With 19 years of experience as a highly successful defensive coordinator in college football’s toughest conference – the SEC – John Chavis has earned his reputation as being one of the best defensive coaches in the game. Chavis, also known as “Chief,” enters his sixth season as LSU’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in 2014.
In 19 years as a defensive coordinator in the SEC, Chavis has been a part of 17 bowl games, 11 10-win seasons and appeared in the SEC Championship Game six times.
Now entering his sixth year at LSU, Chavis has seen 21 players that he’s coached selected in the NFL Draft, including five in the first round, while also producing seven first-team All-Americans and nine first-team All-SEC performers. Over the past three years, six of the nine draft-eligible players who have started on the defensive line for the Tigers have been picked in the NFL Draft. In 2013, LSU became the first school in NFL Draft history to have six defensive players selected during the first three rounds. LSU finished with eight defenders selected in the 2013 NFL Draft, including first rounders in Barkevious Mingo (No. 5 overall) and Eric Reid (No. 18 overall). LSU was recently tabbed as “Defensive Line U.” by ESPN.
Chavis, the recipient of the 2011 Broyles National Assistant Coach of the Year, brings a philosophy to the field that features aggressive play, a commitment to physicality, and one that has the Tigers displaying a certain swagger. Chavis also coaches and recruits by the principal that there’s no substitute for speed, no matter the position on the field.
In his five years with the Tigers, Chavis’ defense has ranked in the top 12 nationally in total yards and scoring three times (2010, ’11 and ’12). The Tigers have forced 132 turnovers, and the LSU defense has accounted for 12 touchdowns and a pair of safeties. In 66 games with the Tigers, Chavis’ defense has held the opponent to fewer than 100 net rushing yards 27 times.
In spite of losing seven starters and eight players to the NFL from the 2012 squad, Chavis managed to put together a defensive unit that ranked No. 15 nationally in total defense, allowing 340.7 yards (143.2 rushing, 197.5 passing). With seven first time starters in the lineup, including a true freshman cornerback, the Tigers managed to rank No. 13 in the nation in passing yards allowed and No. 21 in scoring defense (22.0). For the second straight year, LSU shut down the nation’s most explosive player in quarterback Johnny Manziel, limiting the Aggies to a season-low 10 points and 299 total yards in the 34-10 victory.
LSU put together another outstanding season on defense in 2012 despite losing a pair of first-round draft picks and the top defensive player in college football prior to the season. The Tigers still managed to rank No. 8 nationally in total defense (307.6 yards per game) and No. 9 in rushing defense (101.6). LSU also allowed just 17.5 points per game, its fourth consecutive year of yielding 18 points or less.
LSU had its best year yet under Chavis in 2011 as the Tigers capped the year ranked in the top five in the nation in four categories including total defense (No. 2 at 261.5), scoring defense (No. 2 at 11.29), pass efficiency defense (No. 3 with 95.58 rating) and rushing defense (No. 5 at 90.07). LSU also ranked No. 8 nationally in pass defense with 171.43 yards per game.
LSU’s 2011 defense featured a young and explosive defensive front along with arguably the nation’s top secondary with two national award winners in Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne. LSU allowed only six first half touchdowns, including just two in the first quarter all season, as the Tigers rode their dominant defense’s style of play to a 13-0 regular season mark and the SEC title.
In both 2010 and 2011, Chavis and the Tigers defense featured the Thorpe Award winner (nation’s top defensive back) in Patrick Peterson in 2010 and Claiborne in 2011, as well as the Bednarik Award winner (nation’s top defender) in Peterson and Mathieu in 2011. LSU was also home to the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in Peterson (2010), Mathieu (2011 by AP) and Claiborne (2011 by Coaches).
LSU had four players off its 2011 defense selected in the NFL Draft, including two first rounders in Claiborne (6th overall) and defensive tackle Michael Brockers (12th overall).
In 2010, LSU led the SEC and ranked 10th in the nation in pass defense (169.8), were No. 11 in scoring defense (18.2) and No. 12 in total defense (307.2).
Chavis’ 2010 defense featured Peterson, who was picked with the fifth overall selection in NFL Draft, along with linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and defensive tackle Drake Nevis, who were both All-SEC First-Team picks.
