UGA Football

McClendon, Bulldogs Preview TaxSlayer Bowl

Bryan McClendon
(Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA)

Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon, along with several players, previewed the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl matchup vs. Penn State with media members on Wednesday. They offered the following comments:

Interim Head Coach Bryan McClendon

Opening Statement…

“We are just really focusing on the bowl game. As far as the opponent that we’re coming up against, they’re very formidable, very formidable. It’s a team that’s definitely good enough to beat the gauntlet of its conference, especially its division. They have a quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) that everyone’s projecting to be a top-10 pick. They’ve got a Lombardi winner at defensive end (Carl Nassib). They’ve got their other defensive end that I think is just as talented as he is, just a little bit younger. Saquon Barkley is a guy who I thought, back when I was coaching running backs and recruiting those guys, he was just as talented as any of those guys that was out there. He’s playing well for them. They’ve got a kid who’s playing pretty good for them at receiver as well, just about to take the 1,000-yard mark for them. I think a lot of Coach (James) Franklin. I think the job he did at (Vanderbilt) was second to none, to be honest with you. He’s a guy who did great things for that program. You knew he wasn’t going to be there for very long. He has Penn State playing at a high level there, too. He’s a guy who is very familiar with us, very familiar with our brand of ball, and he’s going to have his team ready to play.”

On the coaching staff for the bowl game…

“Todd Hartley, who was special teams coordinator at Marshall who came here and we were lucky to get him here in any capacity, he’s going to handle the special teams. He’s going to do all of the special teams, all of our kicking units. Coach (John) Lilly is going to handle the offense. Coach (Kevin) Sherrer is going to handle and call the defense. Guys who we promoted to put on the field were Sam Pettito, a guy who’s very familiar with the defensive backfield. He’s a coach who did a lot. He was a coach who we were trying to get over here in any capacity, and he’s been very good. He’s very familiar with that, he can teach that, and he’ll do a very good job with that. Courtney Coard is going to have some of the responsibility as far as the outside backers. The outside backers are going to get kind of rolled up a little bit with the defensive line, and Coach (Tracy) Rocker is going to head that up. Kevin Sherrer, he’s going to handle the interior backers, the inside backers. Sam is going to help him out as far as that goes. On-the-field GA’s will be there, working with the same groups they’ve been working with. Olten Downs is another guys who we’re going to put on the field. Coach Downs is just a tremendous coach, and we’re lucky to have him. He’ll be on the field as well. He’s going to help out with my group — the receivers. He’s been helping with those guys all year in a capacity where he wasn’t a guy who was able to do stuff on the field outside of charting and things like that. As my role changed a little bit, he’s going to have a new role to take in, a bunch of the team aspects and things like that. (Steve) Shimko (will handle the quarterbacks). “Shimmy,” he’s been there every step of the way with those QB’s. He’s going to take on full responsibility with those guys.”

On having staff turnover in prior bowl games…

“Even last year, to a certain extent, helps with Mike (Bobo) having to take a job and having to do things a little bit different. Guys had to adjust to that a little bit. All of that stuff helps. To be honest with you, I think the guys just being in constant communication with the team, getting in front of those guys every single day, those guys have been great. They’ve been great. They’ve been kind of ‘Hey coach, you tell us what to do and we’ll do it.’ Those guys have been great.”

On his future at UGA…

“It’s kind of all about the kids. It’s been about the kids. That stuff will take care of itself a little later on, but right now everything is just geared toward this bowl game, getting the team ready for the bowl game so we can go out there and have a good showing.”

On managing the change with the coaching staff…

“The preparation part of it, not a whole lot. Just the game planning and things like that, that’s a little bit different. The actual preparation part of it is not going to change a whole lot.”

On learning on the job…

“I’ve learned the kids are the easy part. Everything else, dealing with the adults, is what eats up a lot of your time, to be honest with you. What I have learned is how much goes through the head coach and how much input you actually do have on every decision that’s made. That’s why it’s super important to have good people around you. It really is.”

On players’ reaction to the staff changes…

“They’ve been good. All of them have been very, very receptive to everything I’ve been saying. All of those guys have been excited a little bit. I don’t know what they’re expecting and everything else, as far as that goes. Those guys are excited. The thing is we just have to show those guys that we’ve got it. We’ve got it. We’re okay. Regardless of everything that may be getting printed out there or tweeted out there, whatever. The only thing we can control is what we can control. That’s what we’re going to focus on. Just make sure you’re zooming in their focus every single day. Knowing I have to do the same thing, a lot of that stuff I have to do myself as well. All that stuff has been good. Those guys have been great.”

On the message to the players…

“I think the message has to change week-to-week, day-to-day. Anything that stays one way gets stagnant, and you hear it all the time so you tune it out a little bit. That’s why I’m supporting that you pick out a few things to make sure you’re focusing on today. Today, guys, this is what we’re focusing on. Tomorrow we’ll do something a little bit different. Always being able to tie it in to the one common thing — but I think the message, as far as the emphasis each day, has to change. To answer that question, it’s changed a lot. The thing you can’t focus on is the stuff that you can’t control. The only thing that we’re going to do is focus on what we can and do a great job at that.”

On personnel… 

“Quarterback situation is what it is right now. Greyson (Lambert) is starting. Brice (Ramsey) is right there backing him up. That part of it hasn’t changed. I do think guys, at quarterback just like every other position, can earn more reps based on how they practice.  If Brice comes out there and practices well or whoever comes out there and practices well or the backup guard comes out there and practices well he’s going to earn more playing time. As far as that goes, I think everybody is going to stay consistent. The theme is you earn what you get, and the best player is going to play. The most productive players are going to play. The guys that give us the best chance to win, those are the guys that are going to play. That really hasn’t changed. Who may be at what position and things like that will be up to what gives us the best chance to win personnel wise and how we match up against Penn State.”

