10 Things: Tight ends coach John Lilly hoping that talent trumps inexperience

A series on Georgia’s nine assistant coaches has been running over the summer. Following is the unabridged version of the one  I wrote on UGA tight ends coach John Lilly. It ran in print a few weeks ago but never made it online. Below you’ll find links to the others that have run so far. Kirk Olivadotti is up next week. So, for your perusal and commentary, here is . . .

An eye for football talent took John Lilly from an assistant high school coaching post in North Carolina to FSU and finally to Georgia. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

An eye for football talent took John Lilly from an assistant high school coaching post in North Carolina to FSU and finally to Georgia. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

TEN THINGS ABOUT JOHN LILLY

ATHENS — Georgia tight ends coach John Lilly had the luxury of having one of the most talented and experienced position rooms in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall the past couple of seasons. All-star tight end Orson Charles was in there, along with senior Aron White and, at various times, Bruce Figgins.

But this year, all those guys have moved on to the NFL and Lilly finds himself having to replace 144 career catches and 24 touchdowns.

“There’s no doubt it’s a big transition year,” said Lilly, who has been at Georgia since 2008. “You look in that room now and Artie [Lynch] has got two catches his freshman year and Jay [Rome] hasn’t played and Ty Smith hasn’t played. It’s a totally different room.”

Here are 10 things you should know about Lilly:

1. He hails from Beckley, W.V.

Lilly grew up in Beckley, W.Va., a medium-sized coal-mining town where his parents, Jack and Ethel Lilly, both held administrative jobs at the local Veteran’s Hospital. He played football, baseball and basketball at Woodrow Wilson High.

“Sports were my deal. That’s what I did,” Lilly said.

2. A Bobby Bowden man early on

Lilly was a West Virginia fan like most everybody else in that state. That’s when he first became aware of Bobby Bowden, who was the Mountaineers’ coach during Lilly’s childhood.

“But all us smart folks in West Virginia ran him off,” Lily said. “I remember my Dad saying, ‘that guy was a really good football coach and we’re going to regret that.’ So he went to Florida State and I followed him because my dad did.”

3. He played football for love of game

Lilly attended Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., where he was recruited to play quarterback. The Quakers played Division III ball.

“I was so good at quarterback they moved me to wide receiver halfway through my junior year and I played there the rest of my time,” Lilly says with a laugh. “I honestly went there because I enjoyed playing football. I wasn’t one of those guys where all the schools were knocking the door down to come play for them. My recruitment was a hotly contested battled between Guilford and Glennville State College in West Virginia. I probably got one call from each one of them. Not once a day or once a week, just one.”

4. He’s undefeated as a head coach

Lilly hung around Greensboro, N.C., after his graduation. Initially he took a job as a warehouse manager for a sporting goods store. But in less than year he completed his teaching certification and went to work at Northwest Guilford High school as a social studies teacher and coach.

Lilly was an assistant in football, track and basketball and became the head coach for the girls’ junior varsity basketball team his third year.

“That’s the only head coaching job of my career so far,” Lilly quipped. “But we did go 21-0 that year. I had shirts made up to prove it. I may still have a few. They’re collector’s items if anybody wants one.”

5.  Lilly’s a master networker

Lilly made the most of his off time while teaching and coaching in high school. Almost every Saturday in the fall, he would get coaches’ passes for home games at N.C. State, North Carolina, Duke or Wake Forest. Lilly would make it a point to get to the games very early so he could watch the teams warm up and maybe hobnob with some of the coaches.

It was on one of those Saturdays, when Florida State was playing at N.C. State, that Lilly would make a connection that ultimately changed his life. He was introduced to FSU tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Ronnie Cottrell. As Lilly tells it, Cottrell made the mistake of handing him a business card and saying “give me a call sometime.”

“He said, ‘if you ever get a chance to, come down, and if you ever see any real good players, give me a call.’ I probably bothered him a lot more than he originally thought when he said it. But to make a long story short, I did go down there a few times over the next few years and I’d call him whenever I saw players I thought might be their caliber of player.”

