He was joking, of course. Georgia’s new special-teams coordinator knew that statement would come up sooner or later. Might as well get it over with before his first season with the Bulldogs gets under way.
As Larry Munson used to say, get the picture: No. 3 Georgia was getting ready to play host to No. 8 Alabama in one of the most anticipated games of the 2008 season. The Bulldogs had knocked off the Crimson Tide and their first-year coach Nick Saban in overtime the previous season in Tuscaloosa. A year later, Georgia had most of its star players back from that team, including quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno, and big things were expected in Athens.
The UGA campus was turned on its ear in anticipation of this game.
Word got out the week of the game that the Bulldogs were going to wear black. In those black jerseys, Georgia ran roughshod over Auburn in a surprise unveiling the previous season. This time around, they weren’t hiding anything. Word quickly reached Alabama, where Cochran was the second-year strength-and-conditioning director.
In warm-ups before a midweek practice, the fiery Cochran was captured by an Alabama video crew telling the team what he thought about Bulldogs’ move.
“They’ll be wearing black because they’re coming to their own (expletive) funeral,” Cochran said.
In Cochran’s defense, his comment wasn’t meant to go public. He didn’t scream it. He just sort of mentioned it under his breath. It just so happened to have been captured by the video crew.
It immediately went viral.
About that, Cochran was not pleased.
“I wasn’t planning on it becoming public at all,” Cochran said Friday. “When it did, I was scared to death. I was 29 years old, I think. Whew! I thought I was going to lose my job.”
Cochran’s primary concern was with his boss. Saban didn’t take kindly to anybody from his camp providing bulletin-board material.
“Everyone said, ‘They didn’t need motivation; you just gave it to them.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, thanks,’” Cochran said.
It was Alabama that seemed inspired that day. The Crimson Tide shot to a 31-0 first-half lead and cruised home with a 41-30 victory.
Cochran’s star quickly rose in Tuscaloosa. Bama went 12-2 that season and would win its first of five national championships with Cochran at the helm of the strength program the next year.
But now he’s at Georgia. The 41-year-old shocked the college football world when he left Saban’s side to join his buddy Kirby Smart in Athens as special-teams coordinator.
Cochran talked to reporters Friday for the first time since making that move in late February. Following are more excerpts from that conversation:
On making the move to Georgia ...
“I’ve always wanted to coach, and I found the best opportunity. Coach Smart gave it to me and I had to jump on it.”
On the reaction of the Alabama football community to his departure …
“It’s so hard to even tell on that side. Everyone I knew and everyone I was around was always (for) the players and (for) my personal development. I think this COVID pandemic has kind of pushed my stuff away, which has been great. So, I could really concentrate on being great at my current job.”
On the differences in being an on-field coach …
“I have to really be specific with my time. In the weight room you didn’t have as much time. … I feel like I have to be detailed and I have to be very specific on my goals on who I am trying to reach, what players I’m trying to reach to do a better job, whether it be on kickoff or kick return. So, it’s very similar. But, I feel like,because of the weight room, now I have to be way more detailed, and kind of planned-out on what I’m going to say.”
On leaving Alabama and Saban …
“I think everything happens for a reason. Timing is everything. At the time, I felt like I was in a good place. But, now, I feel like I’m in a great place. I think timing has everything to do with it and, for me, right now is the time. I’m just excited about the opportunity.”
On his philosophy …
“Speed kills. Speed kills. If you’re fast and physical, I am going to find a spot for you. You don’t have to be the smartest guy on the team, you just have to be fast and physical.”
On now being a recruiter …
“I was expecting to get on the road. I was expecting to meet guys. Now, everything is virtual, so that was a challenge. I like sitting face-to-face and talking it out, but I’ve been able to do that virtually. What I bring is what I’ve always brought: I’m going to be real and tell them like it is. I’m going to help them develop before they get here and, once they get here, I’m going to continue that process.”
His assessment of the kicking game …
“We have competition everywhere. From the deep snappers, we have three guys attacking it every; trying to figure out who’s going to be the guy. For kick off, we have four guys going at it. Jake (Camarda) is in the mix, (Jack) Podlesny and (Jared) Zirkel are doing really well. It’s a lot of fun for me with the returners, because you’ve got Kearis Jackson, (James) Cook and Zamir (White). I’ve got a lot of cool toys to play with, [and] there’s a lot of competition on that side of it, so everyone gets better, and that’s great for us.”
On ‘sloppy’ special-teams play per Smart in last scrimmage …
“It’s the first scrimmage. Before we got to the scrimmage in a full setting, we did a lot of reps and individual stuff. But in that full setting, I agree 100%. We’re coaches; this is what we do. We’re going to coach it until we can’t get it wrong. This second scrimmage, we’re going to hopefully come out a little bit better.”
On Georgia’s strength program under Scott Sinclair …
“He knows what he’s doing, that’s for sure. I’m very impressed by the way he handles things from top to bottom in the weight room. The stuff that I’ve seen has been awesome. So, I’m a big fan of the stuff he does for sure.”
On origination of his energetic personality …
“It’s all from my momma and daddy for sure, hands down. Dad was military and Mom was a teacher. So, that definitely ran in the family, being tough and having a good time being tough, too.”