To say Kentucky fans have mixed feelings on offensive coordinator Eddie Gran would be an understatement, and the last 24 hours or so have brought out the extremes on both sides of the equation.
On Tuesday afternoon, news leaked out Tennessee would be hiring Georgia’s Jim Chaney as their offensive coordinator. And then on Wednesday morning, multiple reports leaked out that Gran was in the running to take over the Bulldog offense.
Stephen Godfrey of SB Nation was the first to connect Gran with Georgia, saying the Kentucky offensive coordinator was a “name to watch” in the job search.
A name to watch at Georgia is Kentucky OC Eddie Gran. Wildcats were conservative this season but Gran’s Cincinnati offenses were very explosive. He’s also a very strong Florida recruiter.
— Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey) January 9, 2019
Today, KSR broke the news that Eddie Gran was officially offered the offensive coordinator position at Georgia, with total control of the Bulldog offense and a salary of at least $1.1 million on the table.
Football Scoop, one of the most reliable college football sources in the game, confirmed KSR’s report. They also added that Gran was “strongly considering remaining at Kentucky” as of this morning.
As the discussion heated up, as did the back-and-forth within the Kentucky fanbase. There were those ready to kick Gran to the curb, begging him to take the Georgia job so Kentucky could spice up the offense going forward. And then there were others who saw UK’s 24-15 overall record (13-11 in the SEC) with Gran calling plays, regardless of how it happened, and wanted the continuity.
After several hours of “will he or won’t he” controversy, the man himself took to Twitter to announce he wasn’t going anywhere, officially turning down Georgia’s offer.
I’m all in, #BBN! Let’s do this !
— Eddie Gran (@CoachGran) January 10, 2019
Whether fans are big fans of Gran’s offense and playcalling at Kentucky or not, this is a massive win for the program on multiple levels.
Kentucky’s status as a legitimate SEC program
The easiest surface-level argument with all of this is that for the average college football fan, “Kentucky’s offensive coordinator turns down Georgia,” especially after the program’s most successful season since 1977, will be seen as a major positive.
For recruits not as familiar with Kentucky’s current status, it piques interest. “Why is their offensive coordinator comfortable enough to decline a pay raise and an opportunity to coach at a title contender?” leads to questions such as “What do they have brewing up down there?” and “Is it something I want to be a part of?”
This season, Kentucky put forth a complete performance that put the program in the national spotlight. It started when Benny Snell was ejected during the Music City Bowl, continued when they knocked off Florida to end the streak, and then took another spike when they played Georgia for the SEC East title game late in the year. Their victory over Penn State in a New Year’s Day bowl just put the icing on the cake.
This news won’t hurt that positive momentum the program established throughout the season in the slightest.
Bulldog fans and individuals in the UGA media will paint the picture that Gran never received an official offer and he was never a serious contender for the job. In fact, some Georgia writers have already taken to Twitter to push this narrative. As a perennial powerhouse, why would they want to admit they were turned down by a program they feel is lower on the totem pole?
No matter what the narrative may be, we can confirm the interest was sincere on Georgia’s side of things. They had great respect for Gran’s ability and felt he would be a fantastic addition to the coaching staff.
That will pay off for Kentucky on the recruiting trail moving forward.
Contenders are built with loyalty, continuity, and trust
Though there is glitz and glamour that comes with taking the Georgia offensive coordinator job, Eddie Gran’s fantastic relationship with Mark Stoops is one of the key reasons why he opted to stay put. He has bounced from job to job and has worked under countless head coaches, but sources tell KSR his comfort level with Stoops, the staff, and what they have built together in Lexington is something he is in no rush to leave.
Contracts can be negotiated and UK AD Mitch Barnhart has shown raises are there to be had, but loyalty, stability, and mutual respect is something Gran values significantly.
On Stoops’ end of things, he has said multiple times in the last year that he has never trusted an offensive coordinator more than what he does with Gran. With three different offensive coordinators since he first got to Lexington and the rewards finally starting to come to fruition, it’s no surprise he wants to see things through with this current situation. No new playbooks to learn, major scheme changes, or adjustment periods under a new personality leading the offense.
