TEN THINGS ABOUT BRYAN McCLENDON . . .
ATHENS – If you’ve been the running backs coach at Georgia for the last few years, you’re permitted to be a little frustrated at this point. But Bryan McClendon, who has held that position for the Bulldogs since 2009, insists he is not.
McClendon has weathered the storms that came with having Isaiah Crowell, Washaun Ealey and Caleb King under his supervision. But he insists he’s neither beaten down nor disillusioned by their tumultuous tenures in Georgia’s backfield. He chooses instead to focus on the positives he believes remain for the future.
“I tell people all the time, we’ve met our quota for headlines,” McClendon said with a laugh. “Hopefully anything else that is written about us will be in a positive regard. You do everything you can to stay in front of those guys and make that they understand the ramifications of any decision that make. They have to understand the scale that they’re on. You’re a tailback at the University of Georgia and that means something and they’ve got to understand that. We’ve still got some guys here that do.”
With Crowell’s dismissal on June 29, Georgia is now down to a redshirt sophomore, two true freshmen and a pair of former walkons at tailback. McClendon sat down with the AJC recently for an interview to continue our series profiling the Bulldogs’ assistant coaches.
1. Has had more than share of turmoil at tailback.
Since taking over as Georgia’s running backs coach for the 2009 season, McClendon has had five different tailbacks transfer or be dismissed for various reason in Dontavius Jackson, Washaun Ealey, Caleb King, Carlton Thomas and Crowell.
“It drives you crazy,” McClendon said. “They’re 18-year-old kids and anybody who has had an 18-year-old knows what that means. They look like men when they get here but they’re really just kids. So you’ve got to be kind of like a counselor. You’re not their buddy; you’ve got to be an authority over them. But they’ve got to know you care about them and they’ve got to know your love for them is not based on what they do on the field.”
2. Expert at breaking in young backs.
As a result of all the attrition, for the third time in four seasons McClendon is getting a true freshman ready to play. Georgia signed two highly-touted prospects out of North Carolina in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
“You have to look at things they already know and do that will transfer over well,” McClendon said. “The hardest thing about coaching young backs if you have to get them playing well without the ball. With the ball, a lot of things transfer over. Without the ball is where you win or lose ballgames. So you have to make sure they know what they’re doing and work with them.”
3. He prefers using multiple backs
McClendon believes you can never recruit enough talented tailbacks, and it goes beyond their ability to stay out of trouble off the field.
“ I have not seen one guy carry the load in this league yet, not since Herschel and Bo Jackson were playing,” McClendon said. “The one guy who came close to doing it was Marcus Lattimore and he hasn’t lasted a full season yet, and he’s a great player. You need more than one guy so they can take the load off each other and stay fresh. It definitely keeps you healthier.”
4. A Bulldog by birth
McClendon’s father, Willie, was an All-SEC running back at Georgia in the late 1970s and also coached running backs for the Bulldogs. So Georgia football has been a part of McClendon’s life for as long as he can remember. McClendon’s first recollection was attending a Georgia game when he was about 4 years old.
“My dad wanted everybody to sit in the stands because he had never sat in the stands at a Georgia game before,” McClendon said. “This was before he coached, right around when he had just finished up playing football in the NFL. I remember him teaching us the, ‘Go Dawgs, sic ‘em’ cheer. I don’t remember anything about that day, but I remember that.”
5. Being the son of a famous Bulldog
Bryan’s father is still considered one of Georgia’s greatest running backs of all time. Willie rushed for 1,312 yards and 13 touchdowns in 1978 and went on to play in the NFL. But Bryan had no idea his father was famous until the family moved to Athens in 1989 and Willie joined the staff of former UGA coach Ray Goff.
“I was old enough then to notice that people treated him differently,” Bryan said. “We would walk into a place and people would walk up and ask for his autograph and tell him they enjoyed watching him play stuff like that. My Dad has always been very humble. He never boasted one word about what he’s done our how good he was when he played.”
6. Everybody’s little brother
McClendon is the middle of three sons, all of whom played football. Big brother Brandon played at Georgia Southern and little brother Brent McClendon is currently a cornerback at Georgia State.
But growing up as the son of the Georgia running backs coach, Bryan felt like he had a bunch of big brothers. He talks about of wrestling with Rodney Hampton and Garrison Hearst and playing video games with Terrell Davis, Mack Strong and Larry Ware. He would play with them on UGA’s Woodruff Practice Fields and his father would have them over to the house for meals occasionally.
“I was everybody’s little brother,” he said. “I was always running and jumping on Garrison Hearst and playing video games and stuff with those guys. I had a lot of fun with them.That was obviously a an impressive group of guys my Dad he brought in and he coached them up well.
7. Always planned on following in father’s footsteps
A lot of coaches’ sons want to do something different when they grow up. McClendon can’t imagine himself doing anything else.
“I always knew I wanted to be a coach and I approached the game that way,” said McClendon, who played wide receiver at Georgia. “I always wanted to know the ‘why’ about things when I was playing. Coach [John] Eason used to say I watched as much film as he did. I tried to figure out how the defense was trying to attack us and understand the reasons behind the. But I always knew wanted to be a coach at any level. Obviously I love being back here because Georgia runs through my veins.”
8. He briefly considered with a law career
For a brief time after his seven-week NFL career, McClendon thought about going to law school and possibly becoming a sports agent. In fact, he worked at a malpractice lawfirm in Atlanta to learn the ropes. It was the first job he held that was conducted in an office s
“That was my first real job,” McClendon said. “They taught me how to do things and how go about things in an office setting. But it drove me crazy. I’d get up from my desk every day at 2:30 and go outside to walk a lap around building. I had to get out of there. I just couldn’t see how people did that all day. Once I got my lap, I’d come back in and I could finish my day. It was definitely not for me.”
9. Known his wife most of his life
McClendon and his wife Amber actually have known each other since attending Young Middle School and Mays High School in Southwest Atlanta. But they didn’t actually date until after McClendon was attending Georgia on a football scholarship. Amber graduated from Clark Atlanta College and got a masters in social work at UGA. They married on Sept. 2, 2006.
“I was with the Chicago Bears,” McClendon said. “We had just found out I made the team. I was probably the 53rd out of the 53 guys that made the team. I had to go ask the Coach Lovie [Smith] if I could have the weekend off to get married. I flew into Atlanta on Friday, we got married on Saturday and Sunday I had to be back up there. We had to play Green Bay.”
10. A father to “Bam-Bam” and Brooke
Like every other Georgia coach, McClendon has to juggle the responsibilities of being a husband and father with the demands of being a coach. He has a 5-year-old boy, Bryan, who goes by “Bam-Bam” and a little girl named Brooke, born this past December. That’s even more challenging with a working wife. Amber is a program supervisor at the Athens’ non-profit Families 4 Change.
“It’s not easy,” McClendon said. “Right now it’s just us and we’re making it work. We have to utilize daycare and school and things like that. But Amber gets the trophy. I don’t know how she does it and looks as good as she does. When I’m with them they beat me down. They wear Daddy out.”