Can Jim Chaney open up Georgia’s offense, and will Kirby Smart let him?

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Jim Chaney (gray shirt) is now coaching tight ends rather than quarterbacks. But he's still very much the architect of Georgia's offense, and his 33 years of college and pro experience have made him versatile enough to employ whatever strategy coach Kirby Smart wants him to.
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Can Jim Chaney’s offense keep up with the talent Georgia is bringing in? Or, is there too much Nick Saban in Coach Kirby Smart to let him open it up? 

— Cedso, aka Cedric Harden, Atlanta

I assume your nickname, “Cedso,” is pronounced like “said so?” Love it! And I appreciate your question. It’s one that has come to me in various different forms often since Jim Chaney joined the Bulldogs. The way you presented it here, it’s really two different questions. So that will require me to address it on two different fronts.

As far as Chaney’s offense being able to keep up with the talent coming in, I’d offer a hearty, “Heck, yeah!” That starts from this standpoint: Offenses, Chaney’s or pretty much anybody’s on the Power 5 level of football, are not a static entity. That is, they’re not fixed or unchangeable. Sure, Auburn and Clemson generally run a spread offense and Georgia and some others might be more running back oriented. But for offensive coordinators to be their worth their weight in salt, they have to be versatile and savvy enough to adjust their schemes to the strengths of weaknesses of the personnel at their disposal.

Since Chaney has been at Georgia, the tendency has been to think of him as a run-heavy coordinator. And he is, to a certain degree. Chaney said he developed a greater appreciation for the need and ability to run the football after a three-year stint coaching offensive linemen and tight ends in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams. Lest you forget, before that his reputation was as a pass-first, spread-offense guru. He was quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Purdue when the Boilermakers had Drew Brees, who passed for 11,550 yards and 90 touchdowns in three seasons under Chaney’s direction.

When Chaney came back to the college game at Tennessee in 2009, he oversaw a more balanced offense. But in 2012, his last year there, the Vols were still 15th in the nation in passing and quarterback Tyler Bray threw for 3,612 yards and 34 touchdowns. But after coach Derek Dooley was fired, Chaney landed at Arkansas, where he was asked to run the football under Bret Bielema. The Hogs certainly did. In 2014, they not only produced two 1,000-yard rushers, but also a 2,00o-yard passer as well. Chaney was equally run-oriented/pass efficient the one year he spent at Pitt before coming to Georgia. You don’t get to be a 33-year veteran of the college and professional coaching ranks — most of those as a coordinator and play caller — by being a one-tricky pony. You have to be versatile.

Which brings us to the second part of your question about Smart letting him “open it up.” This is the more pertinent of your inquires, for whether they’re coordinators or position coaches, all assistants are just that: assistants to the head coach. Their primary job is to carry out the orders and demands of the head coach. And Smart made it clear at his introductory news conference that he intended Georgia to be a run-first team on offense under his leadership. Actually, I think he said something more along the lines of always being able to run and being able to stop the run. Those two things are clearly his core competencies for the Bulldogs as a team, and so it’s up to his staff to encourage and enforce that doctrine.

Beyond that, Smart doesn’t meddle much on that side of the football. He has input and offers it, but otherwise he lets his offensive coaches handle personnel and strategy. As you know, Smart promoted James Coley from wide receivers coach to co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and changed Chaney’s position of responsibility to tight ends. There were a few reasons for that: being able to keep Coley from leaving to accept Jimbo Fisher’s offer to coordinate Texas A&M’s offense, and needing to fill the vacancy left by tight ends coach Shane Beamer when he accepted a bigger role on Oklahoma’s staff.

But Smart sees this as a win-win for the Bulldogs — win-win-win if you count the addition of receivers coach Cortez Hankton from Vanderbilt, which I do. While that puts Coley, who has traditionally coached quarterbacks and coordinated pass-oriented offenses, in a position of more offensive influence, it also frees up Chaney to be more of what is known as a “walk-around offensive coordinator.” In other words, while he’s overseeing the tight ends, his focus remains mainly on the overall offense and all aspects of it. So he’ll still have the last word on what the offense looks like, what the strategy is and, yes, what plays are called.

It’s really on the latter responsibility that Chaney has attracted the most criticism from Georgia fans. Some of that is fair and some of it is not. Certainly he’s been known to call more inside dives than we think he should. But play callers are only as good as the players executing those calls. And Chaney has been through two seasons now of having to break in a freshman at quarterback and one of having to overcome substandard play on the line.

Georgia shouldn’t have to deal with either of those issues next season. Based on Jake Fromm’s performance last season and the talent in Georgia’s receiving corps, the thinking is that Chaney and Coley will be able to trust their quarterback to throw the ball around a little more.

At the end of the day, this is still Georgia. The Bulldogs still have great backs in the fold and they still have Kirby Smart as their coach. If the Bulldogs are able to run the ball effectively every down and move the football down the field, by golly, that’s what they’ll do. But whether it’s run every down or pass every down or somewhere right in the middle, Chaney has the experience and the knowledge to deliver that.

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