Despite 8-5 record in 2008, LSU still an attractive job opportunity
by Glenn Guilbeau
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
One was at a major Southeastern Conference brand name since 1989.
Another was an assistant at Notre Dame and worked for one of the greatest coaches in SEC history. The other comes from one of the original NFL teams.
But all three new LSU assistant coaches sound like brand new coaches with keys to the executive wash room when they talk about LSU.
“It’s going to be an exciting time for us all here,” new defensive coordinator John Chavis, formerly of Tennessee, said at a press conference at LSU on Friday afternoon. “I’d like to say that one of the things that appeals to me the most about LSU is the ability to win championships. When you think about LSU, that’s the first thing that comes to mind - winning championships and doing things the right way. Certainly, since I’ve been here that’s what I’ve seen. That’s what I saw from afar, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Chavis was the only coach in America in 2007 to hold the national champion Tigers to one offensive touchdown in a 21-14 loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game. The Tigers, who finished 2007 at No. 11 in the nation in scoring offense with 38.6 points a game, got to 21 with an interception return for a touchdown by Jonathan Zenon, two Colt David field goals, a Ryan Perrilloux touchdown pass and a Perrilloux two-point conversion run. In all 13 other games last season, the Tigers scored three or more offensive touchdowns and in 12 of those they scored 4 or more.
This is a major reason why LSU coach Les Miles hired Chavis. Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer and occasionally eliminate the enemy by hiring him.
Chavis’ defense also helped hand Miles a loss in Miles’ Tiger Stadium debut back in 2005 when the Tigers blew a 21-0 halftime lead and lost in overtime, 30-27, as LSU’s offense mustered only a field goal in the second half of regulation and a field goal in OT against Chavis. LSU apologist reporters who sideline as revisionist historians along with LSU athletic department spin specialists like to say LSU lost that game because of Hurricane Katrina. The Tigers lost that game because then-defensive coordinator Bo Pelini didn’t know what he was doing yet as he let weak-armed quarterback Rick Clausen beat him, and because Chavis thoroughly dismantled LSU’s offense in the second half. Miles also made a major clock management blunder at the end of the first half that foreshadowed the trouble turned fortune at the end of the Auburn game in 2007.
Miles wisely wanted Chavis and got him. Meanwhile, Chavis has long watched LSU with a lot of respect and admiration, going back to the No. 21 Tigers’ stunning, 31-20 upset of No. 2 Tennessee in the 2001 SEC championship game. He also liked that LSU defense of Pelini’s in last year’s SEC title game. In addition to Zenon’s interception, an interception by middle linebacker Darry Beckwith late in the game iced it.
“Obviously it hadn’t been that long that they were in the national championship and did a great job,” Chavis said. “I think talent wise they’ve done a great job. In recruiting, I think the university sells itself from that standpoint. And the more I find out about it, the more I get excited. But a big part of it was coach Miles and what he stands for and what he believes in. I’m delighted to be working for coach Miles. I think he’s a great man. That’s obvious. You guys know that already. It’s going to be a great situation.”
Chavis has also long admired the high school talent in Louisiana. Tennessee has nothing to compare to it.
“There’re a lot more big time athletes in this proximity compared to what I’m used to,” Chavis said. “We had to go a lot farther to find those athletes.”
Once LSU finishes off a possible No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, Chavis will begin fitting his defense to such talented players as safety Chad Jones, cornerback Patrick Peterson and many others.
“Obviously the biggest thing is to get to know our players, spend some time with them,” he said. “We’re going to be putting in a new system. It’ll be very similar, but there’ll be some things that will be also different that our players will have to learn. What coaching is all about is making the best out of what you have to work with.”
New secondary coach Ron Cooper left the same position at South Carolina where he coached under SEC revolutionary Steve Spurrier. In the early 1990s, he was an assistant at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz. Yet he was as blown away as a wide-eyed high school stud on a junior day after his interview with Miles at LSU just after the first of the year.
“I just saw what they’ve got going there,” Cooper told The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C. “It was sort of unbelievable. They’ve got something special going there.”
Guess South Carolina is chopped chicken. The night before the Gamecocks got blown out by Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Cooper was not watching Iowa film. He was watching the Tigers blow away No. 14 Georgia Tech, 38-3, in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“I was excited as I sat at the Outback Bowl the night before that game and watched the LSU football team play,” he said. “A lot of times you can tell the character of a program when people think they’re down and out and the game won’t even be close. And the way that this football team competed after the things they had gone through shows the overall character and where this program is. So I’m excited and love what I’ve seen so far, and we’re looking forward to knowing all the players and the fans.”
Cooper, who first got to know Miles in the 1990s while he was Eastern Michigan’s head coach and Miles was an assistant at Michigan, found it exciting just talking to Miles again.
“As I came over to visit with coach two weeks ago, I was totally impressed,” he said. “In coaching, you look for the right combination. You look for the right feel, but it didn’t take long. I’ve known coach Miles for a long time, but there are not a lot of coaches that are fired up like he’s fired up about a situation and about the things that can happen here at LSU. There’s no doubt in my mind that there is going to be success.”
New defensive line coach Brick Haley also found himself engrossed in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“I’m very glad to be here,” he said. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to be here and to coach some of the guys that I’ve seen. Kind of like coach Cooper said, I had an opportunity to watch the bowl game. I was very excited about what I saw up front. I thought there were a bunch of quality players here, and hopefully we’ll get to make them a little bit better and hopefully make the season a little bit better.”
To Haley, Tiger Stadium has more of “it” than Soldier Field in Chicago, where he coached the Bears’ defensive line.
“When I first pulled up and saw the stadium here, I was like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t have that feeling when I walked into Soldier Field,” he said. “It’s a little different. College football is exciting. I want to be a part of that, and I’m glad coach Miles gave me an opportunity to come back and be part of such a great place. I can always remember not wanting to come over here and play at night. That was one of my greatest fears in college coaching – coming to play in Baton Rouge at night. Hopefully, we can strike the same fear in some other people.”
Miles apparently did not have to do a lot of selling in making his most hires after a season since he has been at LSU.
“I promise you this, I reviewed them. I’ve interviewed them. I knew them, and they’re what we need. They’re exactly what we need,” he said. “We’ll do a great job preparing a defense, and it will augment our team. These are team men. They’re family men, and they’ll mentor our players, and it’s exactly right.”
Glenn Guilbeau covers LSU Athletics for the Gannett News Service. Read him daily at LSUBeat.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.