Then-Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley met with media members pre-Sugar Bowl on Sunday, December 29, 2019, in New Orleans. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton
Photo: Curtis Compton/Curtis Compton

James Coley’s move to Texas A&M costly for Georgia

Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M are making out like bandits on the reported deal to bring in James Coley from Georgia to coach tight ends.

Coley, who Fisher tried to hire as offensive coordinator two years ago when he became Texas A&M’s head coach, is joining the Aggies’ staff instead as tight ends coach, according to reports out of College Station, Texas. The news was first reported by TexAgs.com, which describes itself as an “independent fan site,” citing unnamed sources. It has yet to be corroborated by either school, however.

TexAgs reported that Coley’s hire completed Fisher’s coaching staff for 2020. The Aggies also this week hired Tyler Santucci from Wake Forest as linebackers coach, and TJ Rushing from Florida State to coach cornerbacks. The latter two hires were announced by Texas A&M. Coley’s had not been as of late Friday night.

There’s reason to believe Coley’s deal might be more complicated. At Georgia, Coley was making $950,000 a year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in a three-year deal signed off on by the Bulldogs less than a year ago. That represented a $100,000 raise from the previous year and $500,000 more than he was making when he joined Kirby Smart’s staff at UGA in 2016.

But Smart gave Coley’s job to somebody else earlier this past week when he hired Todd Monken as offensive coordinator. That meant Coley, if left without a job, was still owed $950,000 for the next two years from somebody.

Meanwhile, the Aggies already have an offensive coordinator. Two, in fact (Darryl Dickey and Jay Graham are listed as co-coordinators). So it’s doubtful that the A&M could justify paying a tight ends coach $950,000 a year.

But according to the terms of Coley’s contract, signed in February last year, UGA is required to pay the difference of any salary offsets. For example, if A&M pays Coley $500,000 to coach tight ends, Georgia would have to make up the $450,000 difference.

Whether any of that had been finalized as of Friday is unclear. It could explain why there has been no official announcements from either university.

Technically, Coley still had a job with the Bulldogs. When UGA announced that it had hired Monken, it specified only that Monken was brought in as offensive coordinator and that Coley was to become assistant head coach, which was a new title for him. Georgia did not specify positional duties for either coach, though persons with knowledge of the situation said Coley would no longer be coaching quarterbacks. In any case, Coley had to move out of the offensive coordinator's office on the second floor of the Butts-Mehre football complex.

The Bulldogs had only one vacancy on the staff, which was the special-teams coordinator position abandoned by Scott Fountain when he left for the same position at Arkansas. Conceivably, Coley could have taken over those duties at UGA, or switched positions with current tight ends coach Todd Hartley, who has extensive experience coordinating special teams.

Regardless, Hartley likely will inherit special-teams duties for the Bulldogs. Earlier this week, UGA hired Buster Faulkner, who currently is listed only as an offensive quality-control specialist. It would make more sense for Faulkner to coach quarterbacks than to come to Georgia from Southern Miss and take a $100,000-a-year pay cut to make $150,000 as an offensive analyst. If Faulkner is indeed promoted to handle quarterbacks, UGA would then be back to the NCAA maximum of 10 on-field assistant coaches.

If that's the case, the initial hit for the Bulldogs will come in the area of recruiting. Coley, a Miami native, was known as one of the nation’s more successful recruiters in south Florida. Georgia’s roster features 10 players from that area, including elite prospects such as Tyson Campbell, James Cook, Tyrique Stevenson, Kenny McIntosh and Divaad Wilson. 

These recent developments signify a departure for Smart. The fifth-year Georgia coach was willing to give up some recruiting prowess in exchange for an purported upgrade on the X’s-and-O’s front.

That’s an exchange the Aggies probably don’t mind. After all, they get an elite south Florida recruiter and experienced offensive coach for the price of a tight ends coach -- for two years at least.

With Coley’s departure from Georgia, only two assistant coaches remain from Smart's first staff, which he assembled in 2016. That's running backs coach Dell McGee, who's now run game coordinator, and inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann, who's now co-defensive coordinator.

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