Just when we thought the coaching carousel stopped spinning, we got another lap.
Well, we knew that at some point, Tennessee was going to hire an offensive coordinator. Probably. Either that or Jeremy Pruitt was just going to put it all on his defense to score points.
Tennessee confirmed the hiring Wednesday.
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) January 9, 2019
The longtime college assistant is expected to get a 7-figure contract to return to the place where he spent 4 seasons working for Lane Kiffin and his successor, Derek Dooley.
Here are 5 thoughts I have on Chaney’s return to Rocky Top:
1. Georgia fans need a new scapegoat
As a neutral observer, I always found that doing a Twitter search for “Jim Chaney” during the middle of a Georgia loss was entertaining. More than anyone, he was the Dawgs’ scapegoat in the 3 seasons he spent in Athens. Many considered his play-calling predictable, and his unwillingness to stick to the ground game earlier in the season was why Georgia wasn’t dominating teams.
I could probably also point out the fact that Chaney led a pair of top-20 offenses in the past 2 years, both of which averaged north of 35 points per contest. But when the offense wasn’t humming, nobody took more heat than Chaney.
That’s going to be the same case for whoever steps in as his replacement. With so much talent on that roster and a defensive-minded head coach, there’s a ton of pressure on that position. Don’t put up 30 points and suddenly the guy with 19 years of offensive coordinator experience gets all the blame.
Well, except for when Georgia tries a fake punt on 4th-and-11 in the final minutes of the SEC Championship. That’ll always be on Kirby Smart.
2. This makes a lot of sense for Jim Chaney
As a result of the narrative surrounding Chaney, it made sense that he wanted a fresh start. If he wasn’t going to get years added on to his deal at Georgia, which runs through 2020, it was natural to wonder if his time in Athens had an expiration date. And if Tennessee was simply willing to offer him more money than the $950,000 he made in 2018 — it sounds like they certainly are — then all the more reason to make a change.
Chaney is going from a place with sky-high expectations and one of the nation’s elite offenses to a program that finished 108th and 118th in scoring the past 2 years. Just being average will show that the Vols are moving in the right direction on that side of the ball.
And the beauty of going to Tennessee is that besides the money, Pruitt is going to give Chaney complete control of that offense. He won’t have to worry about micromanaging, and he’ll be surrounded by a Year 2 staff that’s been given the time and resources to pull off a rebuild.
It’ll be a different situation from the one Chaney experienced under Kiffin and Dooley. That had to appeal to the 56-year-old assistant, who clearly was never in any hurry to leave back in 2012.
Jim Chaney took over as Tennessee's interim head coach after Derek Dooley was fired in 2012. After beating Kentucky in his only game as interim, Chaney was asked if he would like to stay on Rocky Top. #Vols pic.twitter.com/DmPkyS1LVf
— Marshall Hughes (@marshallhughes) January 9, 2019
3. Now, it at least makes some sense that Tennessee waited so long
Don’t get me wrong. Hiring your offensive coordinator in the second week of January is bizarre. In this Early Signing Period era, it’s actually pretty impressive that Pruitt has been able to sign the offensive talent that he has without knowing what kind of system or what kind of coach was going to step in to take over that side of the ball.
My initial thought with this was a couple things. If the Vols were waiting on Tee Martin to make a decision on the Miami gig, which got complicated when Mark Richt retired, that makes sense. The other thought I had was that the Vols were waiting on the NFL season to end so that they could make a play to get someone like Steve Sarkisian.
Maybe that was the case. We’ll never know.
What we do know was that the Vols had at least some interest in Chaney, and the fact that his offense struggled so much against Texas in the Sugar Bowl to end the season probably didn’t make the Georgia brass very happy. If the Dawgs truly wanted to keep Chaney, they could have made it worth his while financially.
The Vols were picky because they sort of had to be. They weren’t in a position like Auburn, which could just go hire a 28-year-old offensive coordinator from Memphis and pay him $400,000. Tennessee doesn’t have an offensive-minded coach. Pruitt gave Tyson Helton $1.2 million coming off a year in which he was USC’s quarterbacks coach.
This was always going to be an extremely important decision for Pruitt, and one that could determine if he’ll succeed in Knoxville. Waiting for the right candidate instead of panicking and rushing before the Early Signing Period makes sense, even though it was certainly unconventional.
4. This is good for Jarrett Guarantano in one way and bad in another
I’ll bet whatever’s in my wallet that when Chaney is introduced officially, somewhere near the first few paragraphs of the release will be the name “Drew Brees.” And probably soon after, it’ll read “Jake Fromm.” Whether you think Fromm is all that he’s cracked up to be, Chaney helped him finish fifth in the country in quarterback rating in 2018.
Chaney deserves credit for what he did in coaching up those quarterbacks, and the hope for Tennessee fans is that he’ll maximize the abilities of Guarantano. Chaney, while he still runs more RPOs than people probably realize, asks his quarterbacks to make some big-time throws. He’ll push the ball downfield a bit more than Helton did with Guarantano, assuming he’s ready to take that next step.
Bringing in someone with Chaney’s background with quarterbacks is certainly a plus for Guarantano.
My concern is that this will be Guarantano’s third year as a starter, and it’ll be his third offensive coordinator, none of whom run the same system. You don’t want someone who takes a ton of hits behind what’s been a brutal line to have the game speed up again. Ideally, Guarantano knows what to look for pre-snap, he feels comfortable shifting protections and knowing where his first reads are.
Obviously we knew that this was going to be reality for Guarantano as soon as Helton took the Western Kentucky job. Still, now reality sets in that he’s got some more homework to do to get comfortable with yet another new offensive coordinator.
5. The pieces are forming for this Georgia-Tennessee rivalry to be fun in a couple years
Relax, Georgia fans. I’m not saying that the Vols are suddenly going to start beating or even competing with the Dawgs anytime soon. Though it is worth mentioning that this year’s contest was a 12-point game with 5 minutes left.
But you get the feeling that this rivalry could enter an intriguing new phase. That goes back to the comments from Aaron Murray over the summer about Pruitt “not being cut out to be a head coach.” Add in Chaney making the jump from Athens to Knoxville and suddenly Tennessee’s 7-figure coaches have plenty of ammo to get on Georgia’s level.
The Dawgs are still the standard in the division until someone can actually do the unthinkable and, you know, beat them. That hasn’t happened since Oct. 2016. We’re at least 2 years away from this game actually being hyped as competitive or having “major East implications,” but why not start stirring the pot now?
By making a move like this, Tennessee put the wheels in motion for a much more entertaining chapter of this rivalry.