Coaching turnover is a major yet unavoidable part of college football. At the end of a season, coaches leave, seeking greener pastures or a chance at more responsibilities at a different school. But once the sting of a coach’s departure has worn off, the opportunity for a program to partially reinvent itself under a new coach beckons.
This winter, Penn football found itself in this spot. After Dan Swanstrom left Penn to become the head coach at Cornell in December, coach Ray Priore and the rest of the Quaker program had a vacancy to fill at the offensive coordinator spot. Now, it seems as though the team has found an answer in new offensive coordinator Greg Chimera.
Even though Chimera doesn’t have much formal experience coaching in the Ivy League, he brings a track record of success to Penn. At Johns Hopkins, where he was head coach for the last four seasons after a decade as an assistant, Chimera’s teams excelled, going 40-7 overall and reaching the NCAA playoffs twice.
Beyond his coaching success, Chimera also shares a long-running connection with Priore. Chimera’s predecessor at Johns Hopkins, Jim Margraff, worked with Priore dating back to the latter’s first coaching job at Albany in 1985. This allowed Chimera to attend summer camps Penn hosts for high school players and gave him exposure to the program.
“You are always thinking about the planned replacements when you need to make a hire,” Priore said. “You have some folks in the back of your mind that if the opportunity presented itself, I would like to talk to [them] … we’re very very grateful that [Chimera] came in and had great interest [at Penn].”
This connection also helped make the decision to move from Maryland to University City easier for Chimera. He had been with the Blue Jays for nearly two decades, playing as a fullback for four seasons during the 2000s. Immediately after graduation, he joined the coaching staff as a running backs and tight ends coach and worked his way up the coaching tree before taking over at the helm of the program in 2019 following Margraff’s retirement.
“I’ve been [at Johns Hopkins] for 18 years in some form or fashion, and I wasn’t looking to leave, so it was going to take something special for me to leave,” Chimera said. “I’ve gotten to know Coach Priore over the years, and when my mentor speaks that highly of somebody, they’re a great person … I started thinking about that if [Swanstrom] left, would this be the opportunity that I want to go for. And [after] going [to Penn] and interviewing and seeing the place … it was an easy choice for me to be my next step.”
Coming from Johns Hopkins — which competes in NCAA Division III and has dominated the Centennial Conference for much of this century — to Penn, which finished fifth in the Ivy League last season, will definitely be a transition for Chimera. But so far, the man in charge of the Quaker offense for 2024 seems up to the challenge.
In terms of his philosophy, he doesn’t expect much to change now that he wears the Red and Blue. Chimera noted that while his offense will feature some tempo and explosiveness, he relies heavily on his players to excel, focusing his own efforts on putting them in the best positions to succeed. When pressed about what aspect surprised him the most, he quipped that Penn’s locker room is nicer than those he has encountered in the past.
"I just try offensively to teach the players everything that I know about the offense and about football," said Chimera. "It's really way less about what I know... it's about what they know and what they can comprehend and handle on a given basis... There's a lot of great players at Penn. So walking into a full cupboard there, and we got a really good offensive staff."
Chimera’s arrival to Franklin Field — and his quest to bring the Quakers their first conference title in nearly a decade — comes at an interesting moment for the Ivy League. Despite its stability compared to much of college football, the conference will feature four new head coaches in 2024. While Priore doesn’t know exactly how that will change the Ancient Eight’s nature and even though the Quakers won’t play their first competitive game for another seven months, he is confident in his hire.
“We are on a really, really high note and I think [Chimera] is the person to take our guys down that path of innovative schemes,” he said. “They’re all players; It’s really now building and developing and being a teacher and [using] getting on Franklin Field as opportunities to teach is knowledge and wisdom and lead the staff.”