Wiedmer: Vols' interim Chaney king for a day, at least

Wiedmer: Vols' interim Chaney king for a day, at least

November 25th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

In this file photo, UT's offensive coordinator Jim Chaney watches the team during the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - It's over. When it comes to that Tennessee-Kentucky rivalry - if you insist on calling it a rivalry - order has been restored. After living a nightmare for the last 366 days, the Big Orange Nation has its winning streak back against Kentucky, whipping the Mildcats 37-17 on Saturday.

Sure, it's just one win, and hardly as impressive as the 26-game run from 1985 through 2010. But it's a win. And while the Volunteers head into this offseason without a head coach, they at least have once more proven superior to the Wildcats.

Now if the next Big Orange boss -- Jon Gruden, Bob Stoops, Charlie Strong, etc. -- can just restore order against Vanderbilt.

Or -- in light of the thoroughness of this victory -- perhaps UT athletic director Dave Hart should consider interim coach Jim Chaney as a permanent replacement for the just-dismissed Derek Dooley.

The Vols did with the ball what they've almost always done this season with Chaney as offensive coordinator, which is to say they piled up a bushel of points and yards, this time collecting 457 total yards to go with their point total.

Only one SEC team all season held the Vols below 300 yards of offense, and that was Alabama. Only two have held them below 20 points: Alabama and Vanderbilt.

Against almost everyone else, the Vols have been an offensive machine, scoring at least 31 in five of their eight SEC games and piling up 450 or more yards in half their league contests.

That should at least make Chaney a candidate to remain as offensive coordinator, especially if quarterback Tyler Bray returns and either Justin Hunter or Cordarrelle Patterson remains at wideout.

"We love the University of Tennessee, and if that opportunity comes up, we'd love to discuss that," Chaney said. "The gentleman that they hire, that's his job to make those decisions."

But what if Hart can't come to a decision on whom to hire, or each of his preferred choices says thanks but no thanks. Is one victory over a pathetic Kentucky team (2-10, 0-8) worthy of a serious job interview?

The obvious answer is no. The Vols need a fresh start led by a new name. They need excitement. They need a new coach with proven results as a head coach.

As Chaney said of himself, "I had never done this. There were things that pop up that you never think about when you're sitting there [in the press box]."

Asked to provide details, he smiled and said, "The officials asking me at halftime which way I wanted to kick the ball. I thought, 'Why don't you do it?' I had spent that much time thinking about it. I felt like a complete idiot."

But for perhaps the first time all year, the defense didn't look like idiots. The Vols sacked UK quarterbacks four times, UT's highest total of the year. The Vols had totaled only 13 sacks all season before Saturday.

But it wasn't just the sacks. The defense played with fire for perhaps the first time since the first half of the Missouri loss, and certainly since the the fourth quarter of the Georgia loss.

Yes, the Vols gave up 412 total yards, which was more than 100 beyond what UK was averaging. But the 17 points were actually one less than Big Blue's average production.

"I tip my hat to Coach Chaney," senior defensive back Prentiss Waggner said. "He did a great job making us have energy through practice this week. When we first got out there for morning practice, he had music playing. We hadn't heard that since [former coach Lane] Kiffin was here, and it was nice."

Added senior tight end Mychal Rivera: "When it's 7 a.m. and you're freezing, that music really helps. It just made us all want to practice harder and finish on a good note."

As they have for decades, the UT seniors all spoke to the team Friday night. Said underclassman Jordan Williams of that talk: "They told us to stick together. They've been through a lot, and I think we're about to go through a lot."

They are, of course. The program is about to have its fourth head coach (not counting Chaney) in six years. If Bray, Hunter and Patterson all leave, the offense is gutted, and the defense already stinks.

So maybe a clean sweep is a good thing. But just in case the new guy desires some old help, he could do worse than Chaney, who received a Gatorade bath after the win.

"Coach Chaney is a great coach and a great individual," senior wide receiver Zach Rogers said. "It was nice to get this win for him."

Now that order has been restored in the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry, the real trick is for the returning Vols to start collecting more wins than losses for the next UT head coach, whether his name be Gruden, Stoops, Strong or ... Chaney.