Will Georgia's Hiring of Scott Cochran From Alabama Be a Game-Changer for Dawgs?

MrCFB

When word came Monday that Georgia had hired strength coach Scott Cochran away from Alabama, I thought of Ed Orgeron.

For it was the LSU head football coach who told the story of his team’s 29-0 loss to Alabama in 2018. And as he looked at the final stats, Orgeron came to a fateful decision: Merely tweaking what would eventually be a 10-3 football team was not going to get it done. Getting from good to great, the most difficult step of all on the success continuum, would require something bold. And doing something bold does not come without risk.

“We couldn’t stick with the status quo. That was for sure,” Orgeron said.

So Orgeron hires 29-year-old Joe Brady from the New Orleans Saints and completely retools the offense to take advantage of what senior quarterback Joe Burrow can do. And the rest is history. LSU goes 15-0 and wins the national championship in one of the most dominating seasons these old eyes have seen. Burrow won the Heisman Trophy by a landslide and may be the first player taken in the NFL Draft come April.

What Orgeron did was a program changer that allowed LSU to finally catch Alabama, which has been the SEC’s gold standard since Nick Saban arrived in 2007.

Could Kirby Smart’s hiring of Cochran, the only assistant who has been with Saban for all six of his national championships (1 at LSU, 5 at Alabama), be the same kind of move? Could it be the intangible that gets Georgia, which has won three straight SEC East championships but no national championships, over the hump in its pursuit of Alabama?

Or is the media, as we are wont to do, making too much of a strength coach—not a high-profile coordinator but a strength coach—simply moving from one conference team to another?

When it comes to questions like these where you stand, Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan once said, depends upon where you sit.

But consider this.

Over the past 10-15 years, the position of strength and conditioning coach has changed dramatically. It used to be the strength coach ran the off-season conditioning program and would be the guy who enforced discipline, such as running the stadium steps at 6 a.m. Some would serve as the “Get Back” coach to keep players behind the sideline during the game.

In today’s game, the strength and conditioning coach is not only charged with using cutting-edge training techniques to develop athletes into the biggest, strongest and fastest they can be, he is, for lack of a better term, the assistant head coach in charge of morale.

He plays good cop to the head coach’s bad cop.

He spends more time with the players than any single member of the staff. If there is something wrong in the locker room, the strength coach will be the first to know it. If a player is unhappy and is thinking about leaving, the strength coach will know about it. And if a player decides to stay, chances are very good that the strength coach talked him into it.

Fifteen or 20 years ago you couldn’t name three SEC strength coaches if your life depended on it.

Somewhere along the way, these guys became rock stars and started getting paid like rock stars.

Cochran had his own Regions Bank television commercial where Saban had a cameo appearance at the very end. I’ve never seen that before.

Mickey Marotti was one of the first hires Urban Meyer made when he became Florida’s head coach in 2005. Florida won national championships in 2006 and 2008. He went with Meyer to Ohio State (national championship in 2014) and is still there as the assistant athletic director for football sports performance. According to USA Today, Marotti makes $795,000 a year.

The top 10 strength and conditioning coaches in college football make $450,000 a year or higher, also according to USA Today.

Cochran was making $595,000 at Alabama and it’s a pretty good bet he got a substantial raise to join his friend Kirby Smart in Athens.

So inquiring minds want to know: Is Cochran’s departure a game changer in the ongoing dynamic between Georgia and Alabama? Does it represent a changing of the guard?

We have no way of knowing that.

But consider this: Georgia is making a lot of changes, particularly on offense, for this season. The Bulldogs just signed another No. 1 recruiting class. When he walks into the Georgia locker room for the first time, Cochran will have instant credibility. The energy level at Georgia’s spring practice is going to go up a notch or two because he is on the field. But remember that Cochran is going to Georgia not as a strength coach but as a special teams coach. That’s because Georgia already has a Top 10 strength coach in Scott Sinclair.

Georgia fans would be wise not to underestimate Saban. Yes, he has just lost a key component to Alabama’s incredible run of five national championships since 2009. There will be no shortage of qualified applicants for Cochran’s old job. But whoever Saban hires, that person will have to earn the trust of the locker room. That takes time. Scott Cochran takes a ton of institutional knowledge and human capital with him. And that is not easily replaced.

All we really know at this point is that Cochran and the Georgia Bulldogs will get a very warm reception when they go to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 19. And who knows? They could meet again in the SEC championship game on Dec. 5 in Atlanta.

Buckle up folks. This is going to be fun.

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Tony Barnhart

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