Sidelines with John Clay

Despite what some fans think, Eddie Gran departure would hurt UK

If Georgia does hire Eddie Gran for its open offensive coordinator position, some Kentucky football fans will get their wish.

My take: Be careful what you wish for.

Reports Wednesday placed UK’s offensive coordinator in the running for the opening on Kirby Smart’s staff created when news broke Tuesday night that Bulldogs play-caller Jim Chaney was joining Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee.

Jon Hale of the Courier-Journal confirmed through a source that Gran, Kentucky’s play-caller the past three seasons, was a candidate for the Georgia job.

That may come as a surprise to Kentucky fans who have been critical of Gran, whose offense ranked 104th out of 130 FBS teams in total offense this season, averaging 360.8 yards per game. UK wound up 85th in scoring offense at 26.6 points per game.

The truth of the matter is that Gran is a respected coach nationally, and especially in the SEC where he has worked at Auburn and Tennessee. He’s also known as a strong recruiter in Florida, from the days when he and UK head coach Mark Stoops were on Jimbo Fisher’s staff at Florida State.

When Gran left as the running backs coach at FSU to become offensive coordinator at Cincinnati under Tommy Tuberville, the Bearcats were among the nation’s most prolific offenses. In 2014, Gran’s final year at UC before joining Stoops at UK, Cincinnati was fifth in the country in total offense at 537.8 yards per game.

Gran’s offenses haven’t put up those types of numbers at Kentucky. The Wildcats were 61st in total offense in 2016, 103rd in 2017 and 104th this year. They went from averaging 372 yards per game under Shannon Dawson in 2015, his one year calling plays at UK, to 360.8 this year.

What UK has been able to do under Gran is win games. The Cats went 7-6 in 2016 with a trip to the TaxSlayer Bowl. They were 7-6 in 2017 with a trip to the Music City Bowl. This year, they went 10-3, the progam’s first 10-win season since 1977. Over Gran’s three years, UK is 24-15 with a Citrus Bowl victory over Penn State, 27-24, on New Year’s Day that helped UK to a No. 12 ranking in the final AP poll.

Gran has given Stoops exactly what the head coach wanted, a physical, run-oriented attack that compliments the defense. Benny Snell rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons under Gran, including over 1,400 yards this season when the Ohio native became the school’s all-time rushing leader.

Under Gran, UK survived the early loss of starting quarterback Drew Barker to a back injury in 2016. Stephen Johnson, a juco transfer found by Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw, stepped in and led the team to bowls in successive years. And this past year, UK used juco transfer Terry Wilson as its starting quarterback and still won 10 games.

For Stoops, losing his offensive coordinator and assistant head coach would be a blow to the staff continuity built over the past six seasons. Gran, Hinshaw, offensive line coach John Schlarman and tight ends coach Vince Marrow have all worked together the last three years.

If offered, however, the Georgia job would surely be difficult for Gran to turn down. It’s a place where you can win a national championship. And it would be working for a coach in Smart who appears to be on his way to one day doing just that.

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