In his first year at LSU in 2009, Chavis turned around a Tiger defense, taking a unit that ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 2008 to one that was among the top four in the league the following year. LSU finished the 2009 season ranked third in the league and 11th in the nation in scoring defense and they were fourth in the SEC in rushing defense. LSU allowed only six rushing TD’s in 2009, the second-lowest total in the league.
Chavis, who has 25 years of experience in the rugged SEC, has produced a defense that has ranked among the top four in the league in total defense 14 times during his 19 seasons as a coordinator. Furthermore, Chavis has developed 41 players into first-team All-SEC selections since 1995 with another 15 earning first team All-America honors.
In addition to his duties as defensive coordinator, Chavis also coaches linebackers, a position which has included an NFL draft pick four of the past five years. Most recently, Lamin Barrow was a fifth round pick in 2014.
Prior to his arrival in Baton Rouge in 2009, Chavis spent 14 seasons as the defensive coordinator at Tennessee, helping the Vols to win at least nine games in a season 11 times. The Vols reached the 10-win mark eight times during his time as defensive coordinator, which included a school-record 13 victories during their national championship season in 1998. The Vols had 11 wins 1995, 1997, and 2001 and they won 10 games in 1996, 2003, 2004, and 2007.
With Chavis as the defensive coordinator, Tennessee made five appearances in the SEC Championship Game, winning the league title in 1997 and 1998, and they were invited to three BCS bowl games.
Other coaching accomplishments for Chavis at Tennessee include coaching four linebackers to first-team All-America honors in Leonard Little (1997), Al Wilson (1998), Raynoch Thompson (1999) and Kevin Burnett (2004). All four of those players were selected in the NFL Draft with Wilson being a first round selection. Chavis also coached Jerod Mayo, who was the 10th player taken in the 2008 NFL Draft and was named the 2008 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Off the field, Chavis is an advocate for sickle cell anemia and he annually hosts a golf tournament to raise money and awareness about the disease.
Chavis, who is originally from Dillon, S.C., is married to the former Diane Crisp. They are the parents of sons, John and Jason.
Assistant Coach John Chavis
YEAR AT LSU: Sixth (appointed Jan. 5, 2009)
BIRTHDATE: Oct. 16, 1956 in Dillon, S.C.
WIFE: Diane Crisp Davis
CHILDREN: John, Jason
HIGH SCHOOL: Dillon (S.C.) High School
COLLEGE: Tennessee, ‘79
1976-78 Tennessee (middle guard)
1979 Tennessee (graduate assistant)
1980-83 Alabama A&M (defensive line)
1984-85 Alabama State (defensive coordinator)
1986-88 Alabama A&M (defensive coordinator)
1989-2008 Tennessee (defensive line/linebackers, 1989-94; defensive coordinator/linebackers, 1995-2008)
2009- LSU (defensive coordinator/linebackers)
Season Bowl Team Opponent Results
1979 Bluebonnet Tennessee Purdue L, 27-22
1989 Cotton Tennessee Arkansas W, 31-27
1990 Sugar Tennessee Virginia W, 23-22
1991 Fiesta Tennessee Penn State L, 42-17
1992 Hall of Fame Tennessee Boston College W, 38-23
1993 Florida Citrus Tennessee Penn State L, 31-13
1994 Gator Tennessee Virginia Tech W, 45-23
1995 Florida Citrus Tennessee Ohio State W, 20-14
1996 Florida Citrus Tennessee Northwestern W, 48-28
1997 Orange Tennessee Nebraska L, 42-17
1998 Fiesta Tennessee Florida State W, 23-16
1999 Fiesta Tennessee Nebraska L, 31-21
2000 Cotton Tennessee Kansas State L, 35-21
2001 Florida Citrus Tennessee Michigan W, 45-17
2002 Peach Tennessee Maryland L, 30-3
2003 Peach Tennessee Clemson L, 27-14
2004 Cotton Tennessee Texas A&M W, 38-7
2006 Outback Tennessee Penn State L, 20-10
2007 Outback Tennessee Wisconsin W, 21-17
2009 Capital One LSU Penn State L, 19-17
2010 Cotton Bowl LSU Texas A&M W, 41-24
2011 BCS LSU Alabama L, 21-0
2012 Chick-fil-A LSU Clemson L, 25-24
2013 Outback LSU Iowa W, 21-14