ATHENS – When Jim Chaney sits in press boxes at Georgia games this year, calling plays, there’s a new face by his side this year: Jay Johnson, who knows exactly what Chaney is going through, and is there to help.
When Shane Beamer puts together the plan for Georgia special teams every week, he also has help: Scott Fountain, who like Johnson offers an unusual wealth of experience and knowledge.
As Georgia has raced out to a perfect start this season, it has seen improvement on offense and special teams. And two key offseason hires, both of whom were coordinators at Power-5 schools last year, have aided the effort.
“They were able to help coach the coaches, I like to say,” head coach Kirby Smart said this week. “They give fresh, new ideas.”
Johnson was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator last year. Fountain was Auburn’s special teams coordinator the past four years. Both were let go earlier this year, after the college football coaching musical chairs had largely ended. Smart quickly scooped each up and added them to his support staff.
Georgia certainly needed improvement in their areas of expertise: Georgia’s offense and special teams both struggled last season in Smart’s first year. Rather than clean house, Smart just added minds.
Their roles are officially limited: The NCAA only allows nine full-time, on-field assistant coaches – a 10th will be allowed beginning next year – so the support staffers are officially restricted from coaching during practice. But they can analyze off the field, watch practice and sit in the press box.
Johnson is a constant but stoic presence at practice, watching the offense from the sideline.
Chaney, regarded in the industry as someone with little to no ego, said before this season he welcomed the help.
“Our relationship’s fantastic, and I really lean on him a lot for his expertise,” Chaney said. “He’s been around a lot of good football. He understands that I like his perspective on things.”
Johnson was the OC and quarterbacks coach at Minnesota for one year, where he was let go along with most of the rest of the staff in a sudden January move. (Georgia has Johnson at a discount, $50,000 annually, as Minnesota is still paying him $550,000 this year.) Prior to that he was the OC/QB coach at Louisiana-Lafayette from 2011-15, and has also worked at Central Michigan, Louisville, Southern Miss and Kansas.
“He’s play-called,” Chaney said. “When you’ve sat there and called as many plays, you appreciate that other guys have done that too.”
Fountain was Auburn’s special teams coordinator from 2013-16, and was let go earlier this year. Smart scooped him up at a cost of $115,000 annually to UGA.
“He’s with us every day. For pretty much all of practice,” Georgia place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship said. “He might go down two or three minutes early before our special teams drills, to get the cones and stuff set up with coach Beamer. But he works pretty much all practice every day.”
Fountain provides his share of input on the punt team, according to Blankenship, one of the areas of improvement. So are kickoffs, and when Blankenship was asked what goal was for touchbacks, he cited Fountain wanting about 80 percent.
“I’m close to that right now,” said Blankenship, who is at 77 percent.
Smart has added a considerable amount of support staff since he was hired, continuing a trend that began late in Mark Richt’s tenure. It follows the Nick Saban model, to have as many voices and eyes as possible.
“I do not think people recognize that there is more to the game than just throwing somebody out there and saying kick the ball or throwing a guy out there and saying hey go play quarterback or run this play,” Smart said. “I think new ideas make you better and I think anytime you get new ideas they are thought-provoking for me as a coach, for a coordinator it always helps. It does not mean that we are necessarily going to do it that way but we certainly think about it and it is good information, so it helps.”