During the offseason after Tennessee’s 2018 football season, head coach Jeremy Pruitt was on the search for a new offensive coordinator. Tyson Helton left UT after a sub-par first year as OC to take the head coaching position at Western Kentucky, and Pruitt was on the hunt for a new offensive play caller after just one year on the job as head coach.
After months of searching and speculation, Pruitt hired a grizzled SEC and college football veteran to serve as his OC at Tennessee.
In early January, it became official that Tennessee had hired Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to serve the same role at UT. Chaney had coached in Knoxville before, serving as offensive coordinator for Lane Kiffin in 2009 and staying on staff for Derek Dooley from 2010-12.
It was during that first year at Tennessee in 2009 that Chaney helped transform the worst offense in UT history into a capable and more potent offense. While head coach Lane Kiffin had some say in the offense and play-calling, Chaney was more responsible for player development, specifically with Tennessee’s quarterbacks. The focal point of UT’s improvement on offense in 2009 was with starting quarterback Jonathan Crompton.
Tennessee went from averaging 268.8 yards of offense a game and just 4.49 yards per play in 2008 to 383.6 yards a game and 5.69 yards per play in 2009. Crompton’s growth and emergence as a viable starting quarterback was a big reason for that change.
As a part-time starter in 2008, Crompton struggled mightily, completing just 51.5 percent of his 167 pass attempts for 889 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions. Under Chaney’s tutelage in his final year with Tennessee in 2009, Crompton saw massive improvements across the board, finishing with a 58.3 percent completion percentage on 384 attempts, totaling 2,800 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. That final year at Tennessee was good enough to help Crompton get drafted into the NFL, going in the fifth round to the San Diego Chargers.
Crompton recently spoke with Buck Reising of AtoZSports about what Chaney did for him and why the hiring of Chaney by Pruitt means big things for current Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano.
“I wish I had had (Chaney) for more than a year because then I would’ve reaped more benefits than him than I did any other coaches,” Crompton told Reising. “That’s the thing that Guarantano’s got an advantage with. He’s got two years with him, which is definitely a plus, I’m telling you.”
Guarantano is entering his redshirt junior season with the Vols, meaning he has two years of eligibility remaining at UT counting this upcoming season. In his first full year as a starter last season, Guarantano showed plenty of promise despite getting beat up every single game.
In his 12 starts, Guarantano completed 62.2 percent of his 246 pass attempts for 1,907 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. Guarantano’s interception rate was the lowest in the SEC, but he also threw for just the 12th-most touchdowns among SEC quarterbacks. The only full-time starters who threw for less touchdowns in the conference last season were Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey (11 in 10 games) and Kentucky’s Terry Wilson (11 in 13 games).
Still, there were things to like about Guarantano’s game last season, but there was plenty to critique as well.
Crompton believes that Chaney is the perfect coach to get the most out of Guarantano because of the way he approaches teaching the quarterback position.
“I’ve been fortunate/unfortunate to be around a lot of coaches, especially in my time at Tennessee,” Crompton explained. “There are good coaches, there’s okay coaches, and there’s not so good coaches in different aspects of the game. There are coaches that will say ‘throw the ball here no matter what.’ That’s not good coaching. What you’re going to get with Coach Chaney is detail-oriented ‘why we want to throw this route vs. this coverage.’ So it’s going to be an understanding of the game, not just ‘we’re going to throw this route no matter what because we have a better athlete than you, and I’m not going to teach you anything about playing quarterback.’
“That’s not what he’s going to get.”
That detail-oriented approach helped Crompton play more consistently and put up some strong performances as a senior in 2009. Against Georgia on October 10th, Crompton had arguably his best game as a Vol, throwing for 310 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception while completing 74.1 percent of his 27 pass attempts, spurring the Vols on to a 45-19 drubbing of the Bulldogs. That game would be one of six games that season where Crompton threw for 230 or more yards, and it was one of three performances where he tossed four or more touchdowns.
Tennessee’s success on offense in 2009 wasn’t all because of Crompton, though. The Vols had a dynamic running back in Montario Hardesty, and former five-star recruit Bryce Brown was a capable backup as well. Hardesty ran for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2009, and that total still ranks as the fourth-most rushing yards in a single season in school history.
While the Vols probably don’t have a back on this year’s roster capable of putting up those types of numbers nor an offensive line that can block effectively enough to allow that to happen, Crompton believes that Chaney’s track record speaks for itself when it comes to using a run game to help out quarterbacks.
Play-action and bootlegs were a big staple of that 2009 Tennessee offense. Crompton thinks UT may use more of that again this season.
“A good run game is a quarterback’s best friend, especially in a Chaney-type offense where run-action, play-action, bootlegs are gonna be a big deal,” Crompton stated. “I mean look what he did at Georgia and what he did at Pittsburgh and Arkansas. His track record speaks for itself.
“I think the decision-making in the intermediate pass game is going to be a big, big thing this year.”
Last season, Tennessee’s passing game tended to consist of taking deep shots or throwing the ball near the line of scrimmage and letting UT’s receivers and running backs pick up extra yardage after the catch.
Under Chaney, Crompton expects that to change.
Chaney isn’t the only coach on staff that Crompton thinks will be a huge benefit to Guarantano in 2019, though. Having former Heisman-winning quarterback Chris Weinke as Guarantano’s position coach and National Championship-winning quarterback and former Vol Tee Martin on staff also gives Crompton a lot of hope for Guarantano’s development.
“Having a Tee (Martin) to be able to lean on and a Chris Weinke to be able to lean on — this staff as a quarterback is the ultimate staff you want to play on in the country right now,” Crompton said. “And I’m not just saying that because it’s my alma mater, I’m saying that from look at the track record of these coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
“You got Chris Weinke, Tee Martin, and Jim Chaney. That’s all I need.”
Crompton is far from the only collegiate quarterback Jim Chaney has helped develop and turn into a capable college quarterback and future pro. All in all, Chaney has coached six quarterbacks who went on to be drafted into the NFL, headlined by Drew Brees during his time at Purdue. Two others — Tyler Bray and Matt Simms — landed roster spots for years in the NFL as undrafted free agents.
Time will tell how much Chaney and Tennessee’s staff can help develop Guarantano and improve the Vols’ offense overall. But one of the quarterbacks who reaped the most benefits from Chaney’s tutelage is a big believer that it will happen, and Jonathan Crompton has high hopes for what Chaney can do.
You can hear the full interview with Crompton here.