Ex-Vol ‘Chief’ Chavis won’t make excuses at LSU
Posted: Monday, August 10, 2009 5:30 pm
By: By BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — If LSU’s defense fails to improve, the unit’s new “Chief” promised he won’t be making excuses.
“You won’t hear me say, ‘Hey, we don’t have any talent,’” said new defensive coordinator John Chavis, who goes by the nickname Chief, a nod to his native American heritage.
“There’s no question in my mind that we have the talent to be a very good defense and we’re going to expect to be a very good defense,” he continued on Sunday. “I’m not standing up here making any predictions … but when we walk out on that field, we expect to be a championship defense.”
The talent level of LSU’s defense was never more evident than in last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers mauled Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense, which last season averaged 377 yards and 26.2 points per game, couldn’t score a touchdown against LSU.
The result proved what the Tigers’ defense could do with several weeks to prepare for a single opponent. The problem was LSU’s performance against its Southeastern Conference rivals during the regular season.
Head coach Les Miles decided to return to the traditional single-coordinator hierarchy and turned to Chavis, who’d spent two decades molding some of the SEC’s best defenses at Tennessee. With longtime Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer leaving, Chavis was ready for a change.
“LSU has always been a place, and I can’t identify the reason why, but it’s always been a place that I said, ‘If I had an opportunity, I’d love to coach at LSU,’” Chavis said during media day. “There’s always been something that intrigued me about LSU and Baton Rouge.”
In 2005, Miles’ first season at LSU, he saw first-hand how quickly Chavis could transform his defenses. The Tigers hosted Tennessee and took a 21-0 lead at halftime, then wound up losing 30-27 in overtime.
Even when LSU beat Tennessee, the games tended to be close.
Miles noted that the Volunteers stifled the Tigers’ offense for much of the 2007 SEC championship game, which LSU won, 21-14.
Chavis’ lengthy experience preparing for Florida in the SEC’s East Division didn’t hurt his credentials, either.
“He kind of knows the lay of the land,” Miles said.
The transition has been fairly easy for LSU players. Chavis’ scheme features a 4-3 alignment, which is what LSU was already using when he arrived.
“It’s some adjustments and tweaks from last year, and I think it’s to our advantage,” said senior defensive tackle Charles Alexander. “So far I love his intensity and tenacity.”
The changes feature a greater number of blitzes and an emphasis on having certain players train at multiple positions, giving the unit greater versatility and more ability to disguise its play calls.
“We’re putting in new packages every day — a whole bunch of blitz packages so we can be a much more aggressive defense,” safety Chad Jones said. “We’re going to make the quarterback get the ball out quick and make him make mistakes.”
Jones, who will play primarily free safety, said he might also play some at strong safety, cornerback or even linebacker, depending on the matchups Chavis seeks with various opponents.
It all sounded familiar to LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton, now entering his third season with the Tigers.
“He has the ability to change up zone and man coverage and it keeps you off balance, and he disguises things well,” Crowton said. “He gives you the whole package and with the experience he has, he knows when to do what.”
Chavis said one key to getting the best out of his players is recognizing their weaknesses and keeping them out of situations where they may be in over their heads.
“When you do that, they’re able to play aggressive and cut it loose,” Chavis said. “We want to make sure when we put a guy out there, that he’s able to line up and he’s able to function at full speed. That’s the way you get to play great defense.”