A Different Ending: The interim is unfamiliar for Chaney, Vols
By Grant Ramey | (email@example.com)
KNOXVILLE — Jim Chaney answered the inquiry with three words.
When asked by a reporter if he had been here before, he simply replied, “I have not.”
Here, for Chaney, is serving as an interim head coach after an entire career as an assistant.
The same “have not” applies to Tennessee, which has never been here before, either.
Here, for the Vols, is playing under an interim head coach after the previous coach was fired.
But both of those have-nots will be erased today on Senior Day when Tennessee (4-7, 0-7 SEC) kicks off at 12:21 p.m. (TV: WVLT) against Kentucky (2-9, 0-7) to close a disastrous regular season for both teams inside Neyland Stadium.
Chaney was named the interim coach after Derek Dooley was fired Sunday morning, only hours after the Vols’ 41-18 loss to Vanderbilt in Nashville.
But for Chaney, and the Vols, the week leading up to today has been spent doing the only thing they know to do.
“Go to work,” Chaney said Monday, when he met the media as the interim coach for the first time. “You go to work.”
When Dooley opted not to coach against Kentucky, saying he didn’t want to serve as a distraction, it left Chaney in charge of a football team for the first time in his 27-year coaching career.
“I have been around football a long time,” Chaney said. “I think I understand the role, but until you do it you have no idea. I have no idea what a head coach does, I have never done it before.
“I am excited and I hope I don’t mess it up too bad. I hope I represent Coach Dooley very well on Saturday, I really do.”
Chaney started as an assistant at Cal State Fullerton in 1985. He made stops at Western Michigan and Wyoming before spending time as the recruiting coordinator and offensive coordinator at Purdue.
Tennessee former coach Lane Kiffin hired Chaney away from the National Football League where he was an assistant with the St. Louis Rams.
Four years, two head coaches and countless assistants later, Chaney is the last man standing. He was the lone assistant held over from Kiffin’s staff when Dooley was hired in January 2010.
“We live and die this job,” Chaney said Monday. “I believe in Derek Dooley and I stuck with him as long as I could. I would be with him all the time. He is a good man and a good football coach. That will never change.”
When seven assistants left the program after last year’s shocking 10-7 loss to Kentucky in Lexington, again it was Chaney who was one of the few faces to stay with the program.
“My decision to stick around was that, I trusted and believed in him,” Chaney said of Dooley. “Also, I wasn’t too proud of what we put on the football field last year offensively. And I didn’t want my name attached to that as I departed the University of Tennessee or wherever the pass take me in my profession.
“I wanted to do something about that. That is a little personal pride. But number one, I believed in the man and I would do it all over again.”
Today Chaney will make history as he becomes the first interim head coach to lead Tennessee against an opponent after a former coach was fired.
Phillip Fulmer won three games as an interim coach in 1992, when Johnny Majors dealt with health issues.
W.H. Britton (1935) and John Barnhill (1941-45) were both widely considered interim coaches while General Robert Neyland was actively serving in the military between stints as head coach.
Another bit of history on Senior Day: Tennessee enters today’s game with seven losses. The Vols have never lost eight games in a season dating back to the start of organized football on campus in 1891.
“I am excited about the opportunity,” Chaney said. “ ... I am trying to help some kids heal from some wounds and put a team on the field with the right attitude to go win a game. As far as me personally, that is my only goal.”