— “We are excited to add Todd to our staff,” Smart said in a statement. “He has a history of establishing explosive offenses at each and every stop in his impressive career in both the National Football League and at major college football programs.”
There’s that “e” word again.
I confess that I’m still wrapping my head around the concept that Kirby Smart has decided on a change to the offensive direction of his program. (No, that’s not meant as a complaint.) I don’t have any idea what’s coming, given both the change at the coordinator position and Fromm’s departure, so I can’t say with any certainty how extensive Smart’s commitment to change on that side of the ball is, at least not yet.
That isn’t to say that I don’t have a few final thoughts on what has already transpired.
The most striking thing is the speed and decisiveness with which Smart has operated. Lest we forget, as late as the 11th, we had a common perception that James Coley would be Georgia’s offensive coordinator for the 2020 season. Just ask Jamie Newman.
A few days later, 2021 five-star QB Brock Vandagriff is chilling with Todd Monken and coming back today with his family in tow. That’s quick, especially by Georgia’s traditional standards. (Just ask Willie Martinez.)
Yes, Smart was also quick to pull the trigger on Matt Luke, but that was a decision forced on him by necessity when Sam Pittman departed for Arkansas. Monken’s arrival was, in effect, engineered by Smart. Consider the timeline:
- January 1: Georgia wins the Sugar Bowl.
- January 4: Scott Fountain departs Athens to join Pittman’s staff.
- January 11: Newman, primarily recruited by Coley, announces his transfer to Georgia.
- January 17: Todd Monken is hired as Smart’s new offensive coordinator.
There are two decisions in there: one, opening up a staff spot and two, choosing Monken to fill it. I don’t know how long it took Smart to settle on the first one, but it appears it took him less than two weeks to bring Monken on board. With the stakes, that’s… well, that’s fast and decisive.
As far as Monken goes, you’d have to think the Georgia job is a perfect move for him. The shorter the time someone has to go through life with “Cleveland Browns’ 2019 offensive coordinator” as the last entry on the resume, the better. Here, he’s walking into a situation with a team loaded with talent, and, best of all, a fairly low bar to clear. All our expectations boil down to something pretty simple — tweak the offense sufficiently to help return Georgia to the college football playoffs. Considering the Dawgs have fallen just short in the past two seasons, that’s not a huge reach.
The question to ponder is what happens should Monken pull that off. A coordinator who’s able to make Georgia’s offense something more than functional and polish Jamie Newman’s game sufficiently to make him an attractive NFL draft option is a coach who’s going to be in demand. And it’s clear that Monken has ambitions to be a head coach again. If Georgia’s return to the playoffs is a when-not-if question, then you would think so is Monken’s future in that regard. How quickly that transpires is what we don’t know.
Which brings us to James Coley. I’d like to think that Smart’s already sat down with him and explained his reasoning for making the change and perhaps even sold him on patience. You know, stick around for Monken’s inevitable departure, pick up a few tips on play design and play calling and return to the OC spot in a better place. But I doubt it. For one thing, Smart hasn’t even announced what Coley’s new role is yet. For another, that sales pitch didn’t work with Justin Fields and I’m not convinced Kirby’s found a more convincing way to push it.
I don’t see any way to sugarcoat this from Coley’s perspective. It has to be both disappointing and embarrassing, especially if there was a certain element of Coley following orders about how to deploy the offense last season. I also don’t think Smart did Coley any favors putting an inexperienced Hartley in the booth as Coley’s wingman. Is it enough to point out that Coley is being paid almost a million dollars a year to take the hit? Maybe so, but human nature being what it is, I’m skeptical how much that mollifies Coley. The question from here is how Smart manages the disappointment.
As for Smart himself, again, I’m more impressed by his willingness to challenge himself in how best to manage his program. I don’t know how Monken works out, but at least we now have evidence that Smart is open-minded about how to achieve success. And as I also pointed out last week, in hiring two former head coaches to round out his staff, he’s also shown that he’s comfortable with himself. (Not to mention that in hiring Luke and Monken, both of whom will have an opportunity to rehabilitate their reputations after being fired from their last positions, Kirby’s following a certain process á la Tuscaloosa.)
That last paragraph, more than anything else in this post, is why I’m optimistic about where the program is headed from here. What about you?