(Editor's note: This is the second of a nine-part series as the News Sentinel takes a closer look at Tennessee's new assistant football coaches.)
For the last four months, Jim Chaney's life has centered around football. Unless, of course, the focus shifts to football recruiting.
Since arriving in Knoxville in January, Chaney's world has revolved around football the way the earth orbits the sun.
About the only break is a Webcam chat with his wife and two daughters each morning. Other than that, Tennessee's new offensive coordinator is devoted to football, either on the practice field or inside the football offices in the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center.
"Quite honestly, I think sometimes when you relocate and the family stays behind, that's a good thing in a lot of ways," said Chaney, 47, whose family will soon join him. "Right now in this period in our transition into Tennessee, it needs to be all football. That's all I've thought about for four and a half months - Tennessee football.
"Coming into this thing, it's all been enthusiasm. It's all been energy. It's been fun. Time to roll."
And keep them rolling, too.
For all the time spent on football, Chaney's a devoted family man and a deep thinker in possession of a razor wit.
For all the homespun tales about growing up on a farm in a small Missouri town, Chaney's nearly always one of the smartest and funniest guys in the room.
"You're thinking, here's just a country guy from Missouri, a pig farmer from Missouri," says Greg Olson, who coached with Chaney for seven seasons at Purdue and with the St. Louis Rams. "It may not come across right away, but you spend any amount of time with Jim Chaney and you realize here's a real sharp, sharp person."
Chaney never set out to be a football coach.
Sure, he loved the game he played growing up in Holden, Mo. He missed it when he graduated from Central Missouri State in 1985 shortly after being named an all-conference nose guard his senior season.
Chaney moved west to California with his sights set on a master's degree in sports management at Cal State Fullerton.
One of his college coaches put him in touch with Gene Murphy, then the coach at Fullerton, about a job as a graduate assistant.
"I didn't go in with the purpose of ever thinking of being a college football coach," Chaney said. "I had no idea. I was going to use that to try to pay for a graduate degree and try to get into some professional team, be a general manager or something like that.
"Well, I was too damn dumb for that."
Or too darn good at coaching.
Chaney spent the next eight years in Fullerton, eventually becoming offensive coordinator. He could have stayed there longer had the school not decided to drop its football program after the 1992 season.
Suddenly out of a job, Chaney moved to Wyoming with the intention of becoming a graduate assistant on Joe Tiller's staff to help pay for law school.
Once again, though, a coaching career got in the way.
When a full-time position opened up on the coaching staff, it was an easy decision for Tiller to hire Chaney. And when Tiller left to take over at Purdue in 1997, it was an easy decision to take Chaney with him.
"I always wanted to surround myself with smart guys. Guys smarter than me, preferably," said Tiller, who retired after last season as the winningest football coach in Purdue history. "He's a smarter guy than I am."
Chaney, it turns out, was in for the long haul.
"You never realize when you get into something if you're going to be a lifer or not," he said. "I watched a lot of people come in for a few years or leave over the years. It's been a lot of fun. It's been good for me."
And pretty good for those who hired him, too.
'Smelling The Roses'
During his nine years at Purdue, Chaney helped Tiller restore the Boilermakers to prominence in the Big Ten.
Six times during that span, Purdue finished among the top 10 nationally in total offense. Alongside Olson, then Purdue's quarterbacks coach and now in his second season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chaney helped quarterback Drew Brees become a Heisman Trophy finalist. And in 2000, Purdue claimed its first Big Ten championship - and subsequent Rose Bowl berth - in 33 years.
But Pasadena isn't the only place Chaney likes to smell the roses.
"I love my family," he said. "I like the world we live in. I think there's a lot of complexities of life that I find amusing.
"I like things outside of just all football all the time. And I love football, don't misunderstand me. I think sometimes when coaches say those things you come off like, 'Oh God, he's not committed to the cause.' That's not the case, but I just like to think that there's other things that I have interest in also that are fun."
His passion is football, but Chaney likes to fish and golf. He maintains an interest in politics.
On the road recruiting, he's more apt to be listening to the Eagles or Carrie Underwood than he is sports talk radio.
And he's fascinated by those who excel in their chosen field.
"I just think the people that are at the top of their game no matter what they do are real special," he says. "Ultimately, I guess that's what excites me. Like a good trumpet player. Those are hard to find."
