Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Reporter
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @wwltvsports
NEW ORLEANS ― In 1998, John Chavis helped guide Tennessee to a 13-0 record and the national championship.
It was the culmination of a period in which he helped the Vols go 45-5, including 27-3 in the SEC, over a four-season period.
There was no reason to believe, at that point, that Chavis wouldn’t get a chance to coach in a national championship game again.
Twelve years later, he’s finally getting that chance, this time as LSU’s defensive coordinator instead of Tennessee’s.
“You know, you coach in this profession a long time and I did before I had the first opportunity (to coach in a title game) and certainly there are people that have had several opportunities,” Chavis said, “but to be back a second time is special.”
Monday night, Chavis’ snarling defense gets its second shot at Alabama; No. 1 LSU (13-0) plays No. 2 Alabama (11-1) in the BCS championship game at 7:30.
LSU’s defense is as good as they come.
They’re No. 2 in total defense, allowing only 252.08 yards per game. They’re No. 2 in scoring defense, allowing 10.5 points per game.
They’re No. 3 in passing efficiency defense, opposing quarterbacks recording a paltry 92.4 QB rating. And they’re No. 3 in rushing defense, giving up just 85.46 yards per game on the ground.
The key to it all is that the players have bought into what Chavis has been selling.
“I don’t know how he does it with his schemes or whatnot, but he puts this team in the position to be successful and we just go out and make the plays that he put us in to make,” defensive back Morris Claiborne said.
Added defensive tackle Michael Brockers, “He tells us we’re great players and we’re playmakers, also. I mean, just giving us that free reign over the defense to make plays, I feel that’s a big part of our defense.”
Brockers said Chavis has two different personas – an on-field one and another one off of it.
That’s why the players and coaches respect him so much, the sophomore said.
“He’s out there telling us what we have to do and kind of correcting us on our mistakes,” Brockers said. “But, I mean, what makes him a great coach is when we’re off the field and we want to joke around, he jokes around with us. And I feel like that’s why his coaches respect him and we play so well for him, because he’s so down to earth when it’s not football time, when we’re not doing football.
“And when it is football, you know, he’s as strict as possible.”
LSU hasn’t allowed more than 17 points since Sept. 24, when West Virginia cored 21 in the Tigers’ 47-21 win in Morgantown, W.Va.
Since then, LSU has given up 7 to Kentucky, 11 to then-No. 17 Florida, 7 to Tennessee, 10 to then-No. 19 Auburn, 6 to then No. 2 Alabama, 9 to Western Kentucky, 3 to Ole Miss, 17 to then-No. 3 Arkansas and 10 to then-No. 12 Georgia.
But, at least for the defense, it all goes back to the season opener against Oregon. The Tigers held Oregon to 95 nets rushing yards, 200 below what the Ducks finished the season averaging.
That’s when Chavis and his players realized they had something special, even if it was one game in.
“That Oregon game gave me a lot of confidence as well as the players,” Chavis said. “I know they came out of that game with a lot of confidence because Oregon is a fine football team. You get that kind of opener and that kind of momentum going, I think it certainly helped propel us through the rest of the season.”