ATHENS - Georgia is losing Mike Bobo, its longtime offensive coordinator, and a key reason for the team's offensive and recruiting success the past few years.
Colorado State has hired Bobo to be its new head coach, the school announced on Monday night. The Denver Post was the first to report that Bobo and CSU were close to a deal, and Sports Illustrated reported that Bobo received a five-year contract worth about $1.5 million annually.
Bobo is considering bringing at least two current Georgia staff members with him, according to sources: Offensive line coach Will Friend, who could be Bobo's offensive coordinator at CSU, and director of player personnel Ronnie Letson, who would move to an on-field coaching role.
Bobo's departure is a significant hurdle for Georgia to overcome in the near future. It could have a ripple effect on Georgia's program, from the coaching staff to recruiting. It's possible he will take current staff members with him to Colorado State, and Georgia has to hold on to more than a few recruits.
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That's not to mention the need to replace the man who called the plays for one of the nation's most prolific offenses. Georgia leads the SEC in scoring offense this year, set a school record for total yards in 2012 and average-yards-per-game in 2013, and most touchdowns per game in 2012. Georgia has averaged more than 30 points per game each of the past five seasons.
"He's a great coach," Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell said last week. "He does things to help our guys for their future and also for this program."
Bobo interviewed with Colorado State last Wednesday, and at the time was among a long list of candidates. But the interview went so well that Bobo drew a second interview over the weekend, per a source.
Bobo, 40, has no obvious connections to the west, and since he was 18 years old has spent all but one year at Georgia. But Colorado State did well hiring an SEC offensive coordinator for its most recent head coach - Jim McElwain had been running Alabama's offense - so the school apparently likes the idea of going back to the well again.
"It's obviously a very good job, a good opportunity for a guy to be a head coach," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said last week, when it was first learned that Colorado State was interested in Bobo.
Bobo, a native of Augusta, grew up in Rome and Thomasville, where his father George was a high school coach. Mike Bobo went on to play quarterback for Georgia from 1993-97, then served as a graduate assistant and administrative assistant at Georgia for two seasons, before going to Jacksonville (Ala.) State for one year as quarterbacks coach.
Richt then hired Bobo as quarterbacks coach in 2001. Bobo eventually was handed the play-calling duties late in the 2006 season.
He has also emerged as one of the team's top recruiters, credited with running lead on defensive lineman Trent Thompson, one of the nation's top prospects for the 2015 class, as well as quarterback Jacob Eason of the 2016 class.
Earlier this year, after the ill-fated play call near the end of the South Carolina game, Richt made a point of defending Bobo by calling him "one of the best play-callers in the country."
Bobo was once the focus of heavy criticism from Georgia fans, but that has ebbed over the years, thanks to the offensive success. Speaking last summer, Bobo said he didn't change who he was.
"You’ve gotta believe in what you believe in," Bobo said. "I think guys that are successful in this business have a plan they believe in, and they stick with it. And kids know that you believe in it, and they buy in it and believe, that’s when you have success.”
Three of Bobo's main mentors in the profession have been his father George, a longtime high school head coach; Richt; and Jim Donnan, Georgia's head coach when Bobo was a player.
“All those guys are not overbearing guys and aren’t gonna say, ‘Hey, you gotta do it this way,’ ” Bobo said. “They let you be your own person and develop yourself. They’re there for advice or critiques at times. And then just subtle things and suggest things that can help. And most of the time it’s just encouraging and believing in somebody, that you can get the job done. And I think that’s been the overall thing that’s helped us.”
Speaking after Saturday's bowl practice, Georgia head coach Mark Richt said he would have a plan in case Bobo wasn't with the team for the Belk Bowl on Dec. 30. That could include Richt calling plays, as he did for most of six seasons before handing the play-call sheet to Bobo.
This would also be the second straight offseason that Georgia lost a coordinator, after Todd Grantham left for Louisville after last season. Georgia gets to see Grantham again in the Belk Bowl.
Georgia can ultimately blame its arch-rival for the Colorado State job being available; Florida hired McElwain earlier this month.
Bobo takes over a program that just went 10-3, losing to Utah 45-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl. It was only the fourth 10-win season in school history.
The Rams return one of the best receivers in the country, Rashard Higgins, who was a Biletnikoff Award finalist as a sophomore. They do lose their quarterback, however, and are expected to lose leading rusher Dee Hart. They are set to return seven defensive starters.