Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt made a power move this offseason when he hired away Jim Chaney from Georgia to serve as his offensive coordinator at UT. Chaney didn’t come cheap — a $1.5 million price tag was attached to his moving van to Knoxville — but if he can help take the Vols’ offense out of the basement and into respectability, he’ll be worth every penny to Tennessee.
Last season, the Vols’ offense was at or near the bottom of the SEC in several major categories. Tennessee averaged a mere 22.8 points a game and only 325.5 yards a game. Their 716 plays on offense was by far the lowest in the SEC, and their 5.46 yard per play average was only better than Arkansas (4.97).
This is far from Chaney’s toughest project he’s taken over in his coaching career, but it’s clear there’s a lot to improve on in his first year in Knoxville under Jeremy Pruitt. So that begs the question: What should Vol fans expect from Chaney in 2019?
Let’s take a look back at what Chaney has done in his first year at his other stops at FBS programs over the last two decades to get an idea of what the “Chaney Effect” could be for the Vols this season.
Purdue – 1997
When Chaney was brought over to Purdue along with head coach Joe Tiller, he inherited an abysmal Boilermaker offense.
In 1996, Purdue averaged just 17.6 points per game and 367.3 yards per game. They had an average of just 4.96 yards per play. For context: That yard per play average would’ve been tied with Charlotte for 119th in the FBS this past season.
Purdue played three different quarterbacks in 1996, and none of them were particularly effective. Rick Trefzger saw the bulk of the action, but he completed just 56.5 percent of his 170 passes for 1,158 yards, eight touchdowns, and eight interceptions. John Reeves was 51-of-102 for 772 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions, and Billy Dicken was just 40-of-81 for 518 yards, a touchdown, and four interceptions.
The Boilermakers’ rushing attack wasn’t efficient, as they averaged just 144.7 yards a game on the ground. Edwin Watson had 768 yards and six scores on 194 carries, and Kendall Matthews gained 471 yards on 123 attempts and scored three times. But other than that, there wasn’t much else in the run game.
In Chaney’s first season, he helped Purdue have a massive turnaround on offense.
Billy Dicken had a complete reversal and thrived in Chaney’s pass-happy offensive system. He was the full-time starter in 1997 and ended up completing 55 percent of his 407 pass attempts for 3,136 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.
His emergence didn’t come at the cost of Purdue’s rushing attack, though. Watson almost totaled 1,000 yards on the ground and nearly 1,500 yards of total offense. He ran for 927 yards and 11 touchdowns on 175 carries, and he added 411 receiving yards and two scores on 31 receptions. Dicken himself ran for 351 yards and six touchdowns on 97 carries, and Matthews totaled 560 yards and two touchdowns on 79 carries.
All in all, Purdue saw a major increase in every statistical category on offense under Chaney in 1997. Their points per game increased by over two touchdowns a game (17.6 to 33.0), and their overall yards per game increased by almost 100 yards a contest (367.3 to 460.1). Their yards per play jumped from 4.96 in 1996 to 6.44 in Chaney’s first year.
The Boilermakers went from 3-8 under Jim Colletto in 1996 to 9-3 in 1997 under new head coach Joe Tiller. And Chaney was a big reason why Purdue had that success.
Tennessee – 2009
When Chaney was hired by Lane Kiffin in 2009 to serve as his offensive coordinator with the Vols, it was a similar situation to what Chaney walked into at Purdue. Tennessee’s 2008 offense was horrid, and he was tasked with helping to turn it around.
The Vols’ 2008 offense was the worst in program history. Tennessee averaged a paltry 17.3 points and 268.8 yards a game in 2008, putting up just 4.49 yards per play. That includes just 122.9 rushing yards a game, which is one of the worst totals in school history at UT.
Just like with Purdue in 1997, Tennessee’s offense in 2008 was plagued by inconsistent quarterback play and saw multiple signal callers try their hand at leading the offense. Jonathan Crompton saw the most action, completing just 51.5 percent of his 167 passes for 889 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions. Nick Stephens ended up splitting time with Crompton, going 63-of-130 for 840 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Tennessee went 5-7 that season, and Phillip Fulmer was fired.
Again, just like with Purdue, Chaney was brought in with a new regime. And again, just like with Purdue, he helped turn things around in a big way with the Vols’ offense in his first year calling plays.
Chaney’s first year as OC with Tennessee in 2009 saw the Vols increase their scoring by nearly two touchdowns a game (17.3 points to 29.3 points) and their offensive yards a game by over 100 yards per contest (268.8 to 383.5 yards). The Vols increased their yards per play by well over a yard, going from 4.49 in 2008 to 5.68 yards in 2009.