Finding a balance between football and fun is one of Chaney's strengths, said Tiller, who spent 13 total seasons with Chaney.
"He's a demanding guy on the field, and then off the field he's Happy Huey or whoever," Tiller said. "It's not that Jim doesn't (take football seriously), but it's just his personality that he's going to sniff the roses as he goes through life. He's not going to be Mr. Sourpuss. He's going to be an upbeat, positive guy."
For much of his career, that's been part of the job description.
In addition to being offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator (where he helped Purdue land top-10 classes each of the five years he held the title), he was Purdue's levity coach.
"Tiller gave him that," Olson said. "That was part of Jim's role, too, to keep the staff light. Make sure that if the players got too tight before a game that he'd do something to loosen them up. Certainly he fits the bill.
"You could talk to Drew Brees, who would just speak volumes about Jim. Most of the players there will. The first thing they'll say is that guy's hilarious."
Planting His Feet
Believe it or not, when Chaney arrived in Knoxville, it was only the fifth full-time stop in a 25-year career.
"I spent nine years in California," Chaney says. "Nine years at Purdue. I wouldn't have left Wyoming had Joe (Tiller) not left. It's something that I like to put my feet in the ground and get to know the community and live there, and that's what I enjoy doing."
His last move before UT came in 2006, when he left Purdue to join the staff in St. Louis, where Olson had just been named offensive coordinator.
"I told Greg if he ever became a (NFL) coordinator, I'd join him," Chaney said. "I said, 'You helped me when I was coordinator here at Purdue, so when you go I'll come with you.' "
Says Olson: "He was the first guy I thought of, to be honest, when I got the job. I still feel the same way about him."
Olson's tenure in St. Louis only lasted two years, but Chaney remained on staff for 2008 as tight ends coach. Olson, as it happened, landed in Tampa Bay.
And when UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin decided to leave the Buccaneers to join his son at Tennessee, Olson told him to give Chaney a call.
Chaney and new coach Lane Kiffin hit it off, and they spent plenty of time making sure they were on the same page offensively.
"Jim's been an integral part of putting in our offense at Tennessee," Lane Kiffin said. "He has a unique ability to coach all positions on offense and oversee our entire offense."
Despite running a one-back spread offense at Purdue - where Tiller joked the Boilermakers would "pass until we got hot and then when we'd get hot, we'd keep passing" - Chaney's three seasons in the NFL gave him a newfound appreciation for the running game and a foundation in the same pro-style offense that Lane Kiffin adopted during his time at Southern California.
"Right now, it's all Lane's stuff," said Chaney, who called plays at Purdue. "We're running with it. For the most part we're running the USC-style offense that Lane's been familiar with. I'm real familiar with it."
Keep It Rolling
When training camp rolls around this summer, the Rams will miss Chaney.
As an assistant offensive line coach and tight ends coach, sure, but especially when it's time for the annual rookie show.
In seven years with Chaney, Olson says there were too many times to count when Chaney helped cut the tension with a well-placed quip or kept players loose with a joke.
"He could bust the players up pretty good," Olson said.
The players could bust up Chaney, too.
In St. Louis, Olson and his fellow coaches loved watching first-year players perform skits lampooning teammates and coaches at the end of training camp.
"He's the first guy they'd go after, 'cause he's easy," Olson said. "Every time we had a rookie show, we couldn't wait to see who was going to do the Jim Chaney impression. They'd have the room on the floor laughing."
Chaney's new players at UT haven't gone that far yet, but they've seemingly taken to their new coordinator, especially the offensive linemen.
"He can get loud sometimes, but he can chew you out in such a calm way," guard Vladimir Richard said during spring practice, smiling. "When someone's loud and yelling at you, you're used to that. But when somebody can be so calm and talk to you in such a polite manner but really just chew you out, that's a scary sight."
That's Chaney, as intense and serious as the rest of UT's coaching staff on the field and smelling the roses off it. And that Midwestern country boy with the quick wit and football smarts knows how to keep it all balanced.
"When they put me down, say that I was a good father, a good husband, a good human being and a damn good coach," Chaney says. "That would be fine with me. In that order would be OK, too."
Drew Edwards covers University of Tennessee football. He may be reached at 865-342-6274.