ATHENS — Chris Wilson can say this about his new gig at Georgia – it’s not complicated.
That couldn’t be said for the situation he just left. At Mississippi State, Wilson was co-defensive coordinator the past three seasons. Only, it’s not quite that simple.
“Actually I was the defensive coordinator,” Wilson explained Wednesday evening, a short time after the Bulldogs officially named him their new defensive line coach. “It was like when Manny (Diaz) and I were coordinators together for a year (in 2010). Manny had the 51 percent and I had the 49 percent. The last two years I had the 51 percent and Geoff (Collins) had the 49 percent. For the majority of the time I called (the defense during games). But there was a group of guys who helped organized it, from Melvin Smith to Tony Hughes. It was a collective effort. But on game day, I guess I was the one that actually made the calls on a play-to-play basis.”
State’s defenses actually performed quite well under Wilson’s guidance. Paired with Diaz, the Bulldogs finished third in the SEC in scoring at 19.8 points per game and Wilson actually improved on that (19.7) as the lead DC in 2011. State finished 34th (23.2) this past season after losing defensive tackle Fletcher Cox a year early to the NFL draft. The Maroon Dogs were 52nd in total defense (387,38 ypg).
But as the Bulldogs limped into the Gator Bowl, losers of five of their last six games, coach Dan Mullen decided to shake up the defensive staff and shifted the defensive play-calling duties to Collins.
“With losing Coach Smith (to Auburn), we were short a guy or two and Coach Mullen wanted to move the deal around, so that’s what he did,” Wilson said. “I think it was something we’ll have to look back on to know whether it was a good situation for us.”
It didn’t go well initially. State lost to Northwestern 34-20.
And obviously it wasn’t a good situation for Wilson because, soon thereafter, he was interviewing for Georgia’s defensive line vacancy left by Rodney Garner’s pre-Christmas departure for Auburn. Wilson accepted the Bulldogs’ offer last week and they finally announced it Wednesday after UGA’s hiring process and background checks were completed.
It is not yet certain whether Wilson will assume any of Garner’s other titles, which included assistant head coach and recruiting coordinator.
“As of right now, I’m coaching the ‘Big Uglies’ and I’m really excited about it,” said Wilson, who also coached defensive line at State, Oklahoma and several schools before before that.
Either way, Wilson has inherited a big job at Georgia. The Bulldogs had already lost starters Abry Jones and John Jenkins off the line to exhausted eligibility when fourth-year junior Kwame Geathers informed UGA coaches Wednesday of his intentions to enter the NFL draft. Geathers (6-6, 355) was the heir apparent at noseguard, a critical position in defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme.
“I’m familiar with the guys I’ll have,” said Wilson, who played linebacker at Oklahoma. “I’ll have my first chance to meet with those guys on the roster sometime in the next day or two. I’m not up to speed on every one of the guys.
“But what I am up to speed on is I know the University of Georgia and Coach (Mark) Richt have done a tremendous job of recruiting. I believe there is a lot of talent there. It’s just young talent that has to be developed and worked with. But I’m excited about that. I don’t see the cupboard being bare.”
Wilson ran a 4-3 scheme at State. But he doesn’t anticipate any problems switching to the 3-4 favored by Grantham.
“A shade’s a shade’s, the way I coach it,” he said. “I’ve done this about 20 years now and the thing is, you’re not so much married to a scheme as you are personnel. I think we’ve recruited well to fit the system (at Georgia). These guys were brought in to play this style and I’m excited about coaching them because I think you’ve got a good young group of guys there that you can really develop.”
Georgia returns rising senior Garrison Smith, an eight-game starter, at one defensive end position and have Ray Drew and Sterling Bailey at the other. The Bulldogs’ players gush about the potential of redshirt freshman John Taylor at noseguard but also have junior Mike Thornton in the fold as well as junior college transfer Chris Mayes and prep-school, early-enrollee John Atkins, among others.
Meanwhile, some of Wilson’s first recruiting stops when the dead period is lifted on Friday will be to see Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College star defensive lineman Toby Johnson, Dooly County 5-star prospect Montravius Adams and Chamblee defensive end Davin Bellamy. The Bulldogs also have a commitment from 3-star defensive tackle prospect DeAndre Johnson of Newnan.
“I think it’s a tremendous recruiting class out there,” Wilson said. “We’ll see what kind of players they are in the next year or two also.”
The biggest recruiting battle for Wilson may be the one waged in his own living room. He and his wife Tina will be moving the Athens area with a prospect of his own in tow. Caleb Wilson is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound quarterback drawing recruiting interest in both football and basketball. He’s a rising junior, or Class of 2015.
“He’s excited about the new opportunity,” Wilson said of the Starkville High star. “Obviously it’s always a tough transition for a young guy like that. But he’s excited about coming there and excited about the competition level he’s going to get at Georgia.”
As for which school will land Caleb and his little sister Colby, 12, Wilson said he’s staying out of that.
“Mom is all about academics and people, so that will be up to her,” Wilson said with a laugh. “She’s No. 1 on that deal. I wish my boy good luck on that because Mom’s going to determine it.”
Clearly a savvy recruiter as well.
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