KNOXVILLE - Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney already had Sam Pittman on his mind.
Jay Graham, the Volunteers' new running backs coach, knew of Pittman's work from film sessions at his previous employer.
"He knows his stuff," Graham said last week. "I remember watching his teams at North Carolina -- his offensive line and how they played. They were good. When we played Clemson, we'd watch them on tape all the time.
"Coming into it, I knew how he coached his guys to play because you see what you coach. I could see that on film."
Now the former UT tailback will get to see it up close on a daily basis. The 50-year-old Pittman joined UT's staff after five seasons with the Tar Heels. He'll be charged with improving an offensive line that contributed to the Vols' inept rushing game, which finished 116th nationally last season.
Chaney quickly admitted he was thinking of Pittman as a candidate when he learned Harry Hiestand would not return to UT's staff for a third season. After he was not retained by new North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, Pittman jumped at the chance to work with Chaney, an old friend.
"When he was at Purdue, he might have been the hottest offensive coordinator in the country," Pittman said. "He's a wonderful person, and I want to work with good people. I think he knows what he's talking about. I think he knows what he's trying to get done, what he's trying to get accomplished.
"We just came from a similar situation at North Carolina, where the first year or two things weren't rolling as well as we'd like for them to have done, but I think Jim's very knowledgable and I'm looking forward to working with him because I care about him as a person."
Chaney is equally excited about a new perspective.
"I think Sam's been around a lot of teams that ran the ball well," he said. "Fresh ideas, I think, sometimes is good. Harry and I had been together for two years, and most of all of our run game we were thinking a lot alike. That's good in one sense, and sometimes it isn't good from a creativity standpoint.
"I think he'll be able to help me that."
The chance to coach and recruit in the Southeastern Conference for the first time likely would have been enough for Pittman to jump at the UT opening, but he admittedly studied up on what he'd been inheriting. The Vols return every offensive lineman from last season and enter next season with a group that's combined to start 105 career games. That number doesn't include three freshmen who redshirted or sophomore Antonio Richardson.
"I just saw a lot of experience coming back," Pittman said. "They're big kids. Obviously I tried to recruit some of those guys when I was at North Carolina. Any time you have guys with that kind of size and athletic ability that have experience, you're headed in the right direction."
For the first time under coach Derek Dooley, UT has a full-time running backs coach, which creates a different dynamic. Graham said it's important that he have a close relationship with Pittman. With the work both coaches must do to help repair a broken ground game, there's added pressure.
"Here's what you want: You want the line and the backs to be on the same page, and you don't want the credit to go to one and you don't want the negativism to go to one," Pittman said. "We're in this together. Jay has portrayed that big time since I've been here, and I can't wait to work with him. The bottom line is we're trying to get yards: Who gets that credit and who doesn't between Jay and myself, it doesn't matter.
"I like that in a running backs coach. As we're watching film, he sees good and bad just like I do. I've only known him for about two and a half weeks now, but I have a high regard for him."