"It's a ballgame"

Tennessee defensive coordinator John Chavis should be ecstatic. His stop unit ranks ninth nationally, even though it has faced four top-10 teams among its first seven opponents.

But Chavis isn't ecstatic. The Vols' losing record and the recent resignation of offensive coordinator Randy Sanders have Chavis very unhappy, in fact. With a little help from the offense, Tennessee could be 7-0 and headed for a BCS bowl game. Instead, the Vols are 3-4 and headed for perhaps the worst season in Phil Fulmer's 13-year tenure.

There's an old saying that aptly describes Chavis, however: Tough times don't last; tough people do. That's why the adversity of 2005 has him down but not out.

"Obviously, you don't feel real good about how the season has gone to this point," he said this week. "But you've got to continue. There are lessons you can take away from this. That's what's good about athletics: Sometimes you get taught those lessons.

"I don't like losing. I think I'm as competitive as anyone else but there are some good lessons you can learn. There's going to be some disappointments along the way, and you've got to handle those."

Chavis has spoken with Sanders several times since the latter's resignation, trying to provide as much comfort as he possibly can.

"I want to be there and support him, support his decision," Chavis said. "I hate to see that (Sanders step down) but we're going to go on, and I know there's going to be a lot of good things for him down the road."

Sanders' resignation was hard for Chavis to accept. So was the fact a Tennessee team ranked No. 3 nationally in preseason now ranks as one of the biggest disappointments in all of college football.

"I want to win. I'm competitive," he said. "From that standpoint, it's been very difficult. To see a situation with a really, really good football coach like Randy Sanders – and what he's had to go through – that makes it difficult. To see what our fans have had to go through – because I care about our fans – that makes it difficult. To know how hard our football players have worked and how close we've been and haven't been able to get over the hump, that's difficult."

Asked about the emotional state of his troops heading into Saturday's game at Notre Dame, Chavis replied: "I hope the emotional state is good. This is a mature football team, and I think they've handled disappointment very well. I don't think anybody's happy but they're working to get better, and that's what you're looking for."

As for his own emotional state, Chavis seems remarkably resilient. He remains determined to keep plugging, perhaps realizing that everything else is beyond his control.

"I'd like to think it's maturity but I try to keep things on an even keel," the coordinator said. "I'm going to work hard every day and try to prepare the best I can. I want to win every ballgame but when the end of the day comes, it's a ballgame. It's not real; it's a ballgame. It's not life or death; it's a ballgame.

"I'm competitive but I realize it's a ballgame."

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