Texas A&M's John Chavis to make first return to LSU since departure

Under new coordinator John Chavis, Texas A&M's defense ranks 47th nationally in yards per play and is tied for 34th in scoring defense. Courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- For six seasons, John Chavis helped LSU win games, recruit players and built championship-caliber defenses. There were relationships established and it was a time that Chavis called enjoyable.

On Saturday, for the first time since he left LSU, Chavis -- now Texas A&M's defensive coordinator -- will walk into Tiger Stadium as an opponent. There's familiarity, intrigue and anticipation surrounding the return of "Chief." But will there be extra emotion when he walks into Death Valley on Saturday night, the place he once called home?

"No," Chavis said Tuesday. "I've been there a bunch. Obviously I've spent six years there, but I also was in there a bunch before that [as an opponent]. It's SEC football. That's what it's all about. I'll tell you this: I'm excited about walking in there as an Aggie."

There are plenty of storylines surrounding the Aggies' visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday. In the offseason, Chavis' return figured to be at the forefront, but now it is secondary to the hottest topic around LSU circles this week -- head coach Les Miles' job status.

That said, Chavis is still a topic of conversation, one broached to Miles at his weekly news conference Monday.

"They have a defensive coordinator that we're very familiar with," Miles said. "He's a very talented coach and we'll look forward to hosting him in our stadium."

Asked if they still keep in contact, Miles said "Well he coaches for another club, so it becomes a problem." He did acknowledge that it isn't necessarily ideal to go against someone you have worked with.

"We've lined up against former coaches before and I can tell you that it's never a fond thing, it's never a good thing," Miles said, "but I think it's going to be fun competition."

If Saturday does indeed turn out to be Miles' final game as the Tigers' coach, the timing of Chavis' departure will seem at least somewhat prescient. It was difficult to leave, Chavis admitted this year, because of the relationships he established with players he coached. He felt Texas A&M provided an exciting opportunity, however, and Chavis has repeatedly expressed happiness with his decision since arriving in Aggieland.

Still, seeing familiar faces will add a layer of intrigue.

"Obviously we're competitors and we're going to compete," Chavis said. "That makes it somewhat different. I don't say difficult, because when it's time to compete that's what you go do. [They have] a lot of good kids that I really care for and I wish them the best -- but not on this Saturday."

Some players noted they haven't spoken to Chavis since he left, which was in the aftermath of LSU's Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame on Dec. 30, 2014. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported that Chavis didn't return with the team on a flight the next day and that he never told his players that he was leaving. Some admit his departure hurt them emotionally.

There is also an ongoing legal kerfuffle involving Chavis and LSU regarding a $400,000 buyout that the school says Chavis owes and that Chavis refutes.

Since the parties separated, A&M's defense has taken a step forward and LSU's has taken a step back. After being in the bottom 30 in the country in yards per game allowed, the Aggies are 49th nationally this season, 47th in yards per play and tied for 34th in scoring defense. LSU, under new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, is 35th in yards allowed per game, 50th in yards per play, and 58th in scoring defense, a far cry from where Chavis typically had LSU's defenses ranked in his time there.

Though the coaches might not explicitly say it, there are likely to be significant emotions involved. Miles and his staff have their own issues to deal with for now, and Chavis' unit has the unenviable task of slowing down running back Leonard Fournette. The Aggies have struggled against elite rushing attacks this season.

What happens between the lines is Chavis' focus, not storylines.

"Really this is going to be about Texas A&M and LSU on the football field," he said. "I don't know what's going on [at LSU] and really I'm not concerned with it. You move on. I spent six years in Baton Rouge, I enjoyed my time there, most of the people were good to me, it was a great experience, won a conference championship, went 13-0, a lot of good memories.

"But football is football. And as coaches, in this business, you know you're going to run into some of those situations ... My focus is on Texas A&M and getting them prepared to play this week."