Jonathan Crompton went from in over his head in 2008 to flourishing under Chaney and Kiffin in 2009. He raised his completion percentage to 58.3 percent and completed 224 of his 384 pass attempts for 2,800 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
Tennessee’s rushing attack exploded in 2009, with Montario Hardesty putting up one of the best single season rushing performances in school history. He totaled 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns on 282 carries and added 302 receiving yards and a score on 25 receptions. Freshman Bryce Brown was a capable backup option, running for 460 yards and three touchdowns on 101 attempts.
The Vols improved to 7-6 in 2009 after a losing season in 2008. The duo of Chaney and Kiffin on offense was one of the main reasons why.
Arkansas – 2013
There’s a theme with Jim Chaney in his career, and that’s that he often gets brought in with a completely new regime looking to shake things up at the school he’s been hired at. That was true at Purdue and Tennessee, and it was true for his time at Arkansas.
John Smith and the Razorbacks went 4-8 in 2012, though the offense wasn’t the problem. Arkansas had a strong passing attack led by Tyler Wilson, and their backfield had capable running backs who could pick up efficient yardage. It was the Razorbacks’ defense that did them in, as they allowed 30.4 points a game while only scoring 23.5 points a game on offense.
Overall, Arkansas averaged 23.5 points, 420.2 yards, and 6.10 yards per play on offense in 2012. But a lot of the production from that 2012 offense wasn’t present when Chaney took over in 2013.
Chaney was brought over by Bret Bielema when he was hired as head coach. But Chaney wasn’t given a lot of holdovers like he was at Purdue and Tennessee; Arkansas lost their starting quarterback (Tyler Wilson), their top two running backs (Dennis Johnson, Knile Davis), and their leading receiver (Cobi Hamilton) from their 2012 roster.
In 2012, Arkansas was a pass-heavy offense under the leadership of Tyler Wilson. The Razorbacks threw the ball 458 times, with Wilson attempting 401 of those passes for 3,387 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions.
Under Chaney in 2013, the Razorbacks were much, much more focused on running the ball. And they were very effective.
With sophomore Brandon Allen taking over as the starting quarterback, Chaney leaned heavily on talented running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams. The two combined to run for nearly 2,000 yards and averaged a combined 5.7 yards per carry.
Overall, the Razorbacks’ offense took a step back in 2013, averaging just 20.7 points a game and 357.2 yards a contest. Arkansas averaged 5.53 yards per play, just over half a yard less than what they averaged in 2012.
Again, though, the Razorbacks’ defense was more the issue than the offense. Arkansas gave up 30.8 points per game in 2013 and fell to 3-9 overall after going 4-8 in 2012. Chaney would help develop Brandon Williams into a solid SEC starter and get the Razorbacks to a more potent offensive style in 2014, but his first year was a little bumpy. Given all the newness on the roster, though, things could’ve gone much worse for the Razorbacks.
Pittsburgh – 2015
Just like his previous three stops, Chaney was hired on at Pittsburgh when there was a head coaching change. Pat Narduzzi took over as the Panthers’ head coach in 2015 after Paul Chryst left to take the head coaching position at Wisconsin. When Narduzzi was hired, he brought on Chaney to serve as his offensive coordinator.
Pittsburgh’s offense in 2014 was extremely effective on the ground, but they weren’t a slouch through the air either. The Panthers averaged 31.8 points a game and 435.4 yards a contest while averaging 6.17 yards a play in 2014. James Connor dominated on the ground, totaling 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries. Connor set an ACC record for rushing touchdowns in a season and was voted the ACC Player of the Year. That impressive rushing attack helped take pressure off quarterback Chad Voytik, who completed 176 of his 287 pass attempts for 2,233 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Voytik also ran for 466 yards and three touchdowns on 108 attempts.
Even with Connor’s efforts, though, the Panthers only went 6-6 during the regular season and dropped their bowl game against Houston to finish 7-6.
Like with Arkansas, Chaney had to deal with some significant turnover on the offensive side of the ball. Connor suffered a season-ending MCL tear in the Panthers’ first game of the season, and he was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Eventually, Connor would become cancer-free and would be able to play in 2016. But he was lost to the Panthers after the first game of the year in Chaney’s one and only season in Pittsburgh.
At quarterback, Chaney was tasked with helping Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman turn the page on a brutal stint with the Vols. Chaney did have dynamic Tyler Boyd returning as the Panthers’ leading receiver, but it was clear that the 2015 Pitt offense was going to be quite a bit different than the 2014 version.
