ATHENS — The public perception might be that Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was demoted since he now shares his title with James Coley and coaches tight ends now rather than quarterbacks. But that perception is not reality, according to Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart.
“All we want to do is make our staff better,” Smart said of that offseason move. “That’s the ultimate goal, to improve each year, and that’s what I think I’ve been able to do. So, I’m excited about that.”
There will always be the resident complaints within the fan base about play-calling when it comes to offensive coordinators, and Chaney certainly isn’t immune from that. But that wasn’t the impetus of this move.
In case you didn’t notice, the Bulldogs actually did quite well on offense last year. They improved from averaging 24.5 points a game in 2016 to 35.4 last year. Georgia ranked fourth nationally in red zone offense, scoring on 96.3 percent of their 55 opportunities, including 39 touchdowns.
Oh, and that was while working with a freshman quarterback for the second straight season. All Jake Fromm did was be named SEC Freshman of the Year for 2017.
No, that’s not what this deal was all about. It was about keeping Coley, a coordinator and quarterbacks coach by training, from being snatched away by Texas A&M and new coach Jimbo Fisher. Meanwhile, Smart also had to account for the departure of tight ends coach Shane Beamer, who left to become assistant head coach at Oklahoma.
Chaney coached tight ends in the NFL and Coley coached quarterbacks his whole career before he took over wide receivers at UGA. So putting back in those roles while bringing in Cortez Hankton from Vanderbilt to coach wideouts provided a dynamic solution.
“I think we improved our staff tremendously,” Smart said. “We retained one of our best recruiters and best coaches in James Coley while also bringing an unbelievable personality and great background in Cortez Hankton.”
It’s a great plan, for sure. But there is some risk involved anytime changes are made to something that was working perfectly fine before. “If ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” goes the adage.
It appears, though, that what Georgia has going on offense might be tough to mess up. The Bulldogs seem to have accrued an embarrassment of riches on that side of the ball.
It starts with having Fromm back at quarterback, and adding yet another No. 1-ranked recruit to the position in freshman Justin Fields.
Georgia also has recruited through the roof on the offensive line and has 16 different blue-chippers from which to choose while returning four starters up front.
While the Bulldogs lost more than 8,000 yards in career rushing with the graduation of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, they’ll deploy bevy of backs, led by sophomore D’Andre Swift and veterans Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien.
The deepest group of receivers Georgia’s had in recent history was further enhanced with the transfer and immediate eligibility of former 5-star wideout Demetris Robertson from Cal.
And then there’s those tight ends. Isaac Nauta, Charlie Woerner and crew are hoping having Chaney as their position coach means a new emphasis on them in the passing game.
But with all those possibilities comes another dilemma — who to get the ball to when and how much.
Don’t be fooled. That decision is still Chaney’s ultimate responsibility. He’ll still be the guy up in the coaches’ booth with a headset on and a playsheet in front of him, making the calls and taking the heat.
He says he’s fired up for the challenge and will be leaning hard on that aforementioned collection of coaches to help him sort through it all.
“It’s not all Jim Chaney,” Chaney said. “When we get to run game, it’s Dell (McGee) and myself and Sam (Pittman). When we get to the passing game it’s Cortez (Hankton) and James and Jay (Johnson) and me. We all collectively put it together and slap it up on the board. … I’m fortunate that I have on my staff a lot of people that are a lot smarter than me.”
Don’t let that humility fool you. Chaney proved last season he knows what to do with a stacked offense. The talent level on that side of the ball would suggest Georgia can do even more this season.
If that ends up being the case, it will be another reason the Bulldogs “Own the East” in 2018.