The Bulldogs news continued hot and heavy while I was on vacation, including Kirby Smart’s return to Bama finish up his Crimson Tide duties, Mark Richt’s brief return to Athens to say goodbye, the hiring of a new UGA offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, the reaffirmation that the nation’s top high school quarterback prospect is coming to UGA, and the beginning of bowl practices under interim head coach Bryan McClendon.
The fact that Jacob Eason is indeed going to stick with UGA and the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, who’s worked at Tennessee and Pittsburgh in recent years, were perhaps the biggest headlines in the Bulldog Nation.
Wanting to get a “fan” fix on Chaney, I turned to my friend Joey Ledford, the Blawg’s resident expert on all things University of Tennessee. Here’s what he offered about the hiring of Chaney and offensive line coach Sam Pittman, who’s leaving Arkansas for Athens:
Jim Chaney and Sam Pittman have both done stints at Tennessee and I think a vast majority of Vol fans would consider them fine coaches who did an excellent job.
Chaney was initially hired as offensive coordinator at Tennessee by Lane Kiffin, who called the plays and led most fans to wonder what Chaney actually did. We found out the next year when Derek Dooley came in for the deserter Kiffin and he retained Chaney.
Chaney led an efficient offense that scored a lot of points. Our problem during most of those days was not our offense, it was the defense coordinated at the end of Dooley’s tenure by Sal Sunsuri, a Saban disciple who was a total failure at Tennessee.
If there was a rap on Chaney at Tennessee, it was that he was a bit too pass-happy and quick to desert the running game. In his defense, however, it was because he had a rifle-armed quarterback in Tyler Bray and a talented receiving corps. Many of you may recall the 2012 game, which I attended at Sanford. It was a thrill a minute 51-44 win by Georgia. I think most Dawg fans felt very fortunate to win that one as Tennessee’s offense was virtually unstoppable.
Chaney is also much loved by beat reporters for his wit and ability to fire off one-liners. He has a self-deprecating sense of humor that makes him hard to dislike.
Tennessee’s offensive linemen loved Sam Pittman as much as Arkansas’. The Hogs line went to his house and pleaded for him to stay. Tennessee’s front men trooped into the athletic director’s office and demanded he persuade Butch Jones to keep Pittman, which did not happen. He has a reputation for developing linemen, and obviously instills loyalty in the process.
Chaney and Pittman have worked together and mesh well. In short, I think you are in very good hands and will be happy with a Chaney-Pittman offense, providing Jim can find a quarterback who can run his offense, a standard pro style. I know you think Eason’s the man, but you may be surprised to see what Chaney can do with upperclassmen quarterbacks. His year under Kiffin saw him resurrect the career of Jonathan Crompton, a one-time five-star who floundered badly until his senior year under Kiffin and Chaney in 2009. He led the Vols to an upset win over you guys that year.
Thanks, Joey. That 2009 game is tough to forget.
As for what sort of offense Georgia will run in the Smart era, we know it will be, basically, a “pro-set” offense. That’s what Alabama runs, that’s what Chaney is known for, and that’s what makes sense for a QB like the incoming Eason.
However, as you could easily see comparing Brian Schottenheimer’s predictable (and not very productive) play-action offense at UGA and the more varied version Mike Bobo used during Aaron Murray’s years in Athens, there are pro-sets and then there are pro-sets. When he had a QB who could handle it, Bobo introduced a lot of elements lifted from spread offenses into his version of the pro-set.
That made Georgia’s offense one of the most productive in the country.
But, even with Bobo at the helm, Georgia under Richt seemed a bit too locked into what it thought a pro-style offense should be when it came to evaluating prospects, and thus a very talented quarterback who grew up and played high school ball a half hour from Athens, but didn’t quite fit Georgia’s narrow parameters, wound up a Clemson Tiger instead of a Bulldog while Georgia made do with a transfer who’d lost the starting job at an ACC also-ran.
I’m hopeful that, under Smart, UGA is going to be more willing to adapt its offense (or defense, for that matter) to the talent that is available.
A good sign that might indeed be the case was what Smart said at his first UGA press conference when asked about what sort of offense he’ll run: “Now to say are you going to be spread or are you going to be pro? I don’t think you can pigeon hole yourself into that. I like to think you’ve got to be both in both situations. You’ve got to utilize the talent you have on your team. What kind of players do you have on your team? What does it set up to be successful?”
That’s definitely talking the talk I want to hear.
BEATING TECH IS ALWAYS FUN!
My wife and I attended Saturday’s very enjoyable basketball win over the Yellow Jackets, which was a game of very different halves.
In the first half, the two teams battled neck and neck as Mark Fox’s Dawgs hurt themselves with sloppy ball-handling, too many turnovers and some poor shooting. Georgia looked like a different team coming out in the second half, playing a much more aggressive defense. A hot start to the half provided a comfortable lead that the Dawgs maintained.
But, while I was happy with the results on the court, I wasn’t at all happy with the atmosphere for the game. It was bad enough that the game was scheduled the weekend after exams finished up, with most students having already gone home. That took away much of the home-court advantage.
But, aside from the student section, there were too many empty seats throughout the arena, especially in the lower levels closest to the court. Obviously, scheduling a game against a major rival the weekend before Christmas is a bad idea, in terms of attendance and fan fervor, and Fox made it clear he wasn’t happy about it.
He was right to be upset. If UGA is going to take its basketball program seriously, that sort of scheduling blunder needs to be avoided in the future.
GOT A BULLDOG FAN ON YOUR GIFT LIST?
If you’re in need of a last-minute gift idea for a UGA fan, I highly recommend “The Georgia Bulldogs Playbook: Inside the Huddle for the Greatest Plays in Bulldogs History” by Patrick Garbin (Triumph Books, $16.95).
This book, which is a reworking of the 2008 volume “The 50 Greatest Plays in Georgia Bulldogs Football History,” includes diagrams that explain the X’s and O’s, photos and reminiscences of players and coaches.
Rather than run through the plays chronologically, Garbin groups them by category and then, as he explains, “Each play is intricately detailed while the game in which it occurred is also summarized. Also included is an explanation as to why the play is so important or memorable in Bulldogs football lore.”
If your blood runs red and black, as Sanford Stadium announcer Brook Whitmire likes to say, this definitely is a book you’ll want.
Hope everyone has a wonderful and safe holiday week!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.