January 16, 2009

Opportunity at Hand

Bryan McClendon joked that he didn't know what to think when head coach Mark Richt summoned him to his office for a private meeting a little over a week ago.

When he was told he was about to become the Bulldogs' new running backs coach, McClendon's eyes about popped out of his head.

"I was pretty stunned," said McClendon, who said until the meeting that he had no previous knowledge of the coaching changes Richt had in store. "It's just a true blessing. It just shows that hard work pays off and is just a credit to the people I work with and the head man I work for."

Talk about being on the fast track.

The 25-year-old son of former Georgia great Willie McClendon, Bryan McClendon's Georgia career ended just three years ago with the Bulldogs' loss to West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.

Following a year on the practice squad with the Chicago Bears (2007), McClendon returned to Athens last season to serve as a graduate assistant under former wide receivers coach John Eason.

He pinches himself that he's now a full-time member of the staff following Eason's move to Director of Football Operations and former running backs coach Tony Ball's shift to wide receivers.

"It's pretty amazing that I'm getting this kind of opportunity. Even somebody like Coach (Stacy) Searels had to start at Appalachian State and then Cincinnati before moving onto LSU," McClendon said. "Even Coach (Mike) Bobo. He's been on a fast track but he had to go to Jacksonville State before got his current job."

McClendon said he first questioned Richt about a spot on the staff while he was still on the practice squad for the Chicago Bears. Ironically, it wasn't his only opportunity.

Former offensive line coach and current UAB coach Neil Callaway offered McClendon a graduate assistant gig with the Blazers before the chance to coach for his alma mater became reality.

"All the coaches have done a great job of welcoming me with open arms," McClendon said. "The transition has not been a big deal. Even when I was a grad assistant, we were all on a first-name basis even though I was still calling them 'Coach.'"

At Georgia, McClendon's career blossomed during his senior season. As the Bulldogs claimed an SEC title, the Atlanta native hauled in 35 passes and six touchdowns. He caught the game-winning TD pass in the closing minutes against Georgia Tech, and then blocked a punt in the SEC Championship, which led to the Bulldogs' third TD of the game. He was part of a senior class that won 44 games - the most by any class in Georgia history.

He graduated in December of 2005 with a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies.

As far as coaching players only a few years younger than him, McClendon says that isn't a big deal.

"The biggest thing now is I didn't play with any of the guys who are currently on the team so that's made it easier," McClendon said. "All those guys are gone. But even when I was playing, myself and the seniors who were here, we did a great job of leading those guys and having them listen to us."

Ironically, McClendon will be coaching the same position that his father Willie both played from 1976-78 and coached at for the Bulldogs from 1989-1993.

Although he has never coached the position, Bryan McClendon said he doesn't think it will be that big of a deal.

"When I was a grad assistant you had to deal with the whole offense. It wasn't like I was locked down to one position. Even the game-planning, I had to know what the backs did and who their responsibilities were in pass protection and everything else," he said. "It's not real difficult to try to adjust but the biggest thing is having a game-plan and how you're going to teach it. It won't be too different."

McClendon laughed that it would have been nice to have had Knowshon Moreno back for another year.

"He would have made me look like a better coach my first year," McClendon joked. "Right now, everybody's got a chance."

According to McClendon, when spring practice begins in March, Caleb King, Richard Samuel, Dontavious Jackson and Carlton Thomas will all be on equal footing.

"I've told the running backs as far as playing time, it's the land of opportunity. It's wide open. Nobody is locked in now as far as being 1-2-3," McClendon said. "How that ends up is completely up to them. I told them I will always be 100 percent honest with them and I expect the same. They know I'm a coach that will treat everyone fairly. That's something I know the wide receivers appreciated when I was with those guys."

McClendon said there were some surprised faces when he walked in the door for the first time with his new charges.

"There were a bunch of grins but everybody was real happy for me. I could tell that everybody was excited," McClendon said. "But I reminded them this is not about me. The challenge has nothing to do with me. My job is to get those guys ready and my job is to coach them up. That would have been the case no matter what room I was going to be in."

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