ATHENS – It began outside an elevator: Jim Chaney was getting off one. Sam Pittman was waiting for one.
This was at the college football coaches convention, in San Antonio in Jan. 2012. Chaney had just become Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. Pittman was North Carolina’s offensive line coach. The two had known each other for years, but never worked together, and Chaney wanted to fix that.
“Hey, I’d like to interview you,” Chaney said, according to Pittman’s recollection. “Would you like to come to Tennessee?”
And so began a long working relationship, one that’s been both productive – and amusing to those around them.
“Not much,” Chaney cracked, when asked how much influence he had in bringing Pittman to Georgia. “I tried to convince him to stay. I didn’t want him around here. He’s a pain in the butt.”
The elevator story was in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which covered Chaney and Pittman when they went together to the Razorbacks less than a year after their Tennessee stint. They worked at Arkansas for two years before Chaney went to Pittsburgh for a year, then they joined up again when hired by Kirby Smart, in the coaches’ first recruiting package deal.
“Their energy, the way they play off each other, is just perfect,” said Isaiah Wynn, a Georgia junior tackle and guard. “You can tell that they always had a history and they always clicked. Just having that on a coaching staff, it just influences an offense to do the same.”
UGA Offensive Coordinator Jim Chaney speaks with the media. (JOSH JONES)
The close connection between Chaney and Pittman – the fact they were basically a package deal – could be an underrated boon to Georgia’s offense.
When an offensive coordinator and O-line coach are on the same page, things flow well. Witness the halcyon days of Georgia’s offense, 2011-14, when coordinator Mike Bobo and O-line coach Will Friend worked so well together and became so close that when Bobo became Colorado State’s head coach, Friend went west with him as offensive coordinator.
But last year, that closeness didn’t seem to exist. Brian Schottenheimer had spent the previous 11 years in the NFL, while O-line coach Rob Sale had a college and high school background, and came recommended by then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. It’s not that Schottenheimer and Sale didn’t get along, but they had different backgrounds and had never worked together.
That’s not a problem this year.
“It’s funny. They kind of feed off each other,” said Greg Pyke, a Georgia senior offensive tackle.
“They’re always joking. It’s hard to play for an uptight coach, so they do a great job of just being loose, and letting the players play,” Wynn said. “But when they do need to be reprimanded they do it. So it’s good.”
UGA offensive line coach Sam Pittman. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)
The pair go way back, and have plenty in common. They’re from adjoining states (Oklahoma and Missouri) and were recruited by Central Missouri State. (Chaney went there while Pittman went to Pittsburg State, another Division II school.) When they both become coaches, they went head-to-head in some recruiting battles, and in fact stayed in the same St. Louis hotel during some of those battles.
They also discovered their philosophies meshed: Gap schemes, and the idea that you have to run both an inside and outside zone. Being able to be versatile, in other words.
Off the field, their philosophies were the same as well. It took them awhile – Chaney is 54 and Pittman is 53 – but they found in themselves lifelong friends.
“I don’t think that we take life real seriously,” Chaney said. “We understand where football fits in the big picture. We’re trying to help these young men grow up. We want to win football games and do the best we can, but we also laugh at ourselves a little bit. I think his personality and my personality blend really well.
“We understand and we desire the same things in life. We want to win football games and that keeps a smile on our face.”