Instead, they can take what they learned this past season by throwing out what didn’t work and building on what did, making minor tweaks only. Quarterback Terry Wilson can go through an entire offseason focused on developing his own game and building chemistry with the other playmakers on offense, not worrying about the excess baggage that comes with bringing in a new coordinator.
This coaching staff is extremely excited about the pieces they have to work with on offense, and the feeling is mutual on the players’ side of things, as well.
Gran’s true playcalling abilities will be shown this season
I’ve been extremely critical of Gran in the past, both in terms of overall offensive schemes and individual play calls. The vast majority of the fanbase has been frustrated at one point or another, and it’s understandable why. Offensive performances like the ones we saw against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, Missouri, and Tennessee made you want to rip your hair out, as it felt like the entire unit was trying to force a square peg through a round hole.
In fact, sources tell KSR that there were was genuine frustration amongst players on the offensive side of the ball with how individuals were being utilized and how plays were being called. It never got to the point where locker room turmoil or divide was a concern, but it was something that needed to be addressed. Why wouldn’t an offensive player want the ball in his hands or have the opportunity to make an impact? That level of competitive spirit is something you hope for on a team with dreams as massive as Kentucky’s are.
With Benny Snell in the backfield, however, there was mutual understanding amongst players that he was the top option and the offense would be molded around his talents as a result. As the program’s all-time leading rusher and touchdown scorer, they understood it was absolutely in the team’s best interest to play the way they did and roll with the punches, even if it meant things would slow down at times against elite run defenses. Stoops wanted to pound the rock with arguably the greatest running back in school history, and Gran tried to put the star Wildcat in position to succeed with those guidelines.
With 3,873 career yards and 48 touchdowns for Snell, with just about every rushing record there was to be had, he did just that.
In his final year at Cincinnati, Gran’s offense ran a total of 1059 plays and had a near 50-50 split between the pass and run. Working with two quarterbacks, the Bearcats finished No. 4 nationally in passing offense at 373.1 yards per game and ranked No. 5 in the nation in total offense by averaging 559.4 yards per game. He knows how to play to his team’s strengths, and for the last three seasons with Snell, it worked more often than not.
With the star running back off to the NFL now, there is growing confidence within the organization that the offense will open up a bit more to facilitate some of the other playmakers. Terry Wilson will have more time to settle in and show off his development, Lynn Bowden is a superstar, AJ Rose has proven he can make plays in the run game and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, Tavin Richardson is reliable, Justin Rigg will thrive in a passing attack, etc. There are options available, and Gran will be able to play a bit more to their strengths now. I still believe Stoops and Gran will favor the run, but things certainly won’t get as one-dimensional as we saw at times this season.
After Kentucky’s victory over South Carolina this past season, Stoops said he simply will not play a reckless style of football, and that will be a common theme moving forward.
“When you say same old offense, this is the same old offense that’s putting us in position to win a bunch of football games,” said Stoops. “Here’s the deal, the object is to win games. So when you’re (significantly) ahead, and we’re possessing the ball and limiting touches and opportunities for the offense, that’s what you’re trying to do is win games. Of course we want to put the foot on the gas and score points, but you don’t want to be reckless, as well. You want to win.”
In 2016, Kentucky’s offense managed 35 or more points in five of the team’s last seven games, with seven total on the year. The defense struggled immensely, so Stoops and Gran had to adjust accordingly (with JUCO QB Stephen Johnson replacing Drew Barker in week three, mind you) by turning it up a notch to let it fly a bit. They still had an impressive running attack with a junior Boom Williams and a freshman Benny Snell in the backfield, but the offense kept opposing defenses honest through the air.
This past season, the vertical passing game became non-existent at times and the offense as a whole became predictable. They’ll still stick to their hard-nosed, grind-it-out ways, but the balance we didn’t necessarily see last year will be back.
As a result, the offensive product will likely be more appealing, yet still maintain the winning formula Stoops is pushing for.