KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It was an emotional return to Neyland Stadium for LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis.
But the best part for him was that it was a successful return.
LSU whipped Tennessee 38-7 on Saturday, and afterward, Chavis was awarded with the game ball in the locker room.
“We gave John the game ball. It was very emotional,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He loves this place, and his kids played awfully well against them.”
For 14 seasons, Chavis was Tennessee’s defensive coordinator under Phillip Fulmer and was as loyal as they come. He turned down numerous offers to go elsewhere and remained at his alma mater, where he walked on and later earned a scholarship as a middle guard in the 1970s.
Chavis’ defenses were the backbone of some of Fulmer’s best teams, in particular the 1998 national championship team. But Fulmer was fired following the 2008 season, and the entire staff was pushed out.
Chavis, whose two sons still live in Knoxville, hadn’t been back to Neyland Stadium prior to Saturday’s game. He admitted that dressing in the visiting locker room and sending in plays from the visiting coaches’ booth created a feeling that was hard to describe.
Before the game, Chavis wasn’t even sure where the visiting booth was in the press box and had to be directed to it.
“I didn’t know what to expect coming back,” said Chavis, who refused to talk about the game during the week because he didn’t want the focus to be on him.
But when it was over Saturday, Chavis lost it emotionally a couple of different times.
His eyes welled up with tears on the field as he hugged his players after the game.
“He hadn’t said much about it, but we knew this one was special to him,” LSU safety Eric Reid said. “We played for him.”
While talking to reporters after the game, Chavis was again reduced to tears.
“I said I’d never do this again, but I did it,” Chavis said. “So I’m a softy. Call me a big baby. It’s great that people still care about you. It was a good feeling to be back in this stadium.”
It was also a good feeling to see his defense limit its opponent to a single touchdown for the third straight week. LSU held Tennessee to 66 total yards in the second half.
Of course, the Vols only had three offensive possessions after halftime, and the third one came with 1:35 to play.
“I’ve never been involved in a game where you had two series in the second half, and that’s basically what we had,” Chavis said. “We played two series of defense in the second half, and the game was over.
“Our offense has done that most of the year. They’ve controlled the football and done a great job of it. Geez, no turnovers. I mean, it’s been amazing. It’s a lot easier to play with that type of offense. There’s no question about that.”
Chavis joked that he almost got bored in the second half.
“I didn’t have anything to do for a good while,” he said. “I had an opportunity to think about 10 different things and forgot about nine of them before they got the ball back.”