Competitive Nature

The package arrived at the Bobo home just a few days after Christmas, which came just a couple days after Mike Bobo accepted a new and exciting job, which was offered to Bobo less than a week after he typed “Fort Collins” into a search engine. The gift was part Christmas present, part congratulations, but very much a necessity.

Cornhole boards – with the green and gold Colorado State Rams logo displayed prominently and proudly.

While intended for fun and games, the boards mean business, because Bobo takes his cornhole very seriously. Many of the Bobos do, in fact, whether they’re a Bobo by name or in the family through marriage. After all, there is a trophy at stake.

For the past few years, the Bobo family vacation has taken place in Charleston, S.C., a nice getaway to bring together the entire Bobo clan. But Mike Bobo can never truly get away from his competitive nature.

“I’m not one that goes on vacations and just sits by the pool and reads a book,” he says. “I gotta do something. I gotta compete.”

So began the Bobo Summer Olympics: Cornhole, bocce ball, billiards, gin rummy, Wii bowling. Brackets are filled out, medals are awarded to the victors of each game, and points are compiled from each event, culminating in a trophy presentation to the overall winner of this sort of backyard pentathlon. The kids get in brawls. The grown-ups are nearly as intense.

But the adult cornhole tournament takes on a life of its own. There’s a separate trophy up for grabs – a plaque, actually, featuring a picture and the names of the reigning champs. Bobo teams up with his wife, Lainie, and challengers include his parents, his sister and her husband, and his aunt and uncle.

“My wife and I have the trophy right now,” Bobo boasts.

Back in June, Bobo wasn’t too confident the tribe would be able to get together this summer, partly because he up and moved out of the South for the first time in his life. Following 14 straight seasons as a coach at the University of Georgia – the last eight as offensive coordinator – he accepted the Colorado State head coaching job vacated by Jim McElwain, who parlayed three successful seasons in Fort Collins into the big gig at Florida. So by default, it appears as if Mike and Lainie will hold on to that plaque for another year.

Until their title defense can commence, you can be sure Bobo will break in his new boards (a gift from Lainie’s brother, Gavin). He’ll discover their nuances as he also learns the particulars of his new town, seeks out new favorite restaurants, finds his five kids new schools, and figures out a way to keep momentum rolling with the new team of which he’s in charge.

The 41-year-old Bobo left his cushy gig with a perennial power in the most powerful of power conferences – the storied Southeastern Conference – to take over a program about which he admittedly knew “not a tremendous amount.” He accepted the job prior to even stepping foot on campus. Yet even if he had strolled through The Oval or the Lory Student Center or the Morgan Library, nary a soul would have recognized him.

So exactly who is this coach with the southern drawl that’s been charged with leading the CSU football squad? Cornhole paints a picture for us.

“My brother-in-law (Daniel Young, his sister’s husband) introduced me to cornhole,” he says. “I’d always seen the game, like when you’re driving to the stadium and guys are playing. I didn’t know what it was, and then he brought it to one of the vacations. And I kept playing him and I just got embarrassed. Kept losing, kept losing, kept losing. I had to get myself a cornhole board, and then I made it my mission to beat him.

“So I practiced a lot from that summer until the next summer. And then I ended up beating him a couple times that summer. Still, he’s very, very good at it. Then the last couple years, I’ve gotten to where I feel like I’m almost on the same level as him. But I was getting embarrassed by him and I didn’t like it. So I had to fix it and get some boards and start practicing.”

If the Rams turn out to be anything like their new coach, you can bet they’ll be competitive.

“He’s got an intense competitive streak,” says Mark Richt, the Georgia head coach who oversaw Bobo the past 14 years. “He’s a young guy but he’s an old-school ball coach in my opinion, in regards to just toughness and doing things right. He’s a demanding coach.”

“He just hates losing,” says Hines Ward, who played with Bobo at Georgia before 14 stellar years in the NFL as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. “He hates losing. That’s the competitive drive that he has.”

“I know that he is an absolutely relentless competitor who understands the importance of always striving in the pursuit of excellence,” said CSU president Tony Frank on the day he officially hired the 22nd head coach in Colorado State football history.

***

Why Colorado State?

That was the question on the lips of many folks when the announcement was made Dec. 23. Bobo had no ties to CSU, no friends on the coaching staff, no childhood memories of growing up in the area before launching a successful career elsewhere. And it wasn’t the first time a school had expressed interest in making a head coach out of the man who devised Georgia’s potent offensive attack.

So why would he choose to take the helm of a squad coming off back-to-back bowl games for the first time in a decade, but saw its 4,000-yard quarterback and 1,200-yard running back enter the NFL Draft? Why would he leave a school for which he starred as a player, and then went on to coach for all but one of his next 17 years? And leave an elite program where he was likely next in line to take over as head coach, should the current one ever decide to exit? Why would Bobo uproot his wife and kids – son Drew (11); triplets Olivia, Jake and Ava Grace (9); and Kate (7) – and plant them in a town they’d never seen?

“You’ve been somewhere as a player and a coach for 20 years – and I love Mark Richt, I love the University of Georgia – but in my heart I felt it was time to make a change,” Bobo says. “But it had to be the right place, and after going through the interview process, I felt like this was the right place for me and I was hoping that they would choose me. Fortunately they did.”

Bobo felt so comfortable at Georgia that he believed it was time to move. He ended up in Fort Collins because the more he learned about the school, the athletics program and the city, the more comfortable he felt. It marked the first head-coaching job he’d ever interviewed for – there was contact from other schools, but he never followed up – and he accepted the job sight unseen. He met with Frank and other CSU officials in Las Vegas the same weekend the Rams fell to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. He first ventured through Fort Collins the following Tuesday, when he was announced as coach.