On advice from Coach Mark Richt…

“I reached out to him the first day and said ‘Hey man, I’m really going to need some input from you.’ His main thing was just to make sure that I think through everything in the aspect of how this is going to affect 125 kids and the whole staff, not so much what’s best for five people or 10 people or anything like that. You’ve always got to think of the greater good when it comes to certain things. Coming from a position coach, you’re thinking about what benefits your position more times than not. When you’re going to coach to make a request, going to coach and saying hey can we do this or can we do that, you’re thinking about how it’s going to benefit your guys. You’ve got to do that for everybody now. That’s the one thing that has been really eye opening, in that regard. That was his help.”

On if this experience will lead to head coaching opportunities in the future…

“I definitely see how it could help. To look at anything beyond this bowl game, to be honest with you, is kind of difficult to do right now. Will it help in the grand sense of things? I think it could. To be put in this position definitely helps you understand and have a better appreciation for the guy in this position, for sure. As far as anything like that, looking beyond this bowl game and beyond everything that’s going on that you’ve got to manage in this position, is kind of hard to do right now.”

On the passing game this season…

“I think at times it showed glimpses. I definitely think there’s always room to improve, so that’s what we’re going to focus on, on the improvement part of it. Hopefully, like I said, you try to make it to where you’re not one-dimensional at any point in the season and definitely not at any point in a game. At times, that happened. You just try to make sure that you’re balanced enough and effective enough in both the passing game and the running game where that won’t happen.”

On his initial reaction to being the interim head coach…

“Surprised. Not in a bad way, but just surprised. And excited – excited about the opportunity to be able to do it. Very rarely does a guy who’s working his way up the ranks get put in a position like that in a school that he loves, at his alma mater. I’m very honored, but surprised initially.”

On his view on the broad impact of the bowl game…

“I see this game as an opportunity and the last game of this season. It’s an opportunity to give these seniors those 40 wins and get a 10-win season. Outside of that, I’d be lying if I said I saw it any other way. That’s how I look at this game.”

On incoming coaches and their role leading up to the bowl…

“I’ve definitely talked with them. As far as them doing anything outside of observing or just kind of walking around and getting a feel for the personnel that they’re walking into, they don’t plan on doing anything more than that. That’s all they’re going to be doing.”

On what he told his children regarding the coaching profession…

“When all that happened to Coach Richt, obviously my three-year-old daughter doesn’t care. As long as daddy’s home and we can have tea time, that’s all that matters to her. My 8-year-old son, he’s the one that’s in the middle of it all and likes to be in the thick of things. When all of that happened to Coach Richt, I had to explain to him what happened, where we are here. It wasn’t so much that I worried about his reaction, but just when he went to school. I wasn’t so much worried about the kids, but the adults coming to ask him ‘So what’s your dad going to do’ and all that other stuff. I just really wanted to kind of brace him for that kind of stuff. But it comes with it. That’s what I told him, it comes with it. With every job, it has its things that it comes with and that’s just this profession, that’s the business of this.”

On his children’s reaction to him becoming interim head coach…

“They were excited. He didn’t really say anything too much. I told him we were going to do a press conference, and I asked what I should do. He said ‘Just make sure there’s nothing in your nose.’ I said okay, I think I can handle that. He’s excited.”

Junior QB Greyson Lambert

On the bowl game and coaching staff for the bowl game…

“It’s just another situation for this team to handle. We’ve become such a tight-knit group over the course of the season that we’re just excited to come out here and play another game and try to get 40 wins for the seniors. That’s really what our focus is on.”

On how he would describe the season…

“It’s been a whirlwind and a rollercoaster. Up and down and a lot of different types of ways. As a player you play the games and everything else just kind of happens around you and you don’t really have any control over it. Our focus is on playing the games. I can’t really speak to the other stuff that’s happened.”

On taking in the experience of going to a bowl game…

“To be able to be here and to experience the week-long experience coming up here in Jacksonville with the team and all that is something that I have dreamed about since I was a kid.”

Sophomore TB Sony Michel

On playing under a new coaching staff for the bowl game…

“I probably won’t see much of a difference because my coach that I’m always with will still be here. That’s who I spend most of my time with off and on the field. I probably won’t see too much of a difference besides seeing that physically they aren’t there.”

On the bowl game and playing near home…

“I’m just ready to play this game. I’m ready to go home, actually. It’s great because there will be great weather so we can’t complain. Any other place is probably going to be cold. It’s a nice field and an NFL field. We have bad memories there this year and we hope to create great memories going into this game.”

Senior DT Sterling Bailey

On the possibility of notching 40 wins…

“It means a lot to me. Not a lot of seniors can say they finished their college career with 40 wins. You are being put in an elite class when you get those 40 wins and it means a lot to the seniors.”

On Bryan McClendon as the interim head coach…

“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be interesting to see his coaching style because we’ve seen him as a position coach. I’m looking forward to seeing him as a head coach. I know he’s going to be good; he’s going to be fun. He brings a lot of energy as a position coach and I can’t wait to see the energy he brings as a head coach.”

On his career at Georgia…

“My five years here, I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve met some great people, great coaches, great friends. I wouldn’t change any of that for anything.”

Senior LB Jordan Jenkins

On the team’s focus…

“I know a lot of the guys realize that we as a senior class still want that 40th win. We still want to be a part of that. It’s a big deal to have 40 wins. They expect that and they’re going to put the effort in to get that win for us.”

On playing for the sixth time in EverBank Field in his career… 

“I’ve always played on this field and it does have that home field vibe to it. It definitely doesn’t feel like an away game.”

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