Friday, January 12, 2018
By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - The Wednesday press conference question to new Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis didn’t flat state that you were great coordinating Tennessee and LSU defenses, but your last couple of Texas A&M defenses leaked like the Titanic.
At 61, are you challenged worrying the game has passed you by?
But it came close enough. Close enough to elicit a retort.
“Well let me say this,” Chavis responded. “I’ve always been challenged. If I can’t feel good on what we’re doing in terms of being at the top of the league or at the top of the profession, then it’s time for somebody else to do it.
“And hey, that day is going to come. There will be a day when it’s you know what? I can’t give the kids, I can’t give the program what they need. Somebody else needs to do it. It’s just not now.”
The “Chief,” as he’s been called since being elevated from defensive line and linebackers coach to defensive coordinator at Tennessee in 1995, Chavis cooridnated the Volunteers' defense until 2008 before becoming defensive coordinator from 2009-2014 at LSU and Texas A&M from 2015-2017, asserted why he’s not ready for the retirement wigwam.
“Because it’s still burning inside,” Chavis said. “Not necessarily because of the last two years there (A&M). But I know I can coach. I know I can recruit. I know I can motivate. I know I can develop players. And I know that’s what we’re going to do. If I feel like if I can’t do that, or somebody else feels like I can’t do that, then hey, send me off into the sunset or whatever. But it’s not time for that yet. It’s not time. I’ve got a lot of football left in me. I love it. It’s what I enjoy doing.”
Two of the assistants on new head coach Chad Morris’ all new Arkansas defensive staff other than defensive tackles coach John Scott, returning from last year’s Bret Bielema regime, served with Morris during glory years.
Defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell, Arkansas’ defensive ends coach in 2010 and 2011 under Bobby Petrino and 2012 under John L. Smith, who is returning to Arkansas after coaching at Boise State, coached defensive ends at Tennessee on Chavis coordinated defenses from 1995 to 2008 for former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, including a national championship in 1998.
Defensive backfield coach Ron Cooper coached the secondary, including All-American defensive backs Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne for Chavis under former head coach Les Miles at LSU from 2009-2011. In 2017, he coached All-American defensive back Armani Watts at Texas A&M.
Because of Caldwell’s Razorbacks background and the state of Arkansas background as a graduate and former assistant at Arkansas State, Chavis was asked specifically about him.
“He was a big part of what we did at Tennessee also from a recruiting standpoint,” Chavis said. “You're not gonna find a better recruiter, not gonna find a better football coach anywhere in the country and not just with Steve, but with Ron Cooper, John Scott Jr. and with the entire staff that coach Morris has put together. I understand the model he is putting together here. It is a model that will give us the opportunity to have great success at Arkansas. The vision he has and to be able to put that together I'm really, really excited about that.”
Morris and Chavis inherit a team that closed a defensively floundering 7-6 2016 campaign by blowing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads in season-ending losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech, then flopped during a 4-8 2017 season that closed the Bielema regime.
Chavis knows Arkansas can do better.
He’s seen the Razorbacks do nationally elite better coaching against them at Tennessee and LSU.
“Coach Morris and I talked about this when we were in discussions about this job,” Chavis said. "I can go back to 1998 when I was at Tennessee and we played Arkansas. We were both undefeated and both fighting for an opportunity to win a national championship. We came back the second half and had a break (Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner fumbled after tripping over the leg of Arkansas All-American guard Brandon Burlsworth) and won the game. We went on and won a national championship. When we played in 2011 (LSU prevailed), I told coach Morris, 'That was as fine an Arkansas football team as I have ever seen.' At LSU, we were No. 1 in the country, Alabama was No. 2 and Arkansas No. 3 in the country. Not just in the SEC West, but in the country. So I've seen the caliber of teams that Arkansas can field.”
Off last season, these Hogs do seem a long way from their 9-3 season/SEC West co-championship of 1998 under Houston Nutt and Petrino’s 11-2 team of 2011.
“Is there talent here to win 14 games?” Chavis asked rhetorically. “There wasn't this past year, but eventually there will be. I think that is what coach (Morris) has been talking about. It's a process. But there's some talent here there's no question about that. Certainly at the end of spring practice we'll know a little bit more about where we are.”
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