Just ask and the Tigers ‘Chief’ will tell you.
There won’t be a hint of hesitation or holding back. The 55-year-old South Carolina native will simply open up his emotional spigot and fill you in.
Of course just watching him with his players or during an intense game – like there’s any other kind for Chavis – tells you plenty about him as well.
Never one to hide the way he feels, the energetic and outgoing Chavis is back in the national spotlight again.
Back where he was in 1998 when he was part of Phillip Fulmer’s staff that guided Tennessee to the first BCS National Championship with a 23-16 triumph over Florida State.
And like always, Chavis is letting it soak in gobbling up the memories his way.
"You coach in this profession a long time, and I did before I had the first opportunity, and certainly there are people that have had several opportunities, but to be back a second time is special,” Chavis said Thursday during a media session leading up to Monday’s battle for the 2011 national crown between No. 1-ranked LSU (13-0) and second-ranked Alabama (11-1)."
To grasp just how meaningful this return trip is for Chavis didn’t require any detective work Thursday.
As he answered questions in his familiar booming baritone voice, Chavis got choked up a few times as he spoke about his affection for this team and particularly a defense that has been the backbone of the best regular season in Tigers’ history.
No surprise that Chavis is that emotional about this crew. In the minutes after the SEC Championship Game, with the purple-and-gold confetti drifting down from the Georgia Dome ceiling and the LSU players and other coaches on a stand whooping it up in celebration, Chavis found as quiet a spot as he could and sobbed in happiness.
“To start, with me, I'm an emotional person; I don't apologize for that,” Chavis said. “That's what I am. I love what I'm doing and love where I'm doing it. And being part of this program and with this group of young men we have this year is special.
“These guys have worked so hard, and to watch them and be out there with them every day, you know, it's an emotional deal when they have great success. And certainly I'm thankful to be part of it.
“I couldn't think of a better group of young men to be with.”
You won’t find any of those players wanting to play for anybody else, either.
Since he arrived at following LSU coach Les Miles’ disastrous 2008 defensive co-coordinator experiment, Chavis has endeared himself to Tigers players on both sides of the ball, especially those he works with day after day.
Part father figure, part drill sergeant, part no-nonsense defensive genius.
Senior Brandon Taylor has been around for every day of Chavis’ LSU tenure and is a prime example of the longtime Tennessee DC’s handiwork.
An oversized cornerback when he arrived on campus in 2008, Taylor struggled to get on the field with a bottleneck of talent in front of him and more on the way.
Chavis spotted something he liked in Taylor, a quiet and steady leader who had the physical skills to play, but at a different spot in the Tigers’ scheme.
|Brandon Taylor on Chavis: 'He's like a father to me because he talks to me every day.'|
So Chavis began a trend that he’s followed ever since, sliding Taylor to safety where his cerebral input and calming influence would be more prominent.
“He's actually the reason I got to start playing for LSU, because I was a backup cornerback and he put me in the starting role at strong safety,” Taylor said. “He's like a father to me because he talks to me every day. I sometimes go to his office and talk to him.”
It’s that kind of faith and belief – on a two-way street – that has forged the bond between Chavis and his defensive crew.
When Chavis got to LSU, he openly professed that his players would hate him for 2-2½ hours of practice every day, but he also promised that he’d be there for anything they needed every other minute of the day. Chavis kept his word.
“What makes him a great coach is when we’re off the field and we want to joke around, he jokes around with us,” defensive tackle Mike Brockers said. “I feel like that's why his coaches respect him and why we play so well for him, because he's so down to earth when it's not football time. And when it is football time, he's as strict as possible.”
Early in the season when enigmatic Tyrann Mathieu was emerging as a star, it was Chavis who showed the team a viral video of something called the Honey Badger. Didn’t take long for that to stick like glue.
When Mathieu and cornerback Tharold Simon were involved in a failed drug test and suspended, Chavis was at the front of the line to dole out a heavy dose of tough love but also ready at the end of the suspension with open arms.
|John Chavis: Other programs have tried to lure him away, but LSU's 'Chief' seems to be right where he belongs.|
Like any parent, Chavis wants the best for his players and talking about the LSU defenders triggered the signature emotions Thursday.
“They're not all perfect, but they're great, great young men,” he said.
“It’s a little bit of a work in progress.”
That progress for LSU the last three years has a lot to do with Chavis, and it goes back to him selling his philosophy and the players buying in.
Chavis takes a collection of players – not coincidentally many who are among the best high school players in the country – figures out where they fit best, gives them a plan and trusts them to execute.
“He's going to put us in the position to make big plays,” Taylor said. “It's just up to us to make those plays, because the style of defense that he runs, everybody has a chance to be successful.”
At every step of a memorable journey, Chavis has been successful. He began as an undersized walk-on nose guard at Tennessee and emerged as a starter by his senior season. His coaching career got launched in outposts like Alabama A&M and Alabama State before a return to Knoxville where a climb began to the defensive coordinator spot and then the transition to LSU when Fulmer’s staff was dumped in 2008.
His accomplishments at LSU have made Chavis more valuable as ever. A report surface Thursday that current Tennessee coach Derek Dooley dangled a $1 million offer in front of Chavis to return to his alma mater, that coming after overtures from Georgia and Texas after his first two campaigns with the Tigers.
But Chavis is where he wants to be, where he belongs. It would be a surprise if he leaves LSU now, with a chance to win another national crown on the immediate horizon and perhaps a run of them in the next few seasons.
You wonder how Chavis feels about that? No need to guess.
“It’s exciting,” he said, his voice rising like a kid just waking up on Christmas morning. “And any time I'm excited, I'm emotional. When I get mad, I don't cry. When I get happy, I do. That's who I am.”
Deep where it matters most NOTES: Tigers get down to work
NOTES: Tigers get down to work