
But mostly McClendon just relied on his own knowledge of the position. Not just his playing days, but two years as a graduate assistant, working with the receivers.
“All the familiarity kind of came back rushing at once,” McClendon said. “It’s been a ball.”
When Ball left for LSU and Brown became available, McClendon said he didn’t need to be talked into the change. There were some downsides, but he realized it could help him in his eventual goal to become an offensive coordinator. Most importantly, McClendon said, he wanted to get Brown back.
“It was like, ‘Hey, this is what we wanna do, and this is the guy that we want,’ ” McClendon said of Brown. “So it was pretty much a consensus. Obviously I was in that long line that wanted him to come here. So I was kind of recruiting him a little bit too.”
It didn’t hurt for McClendon to get a raise — he now earns $400,000 — and yet another title. He added passing game coordinator, after being named assistant head coach in January, and recruiting coordinator last year.
Instead of business cards, McClendon joked, he may have to pass out notebooks in order to fit all those titles.
So when he’s introduced, what does he call himself?
“I’m just Coach McClendon, man,” he said, smiling. “That’s it.”