6. He became a Seminole in 1995

Apparently Cottrell was impressed with Lilly’s ability to evaluate talent because in 1995 he asked Lilly to join the FSU staff as a “quality control specialist,” which is a fancy way of saying “video guy,” according to Lilly. Though the job paid “next to nothing,” Lilly accepted and moved to Tallahassee.

Initially Lilly’s job was breaking down video for the defensive staff, which included defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews and assistants Chuck Amato and Jim Gladden. Eventually a graduate assistant slot opened up and, finally, a full-time assistant’s job. Ironically, Lilly succeeded Cottrell as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator in 1998.

“I remember it was a Thursday afternoon that Coach Cottrell left to go to Alabama and we had three or four official visits coming in the next day,” Lilly recalled. “So it was kind of like, ‘hey, why don’t you just take this and run with it and we’ll get back to you later. There just wasn’t a lot of time. We were getting ready to play Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl that year, it was toward the end of final exams and we were starting bowl practice that week. So there was a lot going on at that particular point in time. So Coach Bowden just said, ‘get in there and do your thing and we’ll talk about specifics later.’”

7.  Became a Mark Richt guy

Moving over to offense, Lilly was now answering to Mark Richt, who was offensive coordinator for the Seminoles at the time. They would work together for the next three years and forged a relationship that eventually would lead to Lilly to Athens.

“Anybody who knows Coach Richt at all knows what you see is what you get,” Lilly said. “As a coach you really appreciate that in a coach you work for and that’s why you don’t see guys scrambling to get off his staff. He’s just an extremely consistent person. He was coaching Heisman Trophy winners and offenses that led America in yards and scoring. But he has not changed at all in the way he goes about his business and does what he does, his focus, his humility and all those kinds of things. He’s just better known now.”

8. Follows Richt to Georgia

Richt left FSU for Georgia after the 2000 season and Lilly remained in Tallahassee with Bowden until 2007. After that season that a slot opened up on the Bulldogs’ staff when Dave Johnson left for a job at West Virginia.

“It was very difficult from the standpoint of the relationships that you form over 13 years at a place,” Lilly said. “We had some tremendous success there and, obviously, Bobby Bowden is a guy I felt I owed a lot to because he gave me the opportunity to be in the position I was in. I value loyalty a lot and that’s the expectation I like to give people, that I’m going to be loyal to them. So it was difficult in that regard. But It was very easy in the regard that I felt like Cheryl and I, she was my fiance’ at the time, we both felt like it was a move that the Lord was engineering and leading us to make. So that made it easy because you felt like you were doing the right thing.”

9. Lilly was late getting married

Lilly, 44, didn’t get married until after he came to Georgia in 2008 and then had to do it on spring break in Tallahassee. He and his wife, the former Cheryl Brown, lived in Tallahassee for 13 and and 11 years, respectively, but they didn’t start dating until shortly before he left for Athens.

“Everything was supposed to happen in Tallahassee, but the opportunity to come to Georgia came up and it was something we both agreed I should do,” Lilly said. “But so many things were going on at the time. We were building a house in Tallahassee, we each had a place there and we planned to get married there. If we had not felt 100 percent confirmation from the Lord that was what we were supposed to do we definitely wouldn’t have done. It took us totally out of our comfort zone.”

They ended getting married during spring break of 2008 in Tallahassee. Today they have two children, Allison, 3, and Caleb, 1

10. 2012 a transition year for tight ends

Though he’ll be charged this season with breaking in a lot of new talent at his positions, Lilly said the key is that the players Georgia has brought in are indeed talented. That’s why he’s as enthusiastic as ever about getting the Bulldogs ready to play this fall

“It’s not a lot of experience, but it’s exciting at the same time,” Lilly said. “Those guys are eager to get out there and prove themselves. You know there’s going to be some mistakes made; that’s how you learn. You just hope to make more of them in practice that you can learn from than you do on Saturday evenings.”

63 comments Add your comment

Mark (another one)

July 25th, 2012
4:16 pm

Can’t wait for football. Go Dawgs!

The Tide is trolling and nothing can stop it.....

July 25th, 2012
4:28 pm

chuck

July 25th, 2012
4:29 pm

The talent is there so we will be fine at the TE position.

