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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Catching Up With... Bryan McClendon

One of the first things a reporter needs to do on a beat is to find the one guy he knows he can always go to for a good quote. My first year covering Georgia, that guy was wide receiver Bryan McClendon.

A lot of athletes are more than happy to give you the cliched answer and never really give much thought to the question you posed. I don't blame them, I'd be tired of talking to guys like me, too. But McClendon was never like that. He was always thoughtful, insightful and honest -- the best you can ask for as a writer.

After McClendon left Georgia, he followed in his father Willie's footsteps, signing with the Chicago Bears as an undrafted free agent. Willie played with the Bears from 1979-1982 after a successful career at Georgia.

An injury ended Bryan's pro career, however, before it ever really got started. These days he's back at UGA as a grad assistant, coaching the wide receivers, where he's been widely complimented for his work with phenom A.J. Green.

I talked with McClendon last week about his family legacy at Georgia, his role with the team, and where Matthew Stafford ranks among the school's great QBs. Here's what he said...

David Hale: You played on some Georgia teams that won a lot of games. How does this year's squad compare to those?

Bryan McClendon: I think talent-wise, if it's not up there, it's probably better than a lot of those teams. I mean, we won a lot of ballgames when I was here, and a lot of it has to do with we were well-coached, we were going to do it the right way, we were going to do it hard. This team just has all that. They're together, just like a lot of teams I played on. They have all the ability in the world, and if they're mature enough to keep that day-to-day focus, then I think the sky's the limit for this team.

DH: You left Georgia and went to the NFL for a while. What brought you back to coaching?

BM: When I was here, me and Coach Richt had already talked about me getting back into coaching. After I left here, I went to Chicago as an undrafted free agent. I actually made the 53-man roster. It was Week 3 of my rookie year, my only year, I got hurt and got an injury settlement. As soon as I got back, I called Coach Richt up, and he said "Stay on me, keep calling me, I may have something open up for you." So we actually hooked up, got together on the phone, and he said, "We're going to have a spot for you, you need to come talk to Coach (Mike) Bobo." It was right after Coach Bobo was named offensive coordinator right after Coach (Neil) Callaway took the job at UAB. After that, I came and talked to Coach Bobo and made sure this was what I wanted to do, but this is what I wanted to do all along was get into coaching. So after that, those chips fell into place, and I came in that January.

DH: How nice is it for you to come back to a place where you have so many good memories and close ties?

BM: I'm glad to be around here. I love all the people around here. I love some of the players here even though I didn't get to play with many of them. But just the thing that made it such an easy transition when I first came back -- I thought it was actually going to be rather tough coming back and coaching some of the players I played with but the thing has actually made that transition better was me being able to leave how I did my senior year. I used to get on those boys when I was older and they were just walking in the door, so that made that transition easy. They didn't see an old, goofy guy coming back trying to coach them up.

DH: So are there any regrets for you or is coaching where you wanted to be all along?

BM: I was excited getting back into it. My dad actually coached here. My dad coached the running backs here '89 through '94. He was on Ray Goff's staff. I sort of knew the ins and outs a little bit. I hadn't actually experienced it, but I watched my dad do it, and I used to come out here when I was little, and I knew that's what I wanted to end up doing. Me, I'm a big-time daddy's guy. I was always up under him wanting to do what he did and be what he became, so when I saw him out there coaching, I said, "Hey, my dad's doing it, it's with football, I'm outside, can move around, that's exactly me."

DH: Have you leaned on your dad for advice now that you're coaching, too?

BM: All the time. He always has and will continue to be my role model. He's such a great guy and just being able to use him as a crutch through those tough times. Right before I got here, I got married. He helped me out just dealing with that because I'm not going to be home a lot during the year. He just helped me out dealing with that, right ways and wrong ways, and that's been a huge help to me.

DH: Well, obviously with a receiving corps like this one, coaching has to be pretty fun. One of the great projects for you is A.J. Green. How impressive is he?

BM: The big thing that helps him out is the level of effort he gives on every play. You don't see that from a lot of guys coming straight out of high school, especially when they're the big dog coming out. They can sort of chill in practice in high school, and you've got to snap them out of that when they get here, but he's not like that.

DH: I remember doing a story on you and Mo Massaquoi when you were a senior and he was a freshman. He was so quiet and reserved then, and you were a very vocal leader, particularly for him. How impressed are you with the leader he has developed into in the four years since then?

BM: Mo is another guy I really think the sky is the limit for. If he does everything to stay healthy and he keeps his focus, he's just matured so much, and it makes you so proud of him. He works hard day in and day out, and you know he's going to do things right. Just to know that those young guys have an older guy like that they can watch, I think it's really beneficial toward them, too. Just being able to see him come into his own as a leader, it makes me feel like a proud father to a certain extent.

DH: Between David Greene and D.J. Shockley, you had a couple pretty good quarterbacks throwing you the ball during your playing days here. How do you think Matthew Stafford stacks up against those guys?

BM: I think those guys had some great ability, but he's done some things that those other guys just haven't done. Just some of the throws, how he carries himself, and just how he's grown as a leader. It's just really fun to see a guy with all that ability, who really loves the game, and he's a true student of the game, you can't feed him enough information about football, which is really important. A guy like that who came to lead this team, I think we've got the right one with him.

DH: So do you ever wish you could get out there and haul in a few passes from Stafford now?

BM: No, no, no. Those days are over. I'm just glad to be able to coach up some of these guys. I'm just happy to be back and happy to be where I am.

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