For more than two decades, Mike Bobo was about as much a fixture in Athens as the Arch, the vibrant music scene and burgers and fries at The Grill.
Recruited to Georgia to play quarterback in 1993 by Ray Goff. Starter in 1996 and 1997 for Jim Donnan, who gave him his first job in the coaching profession. After a year away at Jacksonville State, he returned in 2001 to coach quarterbacks for Mark Richt, who handed over play-calling duties and made him offensive coordinator in 2007.
Georgia fans followed him a couple of time zones away as Colorado State head coach during his five-year run there.
Now, they will see him on the opposite sideline Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium as South Carolina’s interim head coach against his alma mater.
“He’s in a tough spot over there,” said D.J. Shockley, the starting quarterback who Bobo coached for UGA’s 2005 SEC championship season. “I know he’s trying to get this team headed in the right direction and win a couple of ballgames, but I guarantee you, he probably won’t say it, but in the back of his mind he would love to have a good performance versus Georgia. Obviously, he’s got tons of ties having played here and coached here and all that kind of stuff. He would love to have something to hang his hat on to play good or even beat Georgia.”
Bobo was part of the program for 21 years and 264 games — 57 as a player and 207 as a coach or staff member. To put that in perspective, Vince Dooley coached the Bulldogs for 288 games.
Bobo is sixth on the school’s career touchdown passing list and seventh for career passing yards.
“He might get a little bit emotional at the beginning of it, but I go back to my senior night and he knew that I was going to get emotional before the game,” said former Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray who started under him from 2010-13. “He was like, ‘Dangit, Murray, am I going to have to sit you out for the first drive to have you get your crap together before the game?’ I’m sure for him it may be a little bit interesting and fun going against the Dawgs, but it’s in his blood. At the end of the day, no matter where he goes it will always be in his blood. It’s kind of like our boy, (former linebacker, now assistant coach) Christian Robinson, at Florida right now.”
Bobo, who took over for the fired Will Muschamp — another former UGA player, had other things on his mind than the Georgia reunion when he began game planning on Sunday.
“I’m not really concerned that it’s Georgia — the uniform and that I played there,” he said. “It’s looking at their personnel and we realize that we have a challenge and trying to get our guys ready to play the game. My kids, they think it’s cool. I’m looking at the tape right now and trying to figure out how we’re going to get a first down.”
He had loosened up by his Tuesday press conference.
“I can sit here and say it’s another opponent, we’ve got to get ready to play and that’s all true, but there’s more excitement in the air because there’s a lot of history there,” Bobo said. “There’s a lot of people I know on the other side of the ball. Not just in red Georgia, but a coach I’ve known since we were childhood friends. I know when I played there and when I coached there, it was always tough to come over here and play. Now, we’re not going to have 85,000 people in the stands, but it was a tough place to come play in Williams-Brice Stadium. We’re going to be ready and we’re going to be ready to compete.”
Bobo is still calling the plays just like he did when Richt gave him those responsibilities before the Georgia Tech game at the end of the 2006 season.
Chances are he’ll keep doing that somewhere else next year.
Bobo, 46, is highly respected as an offensive coordinator.
“It’s just so tough,” Murray said. “This is why I told my wife I would not be coaching college football. He’s in Colorado State and then that whole situation, goes to South Carolina and then eight months later he’s going to have to relocate his family again. The coaching career, it’s just so tough. For him and (wife) Lainie and their kids, it’s just a tough situation. For him, it’s unfortunate because he’s a heck of a coach, he’s an incredible offensive coach.”
He’ll go up head-to-head for the first time as head coaches with close friend Kirby Smart, his former college roommate and teammate.
They knew each other from growing up in South Georgia as the son of high school coaches, Bobo in Thomasville and Smart in Bainbridge. They played catch on occasion before games.
“The guy comes from a coaching pedigree in which his Dad is one of the best coaches to coach in our state,” Smart said of George Bobo. “He’s grown up in a coaches family. He’s got thick, tough skin and players like him. Players enjoy playing for him because he coaches hard and with passion and energy.”