Michael Veli

July 25th, 2012
4:36 pm

With Bobo’s playcalling, the O line’s lack of depth, Crowell gone and probably doing drive by’s in Alabama, and an inexperienced group of TE’s it is very likely that Georgia’s running game will struggle, especially early in the season.

BigDawg

July 25th, 2012
4:40 pm

GATA, now’s the time!

RHall55

July 25th, 2012
4:43 pm

Seems like on offense we are talking about transition period for all positions…OL, RB, TE, maybe, WR…C’mon on Bobo, Garner and Richt..this under the limit roster management stinks…less scholarship players than Penn State?? What the heck is goin on out there….just saw where Chris Sanders, former Dawg, may have been kicked off GMC!! Predicting a losing season in the next (4) years unless this staff makes some changes starting with Van Halenger, then Garner, and keep an eye on Friend, the under recruiting OL Coach…only (3) LOI’s last year, none from the state of GA, missed out on Max Garcia, and now, slow on his process this year…do not lose out on Tunsil like you lost out on Avery Young last year!!

Destin Dawg

July 25th, 2012
4:53 pm

Can’t wait this is our YEAR !!! SEC champs… Grantham for President !! win with rejuvenated Junk Yard Dawg defense… SEC Champs THIS year and the recruits will sign in Feb.. Go Dawgs !! 5 weeks !!

Frank Lane

July 25th, 2012
5:19 pm

DAWGS FOREVER

GTDog

July 25th, 2012
5:26 pm

I hate the roster numbers myself, but everyone wanted the Vamps cleared out, and that’s what Richt did, so I can’t complain. The number will come up, and I look at it this way: We’ve got 1-1/2 times the players they have on an NFL roster. We’re okay for now, but we need to get those numbers up.

ARdawg

July 25th, 2012
5:29 pm

Obviously, I am not up to speed on the coaching staff. I didn’t know we had a Bob Lily :o

Skint

July 25th, 2012
5:30 pm

Dang, RHall, you blasted me on the Jennings kid, and now you are finally seeing the light on the OL. Why would a top notch OL commit to UGA? We have missed on so many in state kids that are starting for SEC schools. I suggested before we hired Friend, that we move Garner to OL coach. We have done a poor job evaluating and signing OL for years. Garner played OL and knows what it takes against SEC defenses. We cannot continue to sign the kind of kids we are signing and expect anything different.

NC_Dawg

July 25th, 2012
5:30 pm

We have (4) returning starters on offense. Four. We will struggle early, no doubt. Time for some young guys to step up and play big boy football. Can’t wait for the season to start. Go Dawgs!

GTDog

July 25th, 2012
5:35 pm

As far as the offenive transition and the running game, I thought about it by position, and it might be much better this year.

QB – No change except Murray will be a bit more experienced (+)
RB – I hate losing Crowell. We’ve got some young studs, but a good year from Crowell would’ve been HUGE (-)
FB – I love Figgins, and he was a big boy, but not a fullback. I like the walk-on and new kid more (+)
TE – Orson was a great receiving TE, below par blocker. Lynch will mix it up in th run game (+)
WR – Same as QB (+)
LT – Glenn did okay last year, but he’s a guard. If Theus is legitimate, it’s an upgrade. Have to prove it though. Until then, Gaines is Glenn II (nc)
LG – I liked Lee before the broken leg, he’ll be better this year (+)
C – Andrews is a smaller, less experienced B. Jones (-)
RG – Would love to see Gaines back here if Theus takes LT. Burnette is a step below (-)
RT – In spite of “Wide Troll” ’s opinion, Anderson was horrible last year. Nice kid, but not a RT. If Houston is breathing, it’s an upgrade (+)

I like our chances to improve the running game this year. If Theus turns out to be SEC ready, it’s huge. That upgrades LT, C, and RG immediately. If the OL does well, Crowell won’t be missed, if they don’t…well, Crowell might be glad he’s in AL next season.

GTDog

July 25th, 2012
5:38 pm

I count 7 starters coming back on offense NC? Who are your 4?

