Why Cochran leaving Bama for UGA is a big deal

If you're a Georgia fan, you believe this to be the coup of coups. If you're an Alabama backer, you consider it as much ado about nothing. If you're a neutral, you could try to go the tried/true/hackneyed route of saying, "Time will tell." (Time always does, duh.) But in the here and now, the Bulldogs' snatching of Scott Cochran seems more than nothing. It's a Something.

Cochran was the strength coach on all six of Nick Saban’s championship teams, the one at LSU included. He’s the guy who was filmed the week of Saban’s breakthrough game at Bama, the much-ballyhooed Blackout night in Athens on Sept. 27, 2008. “They’ll be wearing black,” he said of Georgia rooters, “because they’re coming to a funeral.” He inserted an adjective still NSFW. Alabama led 31-0 at the half.

One state over, Cochran is famous for smashing the trophy given the Crimson Tide as runners-up in the national championship game. He's also famous for appearing in a Regions Bank commercial with the great Saban himself, which not even faithful deputy Kirby Smart or bad boy Lane Kiffin did. Said Shelly Johnston, the Regions vice president for marketing: "Scott Cochran is ... always pushing the team to grind. We wanted to apply that enthusiastic, positive encouragement to everyday life."

The ad, it must be said, isn’t on a par with Mean Joe Greene giving the kid his jersey. It mostly consists of Cochran screaming at people, which we can assume is what strength coaches do. (Weakness coaches presumably recline on the couch and say, “More caviar?”) But the swath this strength coach cut in Tide Land was remarkable, seeing as how Saban barely allows assistants to speak.

Cochran’s leaving for Georgia might well be largely symbolic — pretty sure Alabama can hire itself a new strength coach who can coax a few squats from healthy young men — but symbols exist for a reason. They lend an image to a narrative. Picture’s worth a thousand words, right? Well, the picture of Screamin’ Scott crossing the Georgia border bears a mighty subtext, that being: For King Crimson, the end of days is nigh.

I know, I know. We've said this about before. We said it in 2015 after the Tide lost to Ole Miss in Tuscaloosa and was headed for Sanford Stadium. Not since 2009 had Alabama been an underdog. The national narrative held that a dynasty was a couple of Greyson Lambert — anybody remember Greyson Lambert? – touchdown passes from toppling. Final score: Alabama 38, Georgia 7.

That thudding loss, sandwiched around the Bulldog flop against Will Muschamp's Florida in 2014 and the soon-to-come Faton Bauta gambit, moved Georgia athletic director to fire Mark Richt for the express purpose of making room for Smart. Four years on the job, Smart has struck blows against the empire he once served, topping the Tide in recruiting rankings and twice very nearly beating his mentor with championships on the line. Poaching Saban's strength guy is the hardest blow yet.

The catch, though, is that Smart didn’t hire Cochran as Georgia’s strength coach. He’ll be coordinating special teams, something he hasn’t done. He’ll also be free to take his powers of persuasion on the recruiting road, which is surely part of the lure. (Maybe he’ll just scream at teenagers until they say, “All right, I commit!”)

Saban's take, as expressed to ESPN: Cochran was "looking for a new career path." He wanted to be an on-the-field coach, as opposed to an on-the-field screamer. Said Saban: "We didn't really have anything here to offer him along those lines, and Georgia did. … As good as Scott was for us here as our head strength coach, it's probably best for him and best for us if he's able to do there at Georgia what he wants to do now with his career."

This was Saban at his haughty best: If you don’t want to do the job I want you to do, find somewhere else to do it. It also was a bit of passive/aggressive damage control: “We really didn’t have anything along those lines.” And there’s a chance Cochran might be a calamity with special teams. If memory serves, James Coley didn’t work out as offensive coordinator.

The whispers in Tuscaloosa are that Saban, who's 68, knows he doesn't have much time left and is no longer willing to accommodate middling assistants just because they're demon recruiters. He only wants guys he can trust to sketch X's and O's. (That's believed to be the reason so many assistants departed, some for odd destinations, after the 2018 season.) If Cochran was indeed lobbying for a coaching position, he might have lobbied his way out of town.

But that’s not the way anyone in Athens will see it. Smart still hasn’t beaten Saban on the field, but he just hooked Alabama football’s second-most-famous employee, which can only enhance Georgia’s already-lofty profile. In place since January 2016, Smart has gotten almost everything he has wanted, and he could soon have a say in picking the next AD. (McGarity’s six-bedroom house is for sale — “Downsizing,” he maintains — and he hasn’t yet said if he plans to continue beyond June.)

Georgia is 36-7 over the past three seasons, 21-3 in league play. It has won the East three times and the SEC once. There’s only one thing left to win, and Smart knows better than anyone that any SEC team aiming for a national championship must go through Alabama. LSU just did it, but LSU with the Joes Burrow and Brady won’t be as good next season. That said, we don’t know how Bama will be without Tua, nor do we know about Georgia post-Fromm. We do, however, know this:

On Sept. 19, the Bulldogs will play at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Breath bated, we wait to see what Scott Cochran wears for the occasion. Does he dare dress in black?