Those players include the quarterbacks that Bobo coached at Georgia.
“Deep down inside I kind of really want him to do well,” Murray said. “Even have a good game vs. Georgia. Obviously, I want Georgia to win the game, but I would love for him to have a good showing and get that head coaching job at South Carolina because I think he really deserves it.”
That seems like a long shot.
“I’m sure there will be some emotion attached to it,” said Hutson Mason, a Georgia quarterback from 2010-14 who started his final season. “I think there probably is more emotion right now for him worried about where he’s going to be next, moving his family again, where is going to be his next job. If it wasn’t under the circumstances it’s under with him being the interim coach and his staff getting fired, I think he’d have a different opinion of going up against Georgia but right now I think he’s so focused on where is his next paycheck going to be.”
Murray texted Bobo congratulations on moving into the interim head coaching job which obviously came under difficult circumstances.
“My major concern when it happened was what was going to go down as far as his future,” Donnan said. “I really didn’t think about him being the interim coach or anything like that until after it was announced. …It’s a tough situation for everybody down there.”
Mason spoke to Bobo last week before serving as the analyst for the game against Missouri for the SEC Network.
“I think this is a bit of an audition for him,” Mason said. “Not necessarily at South Carolina, but maybe elsewhere. I know he wants to finish strong. Those guys in that profession — I guess you have to — they do a good job of at least masking it. They seem to eliminate the emotion aspect of it. Bobo at South Carolina, always been a Georgia guy, they go numb to the emotional aspect of it because that’s part of the business. One year your coaching at Georgia and the next your coaching at Florida or coaching at South Carolina.”
Bobo reached out to Mason when he was on staff at Colquitt County and before that when he was trying to land on an NFL roster after his Georgia playing days ended to become a graduate assistant at Colorado State.
“I was playing in the East-West Shrine game sitting in the hotel and he called me and was like, ‘You want to come out and be a G.A. for me?’ I said, Dang, coach can I at least let my playing career end before you try to get me to come start coaching. I’m still trying to spin it here for a second here.”
Another Bobo quarterback, Joe Cox, was on his staff at Colorado State, and Bobo brought him to South Carolina where he is wide receivers’ coach and is running the offensive meetings with Bobo serving as interim coach.
Faton Bauta also had a support staff role at Colorado State.
Murray, a Tampa native, said he probably would have elected to play at Florida if Dan Mullen had remained as offensive coordinator.
In Bobo’s offense, Murray became the SEC’s all-time leader in passing yards (13,166) and touchdown passes (121), records he still holds.
“I had a great relationship with Bobo and obviously knew that he played at Georgia,” Murray said. “That was a plus. You just looked at who he had coached from Shock, to Greenie (David Greene) to (Matthew) Stafford, you’re like, man, the dude knows his stuff. I loved the fact that he played the position at Georgia so he was very relatable and understood what I was going through. Probably the biggest decision on coming to Georgia was Bobo, honestly. The head coach is awesome, but I worked with Coach Bobo every single day so that relationship was going to be key.”
Bobo has a familiar part of his Georgia offense again — a fullback.
The Gamecocks have run out of the I-formation at times in recent games.
“We were talking to (junior linebacker) Nick Bolton at Missouri this week and I said, ‘Do you recognize that position right there? Do you know what it is? That’s a fullback,” Mason said. “We were kidding and laughing and he said, ’this is the first time I’ve faced a fullback in my career at Missouri.’ That’s Bobo. That’s what he’s had to do this year to find a way to score points.”
Smart and Georgia will be doing everything to keep that from happening.
Bobo told the story of playing plenty of golf with Smart as Georgia players and then in their early days of coaching.
It was Bobo and center Travis Johnson against Smart and punter Dax Langley.
“We were always competing there,” Bobo said. “We had the upper hand for a while but we haven’t won in a while.”
Bobo’s competitive juices are flowing like usual ahead of Saturday night’s game when his team is a heavy underdog.
“We’re going to go out there,” Bobo said, “and battle our ass off.”