GTDog

July 25th, 2012
5:39 pm

Let me ammend that to 6 returning starters…

bham dawg

July 25th, 2012
5:45 pm

arty lynch has played a lot. he just hasn’t caught any passes. he is a hell of a blocker and one of the tougher guys on our team.

bham dawg

July 25th, 2012
5:47 pm

@GTdog… who is Gaines? If you are referring to ken gates yes he should play guard.

wilsonbrick

July 25th, 2012
6:55 pm

Ty smith is a hidden gem.can catch absolutely anything thrown to him.he played for rush probst in moultrie and the Packers loved to chunk it around.Ty just needs to learn the offense and grow.he’s only bout 225 to 230lbs

AthensDawg

July 25th, 2012
10:02 pm

RHall,

Your an idiot…VanHalanger is no longer a coach. OL argument I will give you but if the state of Georgia hadn’t passed an immigration law we would have another LOI from last year. RB’s will be fine…probably better off without Crowell’s ego and bad habits. WR’s all return except now Mitchell flipped to defense because of some boneheads getting high. TE’s are talented and the article is misleading because Arty has played significant minutes just didn’t catch a lot of balls. Rome and Smith will be excellent in mismatching against linebackers.

So…where do you create this illusion that we are transitioning at every position??? Relax mister doom and gloom we will be fine.

Go Dawgs!

wsewell525

July 25th, 2012
10:23 pm

I think we should have Mitchell on offense. He’s too good of a weapon. Todd’s scheme and front guys should hold off a lot of points. As long as bobo doesn’t do the 3rd and 10 inside draws we should be able to move the chains.

Jonkin

July 25th, 2012
11:22 pm

Nick Satan is leaving Alamama next year, rumor said, back to NFL but Not sure.what will Bama fans do without The Satan?

azdawg

July 25th, 2012
11:56 pm

dawgs bwill miss orson charles at TE.

Alabama | MrSEC

July 26th, 2012
7:31 am

[...] Georgia’s tight ends are young but talented as they prepare to replace Orson [...]

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
7:55 am

Lilly? Another coach on this staff who is a lifer from Booby Bowden that nobody wants.

CEPH

July 26th, 2012
9:51 am

Is Grantham the only coach at UGA who anyone can interview without bringing God into the equation. I think Richt and his staff think they are the only coaches in America that GOD is looking down on. I think Richt should read the verse in the bible that says, “to whom much is given much is expected” I think he didn’t read the “much is expected part” !!! Just saying!

CEPH

July 26th, 2012
9:56 am

The reason the staff remains intact at UGA is because no one else wants them and why would they?

PaulPaul

July 26th, 2012
10:09 am

Rome has as much talent as any we have ever had. Charles was good but I think Rome will be better over the course of his career. The two other tight ends are tough and can block. We really need to use these guys as much as possible. Tight end U needs to return. Utilizing these guys more will open up the offense.

CEPH

July 26th, 2012
10:17 am

The only reason the staff remains intact at UGA is because no one else will hire them, and why would they?

drunk dawg

July 26th, 2012
10:17 am

Jay Rome will be a baller, count on it folks!!

WDE

July 26th, 2012
10:58 am

Nice article Chip best of luck to Coach Lily and the Dogs this season ! GATA!

WDE

July 26th, 2012
11:05 am

@CEPH ok for the sake of argument, name how many staffs in the nation have a better win/lose record over the last decade…(hint) there aren’t many.

McDawg

July 26th, 2012
11:41 am

i think we are in good shape here-hopefully the rest of the OL will jell and can do more things w/ this position

McDawg

July 26th, 2012
11:42 am

i heard Ruben Foster was recruited as an H-Back for Auburn

PaulPaul

July 26th, 2012
12:11 pm

CEPH seems a bit contentious about our coaching staff this morning. Good response WDE. Aside from the mistake of keeping Martinez too long Richt has done a commendable job with his staff. I am reserving judgement on BoBo until the end of this season. I think he will have a breakout year with offense. He called a good game against LSU first half. Who could see all the dropped passes. Special teams basically lost all three games last year and there is no special teams coach. That may be our biggest fault.

Spike 80DF

July 26th, 2012
12:55 pm

You never know which “game plan” Bobo will trot out there.

