Vol fans are very familiar with Jim Chaney. He’s coached against the Vols the last three seasons while serving as the offensive coordinator for Georgia, but before that he was Tennessee’s OC and quarterbacks coach during the Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley eras. Chaney was brought on as the Vols’ play-caller in 2009 when Lane Kiffin was hired as head coach, and Dooley retained him when he was hired once Kiffin bolted after just one season as UT’s head coach.
Chaney served as Tennessee’s interim head coach in 2012 after Dooley was fired, and he won his only game as UT’s head man, helping lead the Vols to a 37-17 victory over Kentucky to end that season.
When Butch Jones was hired as Tennessee’s next head coach, Chaney wasn’t retained this time. He then went to Arkansas as their OC and quarterbacks coach for a couple seasons before accepting the same position at Pittsburgh in 2015. After one year there, he was hired on at Georgia as part of Kirby Smart’s staff.
Now, though, there’s speculation that Chaney could return to Knoxville to call plays for the Vols.
Chaney’s name has floated around for the last couple weeks as a darkhorse candidate for Tennessee’s vacant offensive coordinator position, but there hasn’t been much actual fire behind that smoke.
That is, until now.
According to long-time Knoxville reporter Jimmy Hyams, Pruitt spoke with Chaney sometime back in December, but an offer was never extended to him. And though he believes an offer wasn’t made, Hyams does believe Chaney is “hirable” and might return to Tennessee if pursued.
“I think Chaney is hirable,” Hyams stated. “I didn’t think that in December. I think it now. But Pruitt might have to move relatively fast or Chaney might lose interest.
“Chaney enjoyed his time at Tennessee (2009-12) and would probably like to retire in East Tennessee.”
Hyams goes on to say that an unnamed coach with SEC experience told him that Tennessee Athletics Director Phillip Fulmer likes Chaney and that Pruitt respects him. Another source told Hyams that Chaney is “the best play-caller in the SEC.”
But why would Chaney leave Georgia, a school chock-full of four-and-five-star talent, to come call plays at Tennessee?
There’s been speculation that Chaney may not be pleased with how things are going at UGA. Last offseason, Chaney was moved from coaching quarterbacks to coaching tight ends, and up-and-coming assistant coach James Coley was moved over to coach quarterbacks and was given a co-offensive coordinator title as well.
Chaney has been coaching quarterbacks at the collegiate level since 2009, and he hadn’t coached tight ends since he was working for the Rams in the NFL in 2008. Many have speculated that Chaney might not have been happy with the move to tight ends at Georgia, and Coley is a hot name in the coaching world. Smart is doing what he can to hold on to Coley, and rumors have circulated that retaining Coley could end up pushing Chaney out of Athens.
Those are, of course, rumors. But it’s worth noting that Chaney did enjoy his time in Knoxville, and as Hyams points out, Chaney may even want to retire in east Tennessee once his coaching career is done. The 56-year-old coach likely isn’t thinking about calling it quits soon, but Knoxville has an appeal to him.
This past season, Georgia scored the second-most points per game in the SEC and had the fifth-best total yard per game average in the conference. The Bulldogs averaged just 24.5 points per game in Chaney’s first year as OC, but they’ve averaged over 35 points a contest each of the last two seasons.
Right now, Chaney’s contract hasn’t been extended and is reportedly set to end at the end of this academic year. According to the USA Today assistant coaches salary database, Chaney made $950,000 this past year with Georgia. Tennessee paid Tyson Helton $1.2 million in his one season as their OC and quarterbacks coach.
Time will tell if Tennessee goes after Chaney or not, but Hyams also believes Pruitt will have his hire made within the next week.
Hyams also says he believes Pruitt has spoken with former Tennessee quarterback and former USC offensive coordinator Tee Martin. He also believes Tennessee has had contact with former Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.