It is the season, after all. Rumors began popping up last night that Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will interview for the Georgia Southern head coaching job vacated by Jeff Monken last week.
I'm generally very wary of "unnamed sources" in these situations, but they are useful from time to time. So I checked in with the closest thing I have to an inside source in Statesboro, a former Eagle football player who's a lousy fisherman and drinks crappy beer. He's anonymous, see, so it's okay for me to slander him like that.
For what it's worth (which even my buddy admitted isn't much) he was under the impression that Bobo had already had some discussions with Georgia Southern decision makers, even though a formal interview hasn't taken place. But then, it appears that several other candidates have as well, including some with head coaching experience. The sense my friend had was that head coaching experience is going to be a significant factor in this search. Georgia Southern is stepping up to the FBS Sun Belt Conference next season, and the word from Statesboro is that the Eagle brass felt good about doing that with Jeff Monken at the helm. They don't want someone learning how to run a football program while also building GSU into an FBS caliber squad, and that could be an issue for Bobo in this process. With significant facilities upgrades in the works (including a 6000 seat stadium addition and a new football operations complex), Georgia Southern feels like they can be a little choosy.
There is also the spector of the Brian Van Gorder hire to consider. Between The Ole Stache Coach and Erk Russell, the Eagles have a solid 1-1 record with UGA assistants taking over their program. To be fair, Mike Bobo is a South Georgia guy. His dad coached for many years at Thomasville, and I don't doubt that Mike spent a lot of time as a kid (like a lot of guys our age who grew up in that corner of the world) rooting for Erk's boys. He gets Georgia Southern in a way a lot of BCS coordinators wouldn't. But he isn't a GSU guy. He isn't a triple option guy. He would be, to some extent, another departure from what's worked in Statesboro.
All of which leads up to a theory, totally unbuttressed by any facts. I think Mike Bobo is interviewing at Georgia Southern for a few reasons. One, as a coach it's important to have your name out in the marketplace if you ever want to move up in the ranks. I imagine that Mark Richt knows (despite the disbelief of a certain segment of the Bulldog fanbase) that Mike Bobo will be a collegiate head coach one day. So I expect he's encouraged Bobo to interview, because the experience of going through the interview process is helpful. I suspect, however, that he's told Bobo to be very particular about the job he leaves for, something Richt himself has been very clear that he did in choosing to leave FSU. Mike Bobo is one season away from being in the running for better jobs than the gig in Statesboro, which is going to be tough for anyone who takes it right now. In a few years, once the Eagles gain their footing in FBS, Statesboro will be a better destination if you just have to coach in the Peach State.
And I expect that Mike Bobo, like every other working man and woman in America, wouldn't mind a raise. He currently makes $575,000 per year, a good bit below defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's $825,000 per season deal. Anyone who's witnessed the relative performance of the Dawgs' offensive and defensive units has to concede that difference is tough to justify.
While the GSU athletic folks have said their new coach's salary would be competitive with other Sun Belt schools, it's helpful to remember that the conference's range is from $250,000 up to the $700,000 Arkansas State's new skipper will make. Georgia could easily (and likely would) match that. And Southern would have a tough time justifying making Bobo the highest paid coach in the league.
Not to mention the significant overhaul of GSU's triple option roster that would be required to do anything close to what Bobo does on offense. If you're not hiring Mike Bobo to run his offense, there's no point in hiring him because, as noted above, he doesn't have CEO experience. So I suspect that Bobo is not Southern's first choice.
Instead I think this is a tactic which benefits both parties. Bobo gets a raise and signals that he's willing to leave Athens for the right opportunity. Georgia Southern gets a stalking horse to drive their top candidates into making a decision, and signals to the fanbase and the applicant pool that they're willing to swing for the fences on a hire. But the timing and fit just aren't right for Mike Bobo to cast off for Eagle Creek. Of course, this is Mike Bobo we're talking about. He might just do it because it is the last thing any of us was expecting.