One of the worst hires in Arkansas football history happened when Chad Morris brought on John Chavis to steer a defense that had all the firmness of a limp noodle.
The most egregious aspect of that defensive coordinator hire was that Morris was able to wrangle a contract for Chavis that escalated to $1.5 million a year in 2019 and was set to bump up to $1.6 million in 2020.
In the end, Chavis was confirmed as the washed-up check-snatcher fans feared he would be after he sputtered in his previous stop at Texas A&M.
In the Sam Pittman regime, Chavis has been replaced by Barry Odom, who’s actually earning his $1.2 million a year. On Saturday, Odom and the Hogs will face off against an underachieving Volunteers team with an overpaid assistant coach in Jim Chaney facing some of the same heat Chavis did in his two-year stay in Fayetteville.
Chavis was expected to make Arkansas’ defense at least average, but failed miserably in that. Meanwhile, Tennessee hired Chaney in early 2019 to recapture some of the same magic that he showed in his previous stint in Knoxville when masterminded a top SEC offense in 2012 with quarterback Tyler Bray.
Since then, though, Chaney hasn’t hit many seasons out of the park.
There was, for instance, the two-year stint at Arkansas at the start of the Bret Bielema era in which he wowed few Hog fans. While Alex Collins and Hunter Henry played well, Chaney left a lot to be desired in the quarterback development department. The Hogs’ passing offense in 2014 finished ranked No. 102, but Chaney’s successor Dan Enos opened things up under Brandon Allen and helped the 2015 offense improve to No. 32nd in the nation passing.
In 2016-2018, Chaney was Georgia’s offensive coordinator, coaching an offense that averaged in the high 30s and regularly mauled inferior and middling opponents with its sheer talent, size and depth advantages.
But against other SEC powerhouses like LSU, Auburn and Alabama, Chaney’s often left a lot to be desired with predictable, conservative play calling and a lack of a sophisticated passing attack, despite the emergence of quarterback Jake Fromm. As Georgia analyst/YouTube star “Uncle Lou” says below, Chaney failed to make in-game or between-game adjustments.
(This was also something that plagued Arkansas when Chad Morris and former OC Joe Craddock were calling the shots. But Arkansas didn’t have the horses to make up for it and offensively steamroll most SEC opponents like Georgia did).
Heading into the 2020 Arkansas game
Chaney got a salary bump of more than half a million dollars to return to Tennessee, where he’s paid $1.6 million for the 2020 season and will be paid $1.7 million next season. That makes him one of the richest assistant coaches in the nation.
So far, Chaney’s offenses have been cold, then hot and now cold again.
Currently, the Volunteers are in a three-game losing stretch in which they have been outscored by a total of 126-45 by Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama.
Against Alabama, Chaney called a ridiculously conservative game, failing to attempt deep throws over the middle and repeatedly calling draw plays on third and long. Down 0-14 and on the Alabama 15 yard line early in the game, the Vols decided to kick a field goal on a fourth and two — which is as good as throwing up a white flag against an offense as powerful as the Crimson Tide’s.
Overall, what head Vols coach Jeremey Pruitt has gotten through five games from Chaney is a 2-3 team and a sputtering jalopy of an offense that ranks No. 11 in the SEC in points per game and No. 12 in yards per game. All the hope that fifth-year senior Jarrett Guarantano would develop into a star quarterback has just about vanished in back-to-back blowout losses to Kentucky (by 27 points) and Alabama (by 31 points).
“There’s a lot of frustration,” says Tennessee analyst Josh Ward. “One, because of the offensive play, but also the lack of development at quarterback.”
“Fans heard over and over again during the off season, about it being year two with Chaney and the first time that Jarrett Guarantano has his offensive coordinator coming back,” Ward, the host of Locked On Vols, told John Nabors, host of the podcast Locked On Razorbacks.
“It’s the first time [Pruitt] had the same OC for two consecutive years, but the results are the same, and in some ways worse. So that is very frustrating for fans. So the blame always starts at the top, but the offensive coordinator can find some heat as well.”
Chaney isn’t underdelivering at Tennessee to the same extent as Chavis did at Arkansas, since the Vols did reel off an 8-game winning streak before this recent nosedive. But those wins are distant in the rear view window now and a loss to the Hogs could make his seat — and Pruitt’s very hot. In Fayetteville, Chaney lasted no more than two seasons before the heat got to be too much.
After facing a Razorback defense champing at the bit to atone for last week’s Texas A&M loss, Chaney may be headed for a similarly quick exit from Knoxville.
Sam Pittman and Jim Chaney
Chaney and the Hogs’ head coach have coached together at Tennessee, Arkansa and Georgia and are good friends. In all those cases, Pittman was the team’s offensive line coach, but naturally he picked up a lot of tactics from Chaney.
Pittman said in a recent “Hog Pod” interview that he would likely model his schemes off Chaney if he was as ever an offensive coordinator:
“I think it’d be a zone and gap scheme, you know, not all the things Kendal’s doing, because I’m not smart enough to figure it out, basically there’s three options on every play.”
“A lot like probably what Georgia was doing, probably a lot of 11, a lot of 12, a lot like what Jim Chaney does, you know, that would probably look a lot like me — try to be a physical, powerful, downhill play action football team. That’d probably what I would do and try to figure out. That’s awful hard to do in SEC.”
Pittman has only praise for Chaney, which sense given their close relationship. It is interesting, however, that he considers current Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ system to be more sophisticated than anything he (and perhaps Chaney) could devise.
Whether Briles’ system proves to be more effective at the SEC level remains to be seen.
Listen to Bo Mattingly’s new Sam Pittman interview here:
Coincidentally, Chavis now lives in Knoxville too: