It’s one of the perks of accepting a high-pressure head-coaching job at a new school. The new man in charge doesn’t have to publicly fire the current lot of assistants and coordinators.
Instead, the media and public at-large can simply connect the dots once the new coach brings in fresh blood, especially at the most prominent slots.
Which brings us to UGA head coach Kirby Smart hiring Jim Chaney as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator:
With this news official, Brian Schottenheimer (UGA’s O-coordinator for 2015) knows he’ll have to find work elsewhere in advance of next season — just like Jeremy Pruitt saw the proverbial writing on the wall the other day, when accepting a lateral, but pressure-packed move from UGA to Alabama and becoming head coach Nick Saban’s defensive coordinator (replacing Smart, as luck would have it).
Man, it might have been more fun to create a Photoshop document or Flash presentation of the coaching changes at Alabama and UGA in recent weeks. Or, how about an online tutorial of the game Musical Chairs?
To wit, SEC Country should probably look into hiring whoever can produce those sleek anime videos, as a means of chronicling the time-tested process of SEC programs swapping (or, ahem, stealing) personnel, in search of the perfect marriage of head coach and loyal staffers.
And that, in a nutshell, is why it’s great to live in the Deep South. Growing up in Michigan, I don’t ever recall a newspaper columnist penning a reaction piece off a “coordinator” hire.
But down here, where the weather is warm and the powerful brand of SEC football remains a 365-day beast, the name “Jim Chaney” has already become a topic of fascination at every holiday party inside Georgia (and beyond the borders).
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Earlier in the week, I wrote about the surreal experience of Saban allowing Smart to remain with Alabama throughout the Crimson Tide ‘s run in the College Football Playoff (national semifinals) — even though Smart will soon become a sworn enemy.
Once Smart leaves his defensive coordinator post with Alabama, he’ll likely entice a number of staffers with him to UGA. This happens every year in college football, at every level, in every corner of the country.
But let’s not sell Saban short here: It’s safe to assume he and Smart negotiated terms of how things would go down over the next six weeks; and “coordinator” hire — namely the treasonous act of poaching valuable ‘Bama assistants — was probably at the forefront of discussions.
As such, Smart has gone outside the Alabama family to hire Chaney, a decorated assistant in the college and pro ranks for the better part of four decades. Conversely, it’s also a risky venture for Smart to branch out like this, hiring a coach he’s never formally worked with (a networking lesson for prospective college grads).
But hey, if you’re going to be bold, shake things up right off the bat. UGA athletic director Greg McGarity has a lot riding on this Bulldog Nation upheaval — in the wake of the “mutual parting” with longtime head coach Mark Richt (2001-15) — meaning that Smart will have every opportunity to succeed and fail over the next-6-8 years.
(Note: UGA had four head coaches from 1964-2015, nearly matching Southern California’s running tally of the last few years.)
Chaney is a public figure in college-football circles, for sure. But don’t expect to hear much from him, after the introductory press conference (if one actually occurs).
Saban stands as Smart’s No. 1 professional influence from the last 11 years; and if we’ve learned anything from one of the most iconic coaching figures of the last 50 years, it’s this: Assistant coaches are to be seen and never heard.
And that’s probably fine for the legion of UGA fans who can no longer blame the program’s offensive woes on Schottenheimer. Yes, the Bulldogs rank just 84th nationally in scoring this season — while randomly shuffling through three quarterbacks (not a coincidence) — but Schottenheimer’s biggest crime might have been simply replacing Mike Bobo, UGA’s offensive guru from 2001-14. (He’s currently the head coach at Colorado State.)
By comparison, Chaney should have a markedly easier time than Schottenheimer, living up to the perceived legacy of his predecessor.
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Legend has it that Urban Meyer, upon making the substantial leap from assistant coach (Notre Dame, 1996-2000) to head coach (Bowling Green, 2001-02), immediately sought the counsel of Chaney, in hopes of learning the nuances and core philosophies of the now-vaunted ‘spread’ offense.
(Strange but true: Technically, Meyer has never been an offensive coordinator at the college level.)
Those strategy sessions paid immediate dividends for Bowling Green, which morphed from a 2-9 washout in 2000 (averaging only 15.8 points per game) to an 8-3 up-and-comer in 2001 (averaging 30.3 points per outing).
The following season, Meyer’s last in the state of Ohio (at least for a few years), BGSU raced to an 8-0 start (finishing 9-3) and upped its scoring average to 40.8 points per game — ranking third nationally.
It was a staggering turnaround, and one for which Chaney (from afar) deserves a fair share of the credit.
Of course, Chaney’s own track record speaks for itself. In his time with head coach Joe Tiller — Wyoming (1993-96) and Purdue (1997-2005) — the offenses in that 13-year span routinely averaged 29-plus points … and that’s before and after the prodigious Drew Brees era with the Boilermakers (11,792 yards passing, 90 TDs from 1997-2000).
Fast forward a decade: Chaney demonstrated his versatility as an organizational leader/play-caller by overseeing Arkansas’ conversion to a power-running offense (2003-14), thus launching the Bret Bielema era in Fayetteville, Ark.
For Year 1, the in-transition Hogs averaged just 20.7 points per game, with a rushing-passing ratio of 58/42. For Year 2, with starting personnel better suited for power football, the Arkansas offense took a big step forward, averaging 32 points per game and posting a Bielema-friendly rush-pass ratio of 70/30.
Chaney then moved to Pittsburgh before the 2015 campaign, helping first-time head coach Pat Narduzzi (formerly the defensive coordinator at Michigan State) transition into a new role. The mini-gamble paid off, with the Panthers forging a two-win improvement from the previous season, while averaging 28.2 points per game (slightly down from the previous year).
A lifelong assistant since 1985, it’s worth noting the 53-year-old Chaney has maintained uninterrupted employment over the last 30 years, despite eight different stops on his career train. With that nugget of info, two assumptions stand out:
1) Chaney is immensely good at his job, and …
2) Head coaches, hard-boiled and precocious alike, are eager to work with a coach who has seen it all, experienced it all and can adjust to any personnel circumstance.
As such, Chaney could easily adjust to the talents of Jacob Eason — assuming the 5-star prep quarterback from Washington state remains committed to UGA’s changes on the fly.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.