There’s an old saying that you can’t go home again.
Well, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has been home, aside from one season he spent at Jacksonville State in 2000 as an assistant coach, ever since playing quarterback for the Bulldogs from 1994-97.
He’s a rarity these days in college football. He’s one of the few former players that are now assistant coaches at their alma maters.
Bobo, 39, is in his 19th season at Georgia as a player, graduate assistant or assistant coach. He and Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown are the only two coaches in the SEC calling plays at the school in which they played, although Brown finished his college career at Massachusetts.
“Sometimes you get a little concerned that you’ve become part of the wallpaper because you’ve been here so long and you’re kind of always viewed as the player and not necessarily the coach, but I think the pros outweigh the cons,” said Bobo, who was a Georgia team captain in 1996 and 1997.
While Bobo will always be a Dawg at heart, he didn’t grow up dreaming about playing for Georgia, and when his playing career ended in 1997, it wasn’t necessarily his goal to coach at Georgia.
It just sort of happened that way.
The son of a legendary high school coach in the state of Georgia, George Bobo, the younger Bobo just knew that he wanted to coach. He spent a couple of seasons at Georgia as an administrative assistant and graduate assistant under his old coach, Jim Donnan, and then went to Jacksonville State in 2000 to coach quarterbacks.
In Bobo’s mind, his days at Georgia were probably in his rear-view mirror until Mark Richt came along in 2001.
“When coach Richt called me up and wanted to talk, people were saying that he might ask me to come back and be a GA, and I’d already been a GA here for two years. I was like, ‘I’m big time. I’m coaching my position (quarterbacks) here at Jacksonville State. I’m not coming back as a GA,’” Bobo joked.
But when he met Richt, his tune quickly changed.
“It wasn’t about football,” Bobo recalled. “It was about my life, his life, family, how he wanted to treat the players. I was like, ‘I’ve got to get around this guy. If I really want to get into coaching, I need to be around a guy like this, just his passion for life and players.’
“My dad always said, ‘Whatever you do, surround yourself with good people,’ and I decided that I was going to go work for this guy no matter what.”
That first season, Bobo was basically a full-time graduate assistant. But as he gained more of Richt’s confidence, his role increased. In 2007, Bobo was promoted to offensive coordinator and replaced Richt as the Bulldogs’ play-caller.
It takes a special person to call plays at any big-time school. But when you’re one of their own, the criticism and second-guessing can really get nasty. Bobo, despite the Bulldogs’ offensive success on his watch, has been a frequent target of the fans.
He learned a long time ago to develop a thick skin.
“The thing that matters to me is that when I walk into that room, the players believe in what we’re doing,” Bobo said. “If they believe in that and believe in me, we’ve got a chance. And I’ve never felt that those guys don’t believe.
“If you let the outside noise get to you, it will eat you alive.”
The truth is that Bobo has probably been one of the more under-appreciated offensive coordinators in college football. Since becoming coordinator, Georgia has averaged more than 30 points per game every season but 2009 when the Bulldogs averaged 28.9.
The 2012 Georgia offense scored a school-record 529 points and racked up more than 40 in eight games. The Dawgs also set a school record in 2012 with 37.8 points per game, 37 touchdown passes, 6,547 total yards and 72 touchdowns scored.
Even this season with all the injuries, Georgia is still fourth in the SEC in total offense with an average of 478.6 yards per game (22nd nationally) and averaging 35.6 points per game.
More importantly, the Bulldogs can stay alive in the Eastern Division race Saturday with a win at No. 7 Auburn.
“The thing you keep coming back to is that this is your school and your state, and there’s an incredible amount of pride associated with being able to represent both every day when I come to work,” Bobo said.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had opportunities to leave.
A year ago, Virginia Tech tried to hire him and actually sent a plane to Athens to pick him up, but Bobo never got on it. Georgia rewarded him with a $240,000 raise and three-year contract, and he now ranks among the highest-paid offensive coordinators in the league.
Football isn’t the only thing that’s kept Bobo in Athens. He and his wife, Lainie, have five kids under the age of 10, including triplets, and he said it’s impossible to put a price on being able to raise your family in the same place, especially in the volatile world of coaching.
Sure, there have been times that he’s cast a wandering eye around the college football landscape and asked himself if he were limiting his opportunities by staying in the same place for so long. But he always arrives back at the same answer.
“You might look around and think, ‘I should be doing this or doing that or maybe wonder what it would be like to go somewhere else,’” Bobo said. “But at the end of the day, what we’ve got here is hard to beat.”