“This one interested me because it’s a great place to raise a family,” Bobo says. “I believe you’ve got a chance to win consistently here, and then when I got into it, I felt very comfortable about the support of the administration behind athletics.”

The university’s commitment to athletics is evident in the on-campus football stadium Colorado State will build in time for the 2017 season. Bobo learned about the plans upon doing his research for the job, and his interest didn’t wane when he learned that the total capacity for the new digs wouldn’t even reach half of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium (41,000 including standing room vs. 92,746). He’s not in the SEC anymore, and he’s quite all right with that.

Yet because Bobo’s predecessor went from SEC offensive coordinator to CSU head coach to SEC head coach, the question had to be asked: Is this job a stepping stone to land Bobo a head coaching gig back in a power conference?

“That’s not how I see it,” he says. “You’re not going to be able to do well at any job if you’re taking it as a stepping stone job. You’ve got to be all in, and I’m all in with these players and this community and this university. I didn’t take the job thinking that it’s going to go to a Power Five conference job (if CSU were to be invited into such a conference). I didn’t take the job thinking I was going to be able to get another job. I took the job because I believe that CSU is on the tip of the iceberg of how good it can be – how good it can be in everything. And I wanted to be a part of it, and me and my family are excited about it.”

If Bobo’s past is any indication, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. He moved around the state of Georgia as a youngster while his father, George, took different high school coaching jobs. But after throwing for 6,334 yards as a UGA quarterback from 1994-97, Bobo served as an administrative assistant and graduate assistant at the school, then lived in another state for one year as an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Ala.) State before returning to UGA as Richt’s quarterbacks coach. After six seasons, he took on offensive coordinator duties in 2007.

Bobo tutored the likes of quarterbacks David Greene, who left Georgia in ‘04 as the winningest QB in Division I history with 42 wins (surpassing Peyton Manning); Matthew Stafford, the 2009 No. 1 NFL Draft pick; and Aaron Murray, who was drafted by Kansas City in 2014 after becoming the first SEC player to throw for 3,000 yards in four straight seasons. Bobo’s offense last year averaged 41.3 points per game (No. 8 nationally) and scored 537 total points, a Georgia single-season record that beat the mark set by his 2012 offense.

Watching Bobo expertly handle the added coordinator responsibilities, Richt knew it was only a matter of time before he’d lose him.

“There was no doubt in my mind he was going to be a great quarterbacks coach and a great coordinator, and now he’s getting his chance to be a head coach, so it’s not a shock at all,” Richt says. “You could see it coming and (I’m) just real happy for him.”

Happy doesn’t mean helpful, though. Richt knew a little about Colorado, having lived in Broomfield from age 7 to 13. He knows what a beautiful place this is. But if Bobo had asked for him to share his thoughts (Richt says he didn’t), Richt would not have obliged.

“I didn’t want him to go, so I don’t know how helpful I would have been,” Richt says.

Ward, however, is doing his part to help. At Bobo’s request, he spoke to the Rams back in April, urging each player to “push yourself further” after a “pretty good” 10-3 season last year. Ward always knew his buddy Bobo would be a head coach, because it’s in his blood.

“Just his work ethic of going in, executing, trying to be very attentive to detail, wanting to make sure everybody’s on the same page – he’s always been like that as a player and as a coach,” Ward says. “So if he continues to keep the same work ethic and keep the discipline of making sure everyone’s on the same page, I think he can be one hell of a head coach.”

That’s what CSU is paying him $1.35 million to do. And Bobo is certainly talking to the right people in an attempt to earn that check. He’s met with CSU’s winningest coach, Sonny Lubick, on a few occasions, soaking in some of Lubick’s insight into the community and university. Bobo also picked the brain of the man he’s replacing.

“[McElwain] was one guy that I talked to before the second interview about the area, about raising a family here, about the team, about the university, about the support – all the things that you would want to know,” Bobo says. “And he had nothing but great things to say about Fort Collins, the players, the administration, the president. He didn’t have to. He was being real honest and he just couldn’t say nothing but good things about his experiences here and the people he worked with.”

***

These are crucial days for the Colorado State football program, as it transitions to a new coaching staff while attempting to keep the buzz going around town. A winning team the past couple seasons has led to a spike in season tickets, and a winning team the next couple seasons would help sell tickets for the new stadium and open it with some fanfare. A winning football team could also help the school land in a coveted power conference, which would increase cash flow to the new stadium and all across campus.

Bobo thinks about none of that. He’s a man who says he’s never really had a long-range plan, so he comes off as sincere when he reiterates that he’s not looking at CSU to get to somewhere else.

“I didn’t come here for another job; I wouldn’t have moved my family for that,” he says. “I’m planning on being here and that’s how I approach my life every day. I really don’t get caught up in what’s going to happen five years down the road or 10 years down the road. I’m trying to work on right now and what I can control right now.”

He is speaking metaphorically, but he could be talking in the literal, as he struggles to control his two boys in the moment. Drew and Jake are with him at the office on this late June morning, and they’re getting restless. Dad laid down some ladders and cones in the garage the day before and taught them some footwork drills, so now they’re itching for a competition. Bobo can thank himself for that. Or rather, he can thank his father, who turned just about everything into a competition during Mike’s childhood – whether it be getting dressed or getting the mail from the mailbox.

“They want to compete and have a competition, which usually ends up in a fight, and usually I’m not there,” Bobo says. “So my wife’s always calling and saying, ‘All these kids want to do is compete at everything!’”

Bobo thinks it’s a good thing. He hopes he can say the same about his Rams come September.

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