Pruitt hits home run with Chaney hire

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee finally has an offensive coordinator. Jeremy Pruitt says he found a perfect fit. Phillip Fulmer says the choice was worth the wait. The athletic director found the funds to encourage Jim Chaney to leave Georgia and again try to improve the Volunteers.


To help the Bulldogs understand his departure, Chaney said it was “mega money.”

The contract is three years, $4.8 million and buyout expenses for what he left behind.

Chaney is one heck of a story. Back in his playing days, he was a second-team all-conference nose tackle for Central Missouri State. The team nickname is Mules.

Jim is bigger now.

Twelve years into the coaching career he did not plan, Chaney taught Drew Brees how to play quarterback for Purdue – tie your shoes, take the snap, read the defense, avoid the rush, find and hit the open receiver.

Jim Chaney (Photo by CBS Sports)

Chaney is better now. He has traveled widely, to the NFL, the previous stop at Tennessee, Arkansas, Pitt and Georgia. He has learned a lot. He has enjoyed considerable success. There was nothing miraculous about his first time with the Vols, but he did survive the Derek Dooley era.

As coaches go, Chaney is not exactly a cookie-cutter copy. He is passionate about the business but is also a devoted family man and a serious thinker. He likes to fish and beat up golf balls. He is interested in politics. He tells charming homespun tales about growing up on a Missouri pig farm.

Based on what you first see and hear, you might start to think he is a country bumpkin. Soon enough, you realize he is probably the smartest and for sure the funniest guy in any gathering.

Sharp, very sharp. Loves life. Able to laugh at himself. Demanding on the field. Can get loud. Can also find time to smell the proverbial roses.

It took a while, but Pruitt woke up the echoes and rang the steeple bells in persuading Chaney to come on down. It seems like a brilliant move.

Pruitt had a hundred choices, loudly recommended, endorsed and promoted by impatient, starving fans. Jeremy couldn’t have done much better. Well, come to think of it, Jon Gruden, Lane Kiffin and Peyton Manning were on that make-believe list of options.

Pruitt said Jim fits. He will be 57 on Saturday. He is a personable type who gets along with others. He knows enough and is willing to run whatever offense the boss wants. He will not undercut him and try to get his job.

Pruitt says Chaney is so versatile, he could coach any position on offense. Chaney does not think he knows it all. He is addicted to film study. For years he has conducted his own off-season development program. He studies the most successful strategies in the football world.

As he explains it, he gathers video from the top 10 college offenses and the top 10 NFL offenses. He wants to do more than stay current. He wants to forge ahead. He did that years ago at Purdue. He was directing a spread offense before most coaches had heard of it.

He is still studying run-pass options. He is convinced there is a connection between better blocking and RPO success.

Younger James Coley, co-offensive coordinator at Georgia, says he has never seen another coach watch as much film. Coley says the best part is Chaney does something with what he sees.

Coley is the reason Chaney became available.

To keep from losing Coley, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart gave him quarterbacks to coach this past season and reassigned Chaney to tight ends. Jim remained offensive coordinator and got paid more and called the plays but started to feel the erosion.

That and financial security are the reasons why a sane man would leave Georgia advantages for the reconstruction program underway at Tennessee.

Chaney never intended to be a coach. He was going to seek a master’s in sports administration and try to get a front-office job with a pro team. He agreed to be a grad assistant at Cal State-Fullerton to pay the bills. He did well, got promoted and stayed nine years.

Jim stayed nine years at Purdue. He gained a new perspective in the NFL. Monte Kiffin gave Lane Kiffin the idea of bringing Chaney to Tennessee.

The Dooley years were bad for Chaney’s reputation. The worst was 116th in rushing yards per game.

The up-trend resumed at Arkansas. He exceeded expectations at Pitt. He helped ex-Vol Nathan Peterman get an NFL opportunity. What he did with Jake Fromm at Georgia was almost as good as what he did with Drew Brees.

Pruitt was half-right when he said offensive coordinators are sometimes overrated. Even genius in strategy and development makes minimum difference without capable players.

Jim Chaney faces a real challenge at Tennessee.

Marvin West invites reader comments and questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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