ATHENS — Isaac Nauta’s phone was blowing up Tuesday night. He’d only just arrived in Boca Raton to begin training for the NFL draft when he started hearing that his coach at Georgia wasn’t going to be at Georgia any longer.
That coach is Jim Chaney, who doubled as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator and tight ends coach. Word began spreading late Tuesday night that Chaney had accepted an offer to become Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. GoVols247.com first reported the news and DawgNation later confirmed it.
“I don’t know what to believe right now,” said Nauta, a junior tight end who played his last game for the Bulldogs in the Sugar Bowl. “The last I heard was he was signing an extension with Georgia after the Tennessee rumors.”
But that extension never came. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt reportedly offered Chaney a significant raise to come join his staff in Knoxville. After initially matching that offer, the Bulldogs refused to match a second counter from the Vols, and now Chaney is leaving Athens.
It was a surprising development to Nauta, who thought Chaney did an excellent job with Georgia’s offense and with the tight ends in particular this past season.
“I thought it went well,” Nauta said of tight end play in Chaney’s first year. “I thought the tight ends had a lot better year and did some good stuff. There was nothing that would’ve ever indicated to me he’d be leaving. The last time I talked to him was to tell him I was leaving and to thank him for everything he’s done.”
After catching 20 balls in 2017, the tight ends caught 39 this past season, including a career-best 30 by Nauta.
Instead, a position group already in flux with Nauta’s decision to turn pro and freshman Luke Ford’s decision to transfer to Illinois will be further in flux. Whoever the Bulldogs decide to take over tight ends will be that group’s third position coach in three seasons.
That coach will inherit rising senior Charlie Woerner and redshirt freshman John FitzPatrick. The Bulldogs also signed 4-star prospect Ryland Goede of Kennesaw Mountain in the early signing period last month. Several walkons play the position as well.
Shane Beamer coached tight ends in 2016 and ’17 before leaving Georgia to become an assistant head coach at Oklahoma. Coach Kirby Smart then moved Chaney over to tight ends — a position he coached for several years in the NFL — and promoted James Coley from wide receivers coach to quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator. Notably, Chaney never had “co-” added to his coordinator’s title. He remained the Bulldogs’ primary game-planner and play-caller.
Chaney was Smart’s first hire in December of 2015 when he brought him in from Pitt to coordinate the offense and coach quarterbacks. Chaney’s first assignment was to board a jet in Pittsburgh and fly across the country to Washington to meet with a quarterback prospect named Jacob Eason.
Whatever happens, Nauta said he’s appreciative of his time at Georgia and under Chaney in particular.
“I’ll be interested to see what happens,” Nauta said. “I enjoyed every minute I had at Georgia, and it helped make me the player I am today.”