ATLANTA — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thought he had his man.

Four years ago, both Swinney at Clemson and Les Miles at LSU were looking for new defensive coordinators.

Swinney said he thought he had John Chavis — a native of Dillon, S.C., who had just been let go along with the rest of Phillip Fulmer’s staff at Tennessee — locked up.

Then Miles swooped in and “outrecruited” him.

“Yeah, he was actually coming to Clemson until Les stole him from me right at the last second. Dirty dog,” Swinney said with a laugh at Friday’s Chick-fil-A Bowl news conference.

“He (Chavis) is a great football coach. I’ve known coach Chavis for a long time. I was at Alabama for 13 years, and as far back as I can remember playing and coaching, coach Chavis is roaming the sidelines.”

Miles, asked about Swinney’s tongue-in-cheek remark, claimed to remember nothing.

“I didn’t remember any other schools,” said Miles, who said he was involved in trying to land Chavis while here for LSU’s last Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance against Georgia Tech.

Swinney expressed his respect for Chavis, who will match his ninth-ranked offense (averaging 518.3 yards per game) against Chavis’ eighth-ranked defense (296.2 yards per game allowed).

“I just have the utmost respect for how he handles his business,” Swinney said. “He works very hard in recruiting. He does things the right way. He’s a great on-the-field coach. He loves his players, and I think that’s why they play so hard for him.”

Physical preps for LSU

Swinney has been putting his players through unusually physical bowl practices to get ready to play LSU in Monday night’s game (6:30 p.m. CST, ESPN).

“That’s how they play the game,” Swinney said.

“We pride ourselves on being a very physical football team. We do it a little bit differently than maybe LSU.

“But you have to prepare your team for what they’re going to see. And this is a team that’s gong to line up, and a lot of times there’s one wideout on the field, and it really doesn’t matter whether it’s third-and-10, they’ll run the power right at you. You’d better be prepared for that.”

Ticket talk

LSU’s inability to sell out its Chick-fil-A Bowl allotment of 16,000 tickets has been well documented, as many fans have apparently had a hard time finding the motivation to make the eight-hour drive from Baton Rouge to Atlanta.

LSU’s ticket sales topped out at about 10,500 said sports information director Michael Bonnette.

Apparently, however, Clemson’s ticket sales haven’t fared any better.

Despite the fact the Clemson campus is only two hours from Atlanta, Clemson sold only about 9,000 tickets as of a week ago, according to The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.

Clemson was here to open the season Sept. 1, beating Auburn 26-19 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Attendance for that game was listed at 75,211 at the Georgia Dome, which has a capacity of 71,959.

The rest of LSU’s tickets have been returned to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which bowl President/CEO Gary Stokan said will be redistributed to area first-responders and the USO.

Both schools must purchase the full allotment of tickets from the bowl then try to resell them. LSU senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent said the Southeastern Conference has a policy in place to cover the cost of a portion of the school’s unsold bowl tickets.

Honor surprises Collins

LSU cornerback Jalen Collins had a hard time believing it when he heard he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team earlier this month. Collins started just one game, but has two interceptions and six pass deflections.

“I was really shocked when I found out,” Collins said. “I heard the news when I was heading home from finals when (suspended punter) Brad Wing texted me.

“I was like, ‘Brad, stop playing. You’re joking with me right now.’ He told me he was serious, and I went and looked it up. I was really shocked, and I called my mom.

“It was a great feeling. I really wasn’t expecting anything like that. I guess people are most critical of themselves, so I didn’t think I had a super great year, but I knew I didn’t have a bad year.”

Saturday’s schedule

LSU and Clemson practiced at the Georgia Dome their first three days here, but with the Atlanta Falcons set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers there Sunday both teams were forced to make alternate plans Saturday for their final pre-bowl practices.

LSU will travel 38 miles from their hotel in downtown Atlanta to suburban Flowery Branch to work out at the Atlanta Falcons practice facility. Clemson will stay in town to practice at Georgia Tech.

The last word

Miles turned to Josh Dworaczyk at Friday’s news conference and announced that if he doesn’t go on to the NFL he can return to LSU next season as a graduate assistant.

There was one catch.

“You have to shave, though,” said Miles, drawing a smile from the stubbly face of his sixth-year offensive lineman.

Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this report.