HOOVER, Ala. — New Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey stood at the podium Monday at SEC media days and talked about how the times are changing.
So are the stories.
Back in January, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin admitted in a radio interview that he spoke on Dec. 30 to then-LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis minutes before Tigers kicked off against Notre Dame in the Music City Bowl. Shortly after the bowl, Chavis bolted for A&M to become the Aggies new defensive coordinator, making Chavis and lawyers for both schools richer as they engage in an ongoing legal wrangle over the $400,000 buyout in Chavis’ contract.
Tuesday, Sumlin was asked about it again. We refer you the official transcript:
Question: How much of a distraction has the Chavis/LSU lawsuit been? And is it true that you called him just before kickoff of LSU’s bowl game?
Coach Sumlin: That’s not true, and it hasn’t been a distraction to me at all.
“That’s not true.” Really? Quite an audible by Sumlin, and a gridiron-sized piece of revisionist history.
Sumlin changing his story isn’t a revelation from a certain perspective. Coaches lie. Frequently. That he would say one thing and six months later change his story to something else that doesn’t make him look like a claim jumper on LSU’s turf isn’t surprising.
Some may look at the way the question was asked and parse words about whether Sumlin may have called Chavis the day of the Music City Bowl, or whether Chavis might have called him (Operator, reverse the charges, please). But the call happened, to the extent Sumlin fired his then-pool boy for tweeting that he overheard Sumlin on the phone with someone, hoping (though not sure, it must be said) that it was Chavis.
“Just cleaned Sumlin’s pool,” Texas A&M student Rustin McFarland posted in a message at 1:38 p.m. that day, 22 minutes before the bowl kicked off. “Saw him on the phone, hopefully with our new DC!”
Sumlin responded within minutes — also via Twitter, shrewd move — “You just lost your job!” Again, no absolute proof that he was talking to Chavis, but Sumlin wouldn’t have gotten that upset if McFarland had overheard him setting up a service call for his Escalade.
Sumlin’s courtship of Chavis had to have an affect on how Chavis prepared his defense for Notre Dame, a defense that was chewed up for 31 points, 449 total yards and was on the field for 36 minutes, 39 seconds against the Irish. He can’t have completely had his mind on his work. And even if he did, the perception was simply awful for Chavis and Sumlin.
Chavis was observed during bowl week getting off the team bus at practice with his cell phone glued to his ear. Now Chavis could have been talking to a recruit, though now stories have come out painting Chavis as less than an enthusiastic recruiter. But it at least raises the possibility he was talking with Sumlin the whole time LSU was getting ready for the bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.
Sumlin, known for his high-octane offenses, has made bank on the fact that he made Johnny Manziel his quarterback three years ago, even though at this event three years ago, Sumlin said he had yet to decide who would quarterback the Aggies.
His offenses were stuffed in a football locker by Chavis’ LSU defenses, never scoring more than 19 points against the Tigers. Did you kind of take the mindset that if you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em, coach?
“I didn’t kind of. That’s exactly what I did,” Sumlin said.
This I can believe.
Chavis will make the Aggies defense better. It won’t be difficult. Texas A&M was last in the SEC in yards surrendered in 2014, spending the entire season in full retreat mode allowing 450.8 yards per game.
But one note of caution for the Aggies: LSU’s offense, for all its well-earned knocks, was second in the SEC last season in time of possession (33:08 per game). Texas A&M’s quick-strike offense was last at 26:15. That means Chavis’ troops are going to spend a lot more time on the field. A lot more chances to be exposed.
Naturally, though, they’re gaga over Chavis in College Station. They see Chavis as some sort of gruff-talking savior in coaches shorts.
LSU “doesn’t do anything spectacular” on defense, A&M offensive tackle German Ifedi said Tuesday, which is sort of a backhanded compliment to Chavis. “They don’t have the greatest players in the world. But they just always had the right answers for what you’re doing.
“(Chavis) has proven he can do more with less and even more with more.”
If there’s a good thing about The Chavis Affair, it’s how much it’s sure to pepper the gumbo — to borrow a line from new LSU defensive line coach Ed Orgeron in “The Blind Side” — of an already saucy LSU-A&M rivalry.
“There’s always subplots,” Sumlin said.
This is a subplot that persists in wanting to be the main event.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.