ATHENS - Even before Georgia had an opening for a receivers coach, there seemed an obvious and crowd-pleasing move: Bring one former player home, and move another one to the position he played at Georgia.
The plan became a reality on Monday.
Thomas Brown, the former Georgia tailback, has been hired as the running backs coach, replacing Bryan McClendon, who shifts to coaching Georgia's receivers. Brown leaves Wisconsin, where he coached running backs for one year, while McClendon moves to coach his former position after six years coaching the running backs.
“These moves with two former Georgia teammates will add a great dimension to our offensive coaching staff,” head coach Mark Richt said in a statement.
The move came just three days after Tony Ball left to coach LSU's receivers, after being at Georgia for nine years. Whether the end result is better overall coaching remains to be seen: Ball did a very good job with his group, and the performance of McClendon's running backs the past few years speaks for itself.
But Georgia's coaching staff has clearly become younger, more dynamic and probably stronger in recruiting. Georgia holds on to the 31-year-old McClendon, one of the top recruiters in the Southeast, and brings in the 28-year-old Brown, who in one year at Wisconsin had already "built a reputation as the Badgers' top recruiter," according to Madison.com.
Brown helped Wisconsin secure the commitment of highly-regarded tailback Antonio Williams, a member of the 2016 class from North Carolina. It would be easy to see Williams receiving a Georgia offer now.
Brown was one of two assistant coaches that new Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst had retained. Brown was set to earn $215,000 at Wisconsin this year, and will almost certainly get a raise, as no current Georgia assistant earns less than $250,000.
"(This move) brings back a great Bulldog running back in Thomas who has NFL playing experience and has had success as a college coach at multiple schools," Richt said. "He also inherits a position that has been built to an elite level by Bryan. And it gives Bryan the opportunity to return to coaching the position he played and the one where he cut his teeth serving as a graduate assistant under wide receiver coach John Eason here at UGA."
The nameplate on McClendon's office door also became very jumbled: He now adds the title of passing game coordinator, and was already the team's assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator.
Brown ranks seventh in Georgia history with 2,646 career rushing yards. He was Georgia's leader in rushing yards as a freshman and sophomore, then split time the next couple years with Kregg Lumpkin and Knowshon Moreno.
Brown was at Wisconsin for one year, coaching All-American tailback Melvin Gordon. Back at his alma mater, Brown will inherit one of the nation's top running backs, Nick Chubb, but the stable also includes sophomore Sony Michel, redshirt junior Keith Marshall and junior Brendan Douglas.
In an interview posted on Wisconsin's web site, Brown referred to Wisconsin as "Tailback U." In the lead-up to last season, Brown summed up his task by saying things that also apply to the situation he inherits at Georgia:
"The most exciting thing as a coach is you have guys that can do everything you ask them to do. That makes me instantly a better coach I already am. But I think we have a chance to be the best backfield in the country, I really believe that. I'll do everything I can to prepare those guys and simplify the game for them as much as possible, add my little flavor to it. They've already been well-coached in the past, they're experienced guys. ... I just want to add my own piece to it (as a) former player and now turned coach, and get those going."
He was on Georgia's strength and conditioning staff in 2011, which proved to be his entry into the coaching industry. He had cups of coffee with two NFL teams, Atlanta and Cleveland, from 2008-10.
Brown left Georgia after that one season on the strength staff to become the running backs coach at Chattanooga, an FCS program. He was only there one year, heading to Marshall for yet another one-year stint.
Back in 2011, when Brown returned to campus for that one year, he said his philosophy was to make nothing guaranteed.
“I think you can solve most problems with more competition,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s different from when I was here as a player (to) what’s here now. I came in as a highly-recruited, No. 1 running back in the state of Georgia, No. 2 or three in the nation, and came in I was No. 7 on the depth chart of eight running backs. And I had to compete.
“I think that kind of makes guys raise their level of expectations. I think it’s harder for guys to be motivated when they kind of know they’re guaranteed to play.”