ATHENS, Ga. — Jim Chaney has kept his sense of humor even after the type of first year as Georgia’s offensive coordinator that left Bulldog fans in no mood to laugh.
“This is my favorite day of the year, I get to find out if my gameday stuff fit from last year,” Chaney joked in his only scheduled news conference this season which came Saturday when team photos were also were taken.
The 55-year old Chaney knows scoring points and winning games is a serious matter for someone in his position. And he fell on the proverbial sword for an offense that sputtered too much during an 8-5 season.
“Not having the production that we wanted to have, you do a lot of soul searching and a lot of visitation with a lot of people, what’s fresh and what’s new,” Chaney said. “You get into tons of video. The cutting edge of the NFL is always fun to me. Atlanta did a wonderful job last year so I’m studying a lot of stuff. …”
The Bulldogs ranked 102nd in the nation in scoring offense at 24.5 and 87th in total offense at 384.7, ranking 11th in the SEC in both categories. It set a program record for fewest points in a 12-game season.
Chaney was hired by coach Kirby Smart and given a three-year contract, but if things don’t take an upward turn with the offense it wouldn’t be a surprise if a change is made before the third year.
“You go to work and try to do as good a job as you possibly can,” Chaney said. “You try to put the pieces to the puzzle that you score enough points to win. Ultimately, that’s my job to work within Kirby’s philosophy to score enough points to find victory.”
When he was asked how much Smart’s offensive philosophy impacts what he does, Chaney quickly replied: “Every bit. He writes the checks.”
Chaney was a lightning rod for criticism last year.
When Smart was on Atlanta’s 92.9 The Game prior to preseason practice, host Carl Dukes told him of the offense “full disclosure Dukes and (Mike) Bell were very critical at times last year. We can’t lie.”
“I get it,” Smart responded. “The blame falls on all of us. We always talk about it. I’m not happy with where we were. Jim’s certainly not either. I can tell you this, his hands were tied at times and we have to do a better job of untying them.”
Smart was asked off air what he meant by Chaney’s hands being tied and he said he was referring to having to break in true freshman Jacob Eason as a starter.
Georgia was 97th nationally in passing offense at 193.5 yards per game.
“When you have a true freshman quarterback, your hands are tied a little bit,” he said. “Go ask any offensive coordinator who played with a true freshman quarterback and I think they’ll tell you there’s a limitation there on what you can do. That’s a defense of (Chaney) but that’s also saying that we had a true freshman quarterback. That’s not saying I’m holding him back. When you start a true freshman quarterback there’s things he hasn’t seen before.”
Chaney said of Eason Saturday: “Every day we’re exploring more things of letting him changing plays and have more freedom.”
Smart on Saturday reiterated that he’s always had a lot of respect for Chaney through the years, but the offense didn’t meet his standard during a year when the Bulldogs were underwhelming on the offensive line and had ups and downs with Eason.
“He’s been very versatile in his past,” Smart said. “He was not able to do that last year. We were not in position to be that. It’s not who we were. We were in a transition. It was tough. I think he’ll be the first to admit to you that we did not live up to the expectations we wanted last year.”
Chaney, who spoke after Smart later Saturday morning, said: “When things aren’t going the way you’d like for them to go, you question a lot of things. You’ve got to in the offseason make sure you look back at yourself and make doggone sure you’re not the reason and make sure what part of that you played you do the best you possibly can.”
Chaney has turned around offenses from down years at his last two SEC stops.
At Tennessee in his third and fourth seasons there, the Volunteers jumped from 106th in scoring at 20.3 to 22nd at 36.7 in 2011 to 104th in total offense at 332.7 to 18th at 475.9 in 2012.
Arkansas improved more than 11 points in scoring from 2013 to 2014 from 20.7 to 31.9 and the offense went from 357.2 yards per game to 406.0.
“First years in programs are inevitably a little bit tougher than others, but in no way do I say all the problems we had are only because it’s the first year,” he said. “That’s not true at all. I probably had a big part to play in that. My job was to freshen things up and take care of my responsibility. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, ultimately, the buck stops here when it gets down to the production of offense.”
Senior wide receiver Javon Wims, for his part, isn’t letting last year’s showing discourage what he thinks the offense can do under Chaney.
“I have more than confidence that he’s a great coach, he’s a fantastic coach,” Wims said. “The plays he dials up are awesome. The offense, we’re excited to go out there and play this year for him.”
Georgia needs Eason to get the ball to the playmakers more consistently after completing 55 percent of his passes last year.
Chaney not only has star running back Nick Chubb back for his senior season, but senior tailback Sony Michel is getting work in practice as a slot receiver, where tight end Isaac Nauta and converted defensive back Mecole Hardman who Chaney called “an exciting, electric kid,” also brings potential playmaking ability.
“We kind of woke up one morning and realized we have some kids that can do some different things,” Chaney said.
He said the foundation of the offense is physicality in the run game (which may be more attainable as bigger players have entered the program), getting the best players the ball, protecting the ball and balance. Balance was the first thing Smart mentioned, especially being able to run the ball in critical situation but added “we all know the spread element has taken over college football and being able to make looser plays and make it harder on defenses to defend,” is also important.
Added Chaney: “I want to win games. If we have to run it 50 times or throw it 60 times, I want to do either one.”
When Chaney’s more than 20 minutes at the podium ended, he said for the record about that gameday attire: “It did fit by the way.”