HOOVER, Ala. — The word had barely left Julien Obioha’s mouth before he quickly corrected himself.
“Chavis …” he said before pausing, “Chief … has a fiery personality.”
Texas A&M players like Obioha, one of the Aggies defensive linemen, are still adjusting to their new defensive coordinator. You may have heard of him: John Chavis, LSU’s former defensive coordinator who’s referred to as “Chief” by his players, friends and fellow coaches.
“Chief” is settling into his new gig with the Aggies. He’s been implementing his aggressive schemes and wild formations, including the “Mustang.” He’s even showing his new A&M players LSU film so they can learn the system, players say.
He’s brought more confidence and intensity to an A&M defense that ranked 104th nationally last season, coach Kevin Sumlin said.
What else has he done? Make headlines — all of it stemming from a nasty divorce with LSU that’s led to a nearly five-month-old litigation saga.
Chavis was a hot topic during Texas A&M’s time at Southeastern Conference media day Tuesday as reporters peppered Sumlin and Aggies players about their new defensive coordinator. Also Tuesday, The Advocate learned of news in the on-going court battle between Chavis and LSU.
A hearing has been set for Aug. 21 in Chavis’ Texas-based lawsuit against his employer-turned-rival, court records show. LSU is arguing for Judge Travis Bryan III to dismiss the lawsuit on grounds of jurisdiction, something that could happen at the hearing.
The hearing will be the first court meeting between the two parties in Chavis’ suit against the school, which is playing out in the 272nd District Court in Brazos County, Texas, the home of Texas A&M.
The August hearing is the latest in a litigation battle that began with LSU and Chavis filing dueling suits against one another — Chavis’ in Texas and LSU’s in Louisiana — on Feb. 27 regarding the coach’s buyout. The school says he owes $400,000 for breaking his contract early, while Chavis and Texas A&M claim he does not.
Attorneys in both cases are squabbling over the venue for the suit — Texas or Louisiana — and want the other’s suit dismissed or stopped.
The suits have provided some juicy moments since February, including the current judges in each case. Bryan, the judge ruling on the case in Texas, received his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M. The judge overseeing the Louisiana case, Timothy Kelley, is an LSU graduate and football season-ticket holder.
And now, the latest date of interest in the court battle comes just a week before the season begins. The suits are sure to drag deep into the fall and beyond. LSU hosts A&M in the last game of the regular season, Nov. 28.
“It hasn’t been a distraction to me at all,” a smiling Sumlin said Tuesday in front of hundreds of reporters at the Wynfrey Hotel.
The lawsuits both hang on the timing of Chavis’ departure from LSU. Sumlin told ESPN radio in January that he spoke to Chavis just minutes before LSU’s game against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl — something he denied Tuesday when asked.
He gave a three-word answer without expounding: “That’s not true.”
What is true? That Sumlin hired the coach after Chavis-led LSU defenses shut down A&M’s high-flying offense for the past three seasons.
“That’s exactly what I did,” Sumlin quipped.
LSU held the Aggies to fewer than 20 points in each of the last three meetings — all Tigers wins. Sumlin took notice and even admitted that he studied Chavis’ scheme after those losses.
“His style, we’ve studied it so much over the course of the last three years in the offseason to try to get better,” Sumlin said. “Like I told him, I know this thing like the back of my hand. I just need to know what you call it because I can tell you what it is.”
Players are learning the names, including Chavis’ popular passing-down package, “Mustang.”
“It’s nice,” Obioha said. “I’ve never thought I’d line up at nose (tackle).”
They’re learning about the man who helped guide LSU to five top-15 finishes in his six seasons in Baton Rouge.
“He’s fiery,” Obioha said. “You can tell why LSU plays the way they do. It’s just an honor to play for him.”
Chavis’ first words to A&M players: “We’re here to win championships. Nothing else,” Obioha said.
The 270-pound Obioha knows Chavis better than most of his teammates. He is a Brother Martin graduate and was recruited by the coach in high school.
“Funny, because I decided to go to another school, and he followed me,” a smiling Obioha said.
Offensive players like lineman Mike Matthews and Germain Ifedi are seeing Chavis’ influence.
“They’re focusing on getting up field and disrupting the play,” Matthews said.
“They’re aggressive. They can get after it,” Ifedi said. “They’re not afraid to come after you. It’s a welcome sight.”
Chavis hasn’t spoken about LSU at all, Obioha said, but he has shown A&M players film of the Tigers so his defense can better sink in.
It’s sinking in, Obioha said, and so is the title of A&M’s new defensive guru.
“You know to call him, ‘Chief,’” Obioha said. “He doesn’t have to tell you. You know.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.