BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – There has been plenty of moving and shaking on the bayou over the past year – just not the type that Louisianans are used to.
From losing five conference games to eventually losing an entire defensive coaching staff, the Tigers have run an unexpected course over the past nine months.
Working with a clean slate, Miles said that the 2009 season should see a 180-degree turn.
“Coming off last year, eight victories and a Bowl win was not enough,” he said. “Our football team’s a little more wanting, a little bit more ambitious. I think that’s spilled into the preparation in the offseason.”
Spring ball, the first opportunity for the new Tiger coaching staff to work together, provided Miles with his first glimpse of what is in store – and the future appears bright.
“We put John Chavis in as defensive coordinator,” Miles said. “His experience in this league, his comfort with a dominating defense, met very comfortably with those men on our campus.
“Ron Cooper, our secondary coach, and Brick Haley, the defensive line [coach], I think there’s a great deal of experience and ability in the staff,” he added. “Our players want to play great, and understand there’s a work habit and a work ethic there that’s established. I think it will fall together nicely.”
How will the new-look defense differ from years past?
“I think you will see that the structure of the defenses are the same,” Miles said. “They have the opportunity to operate out of a two-shell or a single-high. We can put four or three on the field, down linemen. I think that the opportunity to zone dog from the field, boundary, to blitz, I think you’ll find that that is the same.
“I think what is also similar is a want and a desire to give relentless effort,” he added. “So I think there will be some similarities, but some differences as well, based on personnel.”
When asked about the mental missteps – in particular the 31-30 loss to Arkansas in the final game of the season in which the Tigers committed eight penalties for 77 yards – Miles insisted that instilling a level of discipline among his players falls not on Chavis, but on himself.
“That is my responsibility,” Miles said in response to the miscues against the Razorbacks. “I can tell you that that will not happen again.”
What the Tigers’ new defensive coordinator will be charged with is rebuilding a defense that allowed opponents to score an average of 24.2 points per game in 2008. Though the turnaround has been short, Chavis, who brings 20 years of SEC experience to the unit, has certainly turned one man into a believer – and the most important man at that.
“John certainly has great experience, and he understands the want for a dominant defense,” Miles said. “I think our guys understand that and were really looking for that when John arrived to campus. I think he will expect, and our guys will deliver.
“I think the strategies behind the call, I think the effort and the technique behind the play, will be improved.”
Before the Tiger headman headed for the exit, he left the media – and everyone back home on the bayou - with words of promise following the train wreck of 2008.
“I certainly understand what happened at the back end of last year,” Miles said. “I suspect our team does, too. We’re looking forward to this fall.”