After a week of radio silence on Kirby Smart’s offensive staff, the school plane was dispatched to Pittsburgh on Saturday morning, and soon the word seeped out: Jim Chaney is headed to Georgia as offensive coordinator, and Sam Pittman, barring a last-second change of heart, is leaving Arkansas to join him as offensive line coach.
Here are some quick thoughts:
1. This very well might be more about getting Pittman than Chaney. If they were a package deal, it might have been worth it to Smart to take the “eh” that comes with Chaney’s hiring to get the home run that is Pittman’s.
Pittman is nationally recognized as a great assistant coach and already had a hefty salary ($525,000) and title (assistant head coach) at Arkansas. So in order to get him to move Smart might very well have consulted with Pittman, who worked closely with Chaney at two different stops, Arkansas and Tennessee, from 2012-14.
And by the way, an offensive coordinator and line coach working well in sync was a good formula at Georgia when Mike Bobo and Will Friend were in those roles.
2. So why is Pittman so well-regarded? He’s been at a lot of stops – Georgia would be his 10th in 20 years – which means a lot of people have hired him. (And yes, he has a bit of a wandering eye.)
Arkansas has allowed the least sacks in the SEC each of the past three seasons, including just eight in 2013, his first season, down from 18 the year before Pittman arrived. This year Arkansas was first in the SEC in least sacks allowed, at 12. (Georgia was second, at 13.)
Pittman was described to me as someone who players love to play for, and a report on Saturday morning backed that up: “At least” seven offensive linemen and head coach Bret Bielema went to Pittman’s home on Friday night to try to get him to stay.
3. Chaney, on the other hand, does not offer the same wow factor. The numbers are what they are: Pittsburgh is 76th nationally this year in total yardage (one spot behind Georgia), though at Arkansas and Tennessee he did see improvement: Arkansas went 106th nationally in Chaney’s first year to 45th in 2014, and Tennessee was 18th nationally in 2012 after rankings of 104th and 75th the previous two years.
There will be those who see the numbers and wonder if this is a Brian Schottenheimer redux, and that’s fair. Chaney at least comes in as a college guy and has very recent experience in the SEC, where he has employed varied offenses. His offenses at Arkansas were more traditional pro-style, but were also described to me as “very adaptable.”
And if Chaney can walk up to Jacob Eason on Saturday night and impress him enough with Drew Brees’ college stats at Purdue, then the hiring may be worth it just on that account.
4. This obviously means Schottenheimer and Rob Sale are out at Georgia after the bowl, if not sooner. It’s not surprising that neither was retained, but this will make it official. It remains to be seen whether they’re still with Georgia at the bowl.
As we’ve pointed out before, it’s in Schottenheimer’s financial interests to stick around until he is officially not retained, as in that event he would be owed the final two years on his contract (a total of $1.9 million plus change), pro-rated against whatever he earns next year at his next job. So if Schottenheimer wants to return to the NFL – his old job with the Rams is open again – he would want to wait until that season ends and jobs start to open.
Sale, who was on a one-year contract, earned high marks for his recruiting during his one year in Athens. He’s part of the Nick Saban coaching tree and has connections via that and at LSU.
5. Where does this leave the rest of the offensive staff? Running backs coach Thomas Brown is being retained. There’s been nothing firm yet on receivers coach Bryan McClendon and tight ends coach John Lilly. They’re both candidates to join Mark Richt in Miami, though both are also planning at this point to coach Georgia in the bowl. McClendon is the interim coach, and no matter what happens that’s always something good to have on your resume’, that you led a team for 12 practices and a game.
Either way, while we shouldn’t be surprised to see more offensive staff news drop soon, there is less urgency now that two of the bigger hires are set to be in place.