ATHENS -- Georgia’s defensive players had the same reaction as everyone else when the bowl matchup with Louisville was announced.
“The initial thought, ‘Oh wow, Grantham, Shaq, Josh,’ ” senior cornerback Damian Swann said.
That would be Todd Grantham, the former Georgia defensive coordinator now at Louisville, and Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, the two players who joined Grantham after leaving the Bulldogs.
“But we’ve gotta understand that we can’t make this about that,” Swann said. “We can’t make that the headline. The headline is Georgia and Louisville.”
That was the message from the Georgia defensive players who were made available to the media Wednesday, the first day of bowl practice. The opponent takes precedent, not the defensive coordinator.
“I’m focused on proving something to the whole nation and not just to a coach who was here in the past,” senior defensive lineman Mike Thornton said.
Still, it’s hard to escape the juicy angle of a team facing the coach who left less than a year ago. Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons won’t play, as they sat out this year per NCAA transfer rules. But Grantham will be calling plays against the program that employed him the past four years as he tries to beat players he recruited and coached.
Senior quarterback Hutson Mason was on the opposite side of the ball, but he admitted the fact it all happened in the past year made it unusual.
“I think it’s a little strange because the guy was here just a year ago. It’s not like he’s been gone for five years or something like that,” Mason said. “Almost all the guys on this (defense) were recruited by him and came here to play for him. It’s a little weird, but it’s part of the business.”
That phrase was thrown out by several players. It’s a business. The latest reminder of that was offensive coordinator Mike Bobo interviewing Wednesday for the head coaching position at Colorado State.
If there is any residual acrimony about Grantham’s departure, no one is saying. Senior linebacker Amarlo Herrera said he spoke to Grantham a couple of months after his departure for Louisville.
“After it happened, it is what it is, everybody had to move on,” Herrera said. “You can’t miss someone just because he coached you or just because you liked him a certain amount. You have to adapt to all the new coaches and love them.”
Another reason for Georgia players not to consider this a big deal is they’re pretty used to this kind of thing. Nick Marshall and Zach Mettenberger played quarterback for other teams after being dismissed by Georgia. Now it’s just a coach.
“It’s one of the things we’ve been in this situation before, with guys that played here,” Swann said. “We can’t make it personal.”
The Grantham angle does have this interesting effect. It puts Georgia’s offense in the unusual position of looking at film of its own defense (the past few years under Grantham).
“That’s definitely something we’ll look at,” Mason said.
But overall, the players did their best to downplay the Grantham angle.
“It’s a business. So when a guy makes a business decision, you always support him,” Swann said. “It wasn’t a guarantee that he was gonna be here every year we were here. It’s not a guarantee that we’re gonna be here every year.
“It’s one of those things where I support him, I played for him for three years, I think he’d had my best interests while he coached me. And I think he’s done a tremendous job at Louisville. He’s a good guy. He’s a good coach.”