KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee offensive coordinator Jim Chaney believes he knows the biggest way in which he's adjusted his philosophy since the last time he worked here.
"I understand the importance of physicality probably more now than ever before," Chaney said. "In the Southeastern Conference, (I know) the importance of playing physical football that gives you an opportunity to be successful. Without that, you don't have it. It's difficult to win it without that quality."
Chaney spoke to reporters Friday for the first time since joining Jeremy Pruitt's staff and returning to Tennessee, where he previously worked as offensive coordinator from 2009-12. He spent the last three seasons as Georgia's offensive coordinator.
He explained the decision-making process that caused him to leave two-time Southeastern Conference Eastern Division champions for the team that has finished in the East basement each of the last two years.
"My wife and I have always enjoyed Knoxville," Chaney said. "It's a place where we could always see ourselves living for a long time. So when Coach Pruitt called, you never know, but it's one of the few and maybe the only job I would have considered leaving the spot I was at for. After talking to him a lot and getting to know him better, it was a pretty easy decision for me to come back to a place that I've always enjoyed coaching at and living."
Tennessee gave Chaney a three-year contract worth $4.8 million after he made $950,000 at Georgia last season. Tyson Helton, who was Tennessee's offensive coordinator last season, left when Western Kentucky hired him as head coach.
Chaney will earn $1.5 million this year, more than any offensive coordinator earned last season according to USA Today's coaching salary database. Alabama has since given new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian a contract that will pay him $1.55 million this season.
He faces the challenge of upgrading a Tennessee offense that had the fewest yards per game of any SEC team each of the last two seasons.
The Vols averaged 325.5 yards and 22.8 points per game last season, and they gained 5.46 yards per play. Chaney's Georgia offense compiled 464.9 yards and 37.9 points per game while gaining 7.05 yards per play.
Players say they appreciate Chaney's personable approach.
"He's a really respected coach, and he's been a lot of places, and so it's a great asset that we brought into the university," offensive lineman Ryan Johnson said. "He's also got a little bit of humor to him, so it makes being in the film room just more fun."
Chaney has led productive offenses here before.
Tennessee's 2012 team gained 475.9 yards per game - the second-highest average in school history - with an offense that featured eventual first-round draft picks Cordarrelle Patterson and Ja'Wuan James as well as second-round selection Justin Hunter.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Steve Megargee at https://twitter.com/stevemegargee