1st down: BOMB (incomplete)
2nd down: Run up the middle with our smallest tailback (no gain)
3rd down: Slowly developing downfield pass. (Murray sacked)
4th down: Punt.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
12:56 pm

I’m not overly concerned about the TE position. I agree with the above post that Jay Rome is probably as talented as Charles and I don’t think too many folks were concerned about OC when he played with a year less (than Rome) under his belt. . And I am OK with having a couple of other guys who are not hybrid WR if that is the deal. (read: better blockers)

Chip Towers

July 26th, 2012
1:13 pm

You never know which “game plan” Bobo will trot out there.

1st down: BOMB (incomplete)
2nd down: Run up the middle with our smallest tailback (no gain)
3rd down: Slowly developing downfield pass. (Murray sacked)
4th down: Punt.

Spike 80DF: I know a lot of fans aren’t enamored with Mike Bobo and I’m not here to defend him, but these opinions just don’t match the facts. The Bulldogs led the SEC in first downs last season with 296 and averaged 408.5 yards (3rd) and 32.0 points (4th). The scenario you described couldn’t take place often to produce such numbers.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
1:19 pm

I’d have to agree with GTDog, that I believe it is possible we will have as good or better players on the O-line THIS seasons. Experience is obviously not high, but not so sure that “whiffing” with experience is all that. Hard to imagine it’s any worse.

Going forward. I keep reading how “thin” we are there. As I count we will have 19 OL showing up to camp next week. At least 15 that I can see would be on most any 3 deep SEC roster. We should hit spring ball with well over 20 guys, pretty evenly spread out over classes, with at least a dozen or more very capable guys with a fair amount of playing time.

In fact looking INTO next year, I actually disagree that we are looking at taking a step back. I understand we are losing some seniors on the defense, But IF Grantham can’t just plugl in the next guy after his 3 season, (and he should have the talent) he ain’t what everybody says.The offense should be nothing but returning starters. and kickers.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
1:23 pm

Not only that Chip, if folks actually would go back and LOOK at the play selections, it very rarely matched up to what all the cliche’s jokes like to claim.

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
1:41 pm

Come on Chip … Your argument numbers match up because of the weak opponents on UGA’s schedule last year . When faced with stiffer competition Spike 80 DF is spot on. Doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
1:42 pm

a good example would be “as long as Bobo doesn’t do the “3rd and 10 draw”. (Aside from the problem of it BEING 3rd and 10 in the first place) What % of the time would we have run the ball on 3rd and long, if you had to guess? Mine would be about 10%, if that. And I’d be willing to bet the ball was pretty deep on our own territory, if we did run it on 3rd and long. In which case, that’s the absolute correct call.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
1:52 pm

You guys are SO tiresome with that played out repeat of something you read and pretend its yours. Such a blatently false argument.

UGA had THOSE stats against THAT real life schedule. And you don’t do that against even 12 sisters of the poor if (his play results) occured, now do you?

If anything you MADE chips point. If all UGA did was rake up big numbers against a weak schedule, then spike is even more wrong.

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
1:53 pm

You Right Altamaha, which happens only when UGA faces the big boys which as of late, thereby results in all losses for the Dawgs.

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
1:55 pm

Keep drinking the kool aid…. oh sorry that wasnt original.

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
1:57 pm

The most important stat is the scoreboard. It aint happening against the Big Boys. Sorry you sheeple aint seeing it.

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
2:02 pm

UGA/SEC ranking 2011 against RANKED opponents. (in Georgia’s case, they were ALL TOP 10 teams)

1st downs #2
Yards #1
points #4

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
2:05 pm

and soooooo, that counter to Chip’s point would be entirely full of crap. (what you call spot on)

AltamahaDawg

July 26th, 2012
2:16 pm

Need the number to a rocket scientist?

Butter Bean Floyd

July 26th, 2012
2:44 pm

Nope Cuz they aint no hardware with those numbers and stats. Spike and everyone else knows, including myself who aint drinking the kool aid, understands the tendencies the last 6 years. What’s sad is so does our competition. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Altmaha!

WDE

July 26th, 2012
2:52 pm

@Butter Bean Floyd how bad did our bunch beat your bunch last year?