Still, Chaney used backup running back Qadree Ollison very effectively, as he ran for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns on 212 carries. He was voted the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year for his performance.
Peterman went from a disastrous backup at Tennessee to a viable starter for the Panthers in 2015, unseating Voytik as the starter. Peterman completed 61.7 percent of his 313 pass attempts for 2,287 yards, 20 touchdowns, and eight interceptions. He also ran for 232 yards and a score on 85 carries.
Tyler Boyd was used as a do-it-all player under Chaney, pulling down 91 receptions for 926 yards and six touchdowns and adding 40 carries for 349 yards. He just missed having a third-straight 1,000-yard receiving season, but he eclipsed the 1,200-yard mark from the line of scrimmage for the third-straight year.
Overall, Pittsburgh’s offensive numbers took a slight step back in 2015, but it wasn’t drastic by any means. The Panthers averaged 28.2 points, 377.5 yards, and 5.76 yards a play per game, and their overall record improved to 8-5 that season.
Georgia – 2016
Following the same theme for a fifth-straight time, Chaney was hired on at Georgia after a change at head coach. Kirby Smart was hired to replace Mark Richt as head coach of the Bulldogs, and Smart brought on Chaney to call his offensive plays.
In 2015, the Bulldogs were led by Grayson Lambert at quarterback. Though he was far from flashy, he was mostly consistent and kept the ball clean. Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta saw time at quarterback, but Lambert was the one who played the most under center. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,959 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only two interceptions.
On the other hand, Georgia had a very potent rushing attack. Even after Nick Chubb suffered a season-ending injury while in the midst of what looked to be a historic season, Sony Michel was more than capable of carrying the load and was the team’s leading rusher with 1,136 yards and eight touchdowns on 218 attempts. He also caught 26 passes for 270 yards and three scores. Malcolm Mitchell led the way on the receiving front, reeling in 58 receptions for 865 yards and five touchdowns.
All in all, Georgia averaged 26.3 points, 377.2 yards, and 6.03 yards per play in 2015. The Bulldogs went 10-3, but Richt was not retained as head coach.
In Chaney’s first year in 2016, he turned to true freshman Jacob Eason at quarterback and leaned heavily on Georgia’s running back room without a true game-changer at receiver with the departure of Mitchell. Chaney used Isaiah McKenzie as the go-to option in the passing game, but he and Terry Godwin weren’t necessarily an elite duo.
The elite duo on Georgia’s roster on offense was Chubb and Michel.
The two running backs combined to run for just under 2,000 yards and combined for 12 rushing touchdowns on 376 carries. Eason wasn’t asked to do too much, but he was trusted more than Lambert the previous season, as he completed 55.1 percent of his 370 pass attempts for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
While Georgia’s offense didn’t take too much of a step back, the defense couldn’t hold up their end. The Bulldogs went from having one of the best scoring defenses in the country in 2015 (16.9 points per game allowed) to a more mediocre defense in that regard in 2016 (24.0 points a game allowed). The Bulldogs went 8-5 in Smart’s first year as head coach.
The Bulldogs’ offense averaged slightly more yards per game in Chaney’s first year than they did in 2015 (377.2 yards a game to 384.7), but Georgia’s offense dipped in every other area statistically in Chaney’s first season at the helm. Georgia averaged 24.5 points a game and 5.44 yards per play in 2016, all slightly lower than their 2015 numbers.
Chaney’s hiring at Tennessee breaks his trend of joining teams after a head coaching change, but his situation with the Vols is more reminiscent of his times at Purdue and his first stint with the Vols. Chaney isn’t dealing with a lot of turnover on the offensive side of the ball, and he has a quarterback with playing experience to run his plays just like in 1997 and 2009.
The years where Chaney’s influence was the biggest were when he had an experienced offense — specifically at quarterback — to help guide his play-calling. That doesn’t mean Tennessee will see as drastic of an increase as either 1997 Purdue or the 2009 Vols, but it does point to the likelihood of increased efficiency and a much better scoring output.
In 1997, Purdue’s scoring increased by 87.5 percent, and their yards per game increased by 25.2 percent. Their yards per play increased by 29.8 percent. In 2009, Tennessee’s scoring increased by 69.4 percent, their yards per game went up by 42.7 percent, and their yards per play increased by 26.5 percent.
If Tennessee sees an increase anywhere close to those types of numbers in 2019, then the Vols should show massive improvement in their offensive efficiency under Jim Chaney this season. And that would likely mean a pretty significant improvement in Tennessee’s record, too.