Jim Chaney returns to Knoxville with Georgia on Saturday

Jim Chaney returns to Knoxville with Georgia on Saturday

September 29th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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KNOXVILLE — Phillip Fulmer, Johnny Majors and Doug Dickey are expected to join Peyton Manning on the field when Manning is honored for his induction to the College Football Hall of Fame during halftime of Saturday's Georgia-Tennessee game at Neyland Stadium.

But the former Tennessee head coach with the best winning percentage in school history will be in the opposing press box.

Second-year Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney spent four years as Tennessee's offensive coordinator under Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley and one game as the interim head coach after Dooley was fired in 2012.

Tennessee fans who remember Chaney's offenses will hardly recognize his work Saturday when he returns to Rocky Top for the first time since leading Tennessee to a 37-17 win over Kentucky to end the 2012 season and conclude his brief stint as the Volunteers' head coach with a 1-0 record.

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The No. 7 Bulldogs (4-0, 1-0 SEC) are averaging just 19 passes per game so far in 2017 as they rely on a group of four talented running backs while adjusting to freshman quarterback Jake Fromm. By comparison, Tennessee (3-1, 0-1) threw the football an average of 40 times per game with Chaney as offensive coordinator in 2012.

"Run the ball," current Tennessee offensive coordinator Larry Scott said this week when asked about Chaney. "They're going to line up in big sets. They're going to run the ball."

Tennessee averaged more than 30 passes per game in each of Chaney's four years as offensive coordinator. The Vols have averaged more than 30 attempts per game only once since, even while playing an up-tempo style under coordinators Mike Bajakian, Mike DeBord and Scott.

The most obvious difference between Chaney's Tennessee teams and his 2017 Georgia team is the personnel.

Running backs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Brian Herrien and DeAndre Swift are a four-headed monster at running back playing behind Fromm, who has stepped in for the injured Jacob Eason.

"Again, it's probably another offense when you watch them that they're going to find ways to move the ball," Scott said, "whether that's on the ground or putting it in spread and, when Eason was playing, letting him throw it around a little bit. You look around.

"I watched their game the other day. Under center? Really? Come on. They're under center; they're in the gun. Everybody is trying to find a way now with defenses being as good as they are, being as versatile as they are and playing all these different things."

Tennessee defensive coordinator Bob Shoop noted that Georgia has designed packages to get two, even three, of its running backs in the game simultaneously.

"And I think Chaney does a good job when you've got too many guys in the box of trying to throw it over your head," Shoop said.

Shoop and Chaney are no strangers. Aside from their meeting last year when Tennessee won 34-31 on a Hail Mary at Georgia, the two faced off twice when Chaney was at Tennessee and Shoop worked at Vanderbilt.

Shoop's Vanderbilt defense held Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray to 16-of-33 passing and intercepted him twice in Tennessee's 27-21 win over the Commodores at Neyland Stadium in 2011.

In 2012, Shoop's defense frustrated Bray even more in Tennessee's 41-18 loss in Nashville. Vanderbilt stopped Tennessee on 13 of 15 third-down plays and held Bray to 11-of-29 passing.

Chaney is in his third job since his four-year stint in Knoxville, but he still has ties to the team. Tennessee fifth-year senior right tackle Brett Kendrick was recruited to Tennessee by Chaney and Sam Pittman, who is now Georgia's offensive line coach.

"I got to talk to them last year after the game," Kendrick said this week. "My parents have a good relationship with them. I think he's a great offensive coordinator. I think Coach Pittman is a great offensive line coach. It's kind of cool to see old people from recruiting."

Chaney spent 2013 and 2014 as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas before taking the same position at Pittsburgh. There he reunited with former Tennessee quarterback Nathan Peterman, who had played for Chaney in Knoxville in 2012. Peterman rejuvenated his career at Pittsburgh in 2015 under Chaney before Chaney joined the Georgia staff last season.

"Jim's greatest ability in my mind is how he knows his QBs well, and what brings out the best in each," Peterman's father, Chuck, wrote in an email. "We hated to see him leave the first time in Nate's life. ... And the second time was even harder, but we were happy for him with the opportunities at (Georgia). As I listened to him talk about other QBs on the team, it was evident to me Jim really cares deeply about each individual player. That's invaluable."

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said this week that he remembers watching Chaney's offenses at Purdue, where Chaney was offensive coordinator from 1997 to 2005 and coached NFL star Drew Brees.

Jones also said he and Chaney spent some time together when Jones transitioned into the job after Chaney's interim stint.

"He's a very, very good offensive mind," Jones said.

And, technically speaking, he is the only undefeated head coach in Tennessee history.

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.

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