In the elevator of LSU’s hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, linebacker Lamar Louis heard the news just hours after a Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame.
Around the same time, linebacker Kendell Beckwith heard the same from teammates. He didn’t believe them.
After all, the scoop shocked him: John Chavis, his position coach, recruiter and coordinator, had already left for the same position at Texas A&M?
“I still didn’t believe it until I actually saw it for myself,” Beckwith said this week. “I tried to be understanding about it. As a man, he had to do what he had to do. I don’t hold no grudges or anything like that.
But, he later said, “It was hurting to me.”
Chavis’ six-year tenure at LSU ended in a bizarre and stunning manner last December. He did not return with the team to Baton Rouge a day after the bowl game on Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, he landed in a private jet with A&M coach Kevin Sumlin at an airport near A&M’s campus – even giving an interview and signing autographs for fans.
Chavis never told his LSU players he was leaving, they say, and they didn’t learn of his departure until hours after the bowl game on Dec. 30.
Most of them – Beckwith and Louis included – have not spoken to the coach since that 31-28 loss to Notre Dame more than 300 days ago.
They’ll get their shot Saturday night after LSU meets Texas A&M in Tiger Stadium – a highly anticipated clash between the Tigers and their ex-coordinator. Both sides – Chavis and LSU players – seem to be pumped for what’s expected to be a drama-filled game.
During his weekly meeting with reporters at A&M on Tuesday, Chavis was asked if he’d be emotional in his return to Tiger Stadium. He said no and then added this line, “I’m excited about walking in there as an Aggie.”
“Chief” – Chavis’ nickname – is stoking what’s already a raging fire. LSU and its former coordinator are embroiled in a now 9-month-old lawsuit regarding his $400,000 buyout.
Just last week, Chavis’ lawyer in Baton Rouge was served with a notice to appear in court for the next hearing in the suit, scheduled for Dec. 14 in the 19th Judicial Court in East Baton Rouge Parish,
The suit has included a host of bitter filings. Each camp has jabbed at the other.
LSU, in court documents, said A&M was in “dire need for defensive help.” Chavis has made serious claims on LSU and athletic director Joe Alleva, saying they changed wording in his contract after he signed it.
One document filed by Chavis says that Alleva became “increasing hostile” with the coach after he refused to sign a new contract because of a clause tying him to head coach Les Miles. The clause “would allow LSU to terminate Chavis’ employment in the event Miles’ employment (is) terminated with LSU,” documents show. The contracts of all other LSU assistants include the clause.
There’s a chance the clause will be carried out soon.
The Chavis storyline has taken a backseat to Miles’ future at the school. Chavis deflected questions about his former boss when asked Tuesday.
“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, not concerned with it. You move on. I spent six years in Baton Rouge. Enjoyed my time there. Most of the people were good to me. A lot of good memories.
“Football is football,” he continued. “As coaches in this business, you know you’re going to run into those situations.”
Miles lobbied for Chavis to remain at LSU in an emotional meeting hours after the Tigers’ bowl loss. He even offered the coach a three-year, $5.4 million offer that Chavis rebuffed. He wanted to keep a guy that helped lead LSU to 61 wins in his six years in Baton Rouge.
“They got a defensive coordinator I’m very familiar with, and he’s a very talented coach,” Miles said this week. “We’ll look forward to hosting him in our stadium.”
Chavis’ A&M defense is ranked 49th nationally allowing 370.8 yards a game – a far cry better than past Aggie units. A&M has ranked 111th and 104th the previous two seasons.
Coach Kevin Sumlin and his high-flying offense has the luxury of having Chavis on their side in this meeting with the Tigers. A&M’s offense averaged 17.5 points in four meetings against a Chavis-led LSU defense.
Chavis’ knowledge of LSU’s offense is an advantage, but it works both ways, Sumlin said.
“There’s some familiarity on both sides. Got to remember he worked there too,” Sumlin said. “They went against him every day also. People forget about that.”
Not receiver Malachi Dupre. LSU’s sophomore wideout says Chavis runs the same scheme he did here in Baton Rouge. The receiver even said he’d joke with Chavis during LSU practices about scoring on his unit.
“We’d joke around with him, trying to make plays against their defense and always making plays against their defense,” Dupre said, eliciting a chuckle from reporters.
“They know him, know him pretty well,” Beckwith said on LSU’s offensive players.
Beckwith admits that he was one of the players hurt by Chavis’ abrupt departure and that he hasn’t spoken to the coach since. He’s unsure if he’ll talk to him after Saturday’s game. Louis said the same.
“It was a little disappointing, a little upsetting,” Louis said, “and then I realized it’s becoming a business. College football is a business.”
Linebacker Deion Jones spoke to Chavis over the summer – but only by accident. Chavis and LSU defensive coordinator Kevin Steele are close friends who grew up together and played ball at Tennessee.
Jones walked into Steele’s office this summer for a meeting. Steele, on the phone, passed the device to Jones. It was Chavis.
“I spoke to him for a little bit,” Jones said. “He said, ‘Keep working hard, get after it this year and do what you came to college to do.’”
“A lot of good kids I really care for,” Chavis said when asked about meeting former players this weekend. “Wish them the best, but not on this Saturday.”
How LSU’s current defense compares to those coached by John Chavis from 2009-2014.
2009: 26th (327.6)
2010: 12th (307.2)
2011: 2nd (261.5)
2012: 8th (307.6)
2013: 15th (340.7)
2014: 9th (316.8)
2015: 35th (351.7)
How Texas A&M’s 2015 defense compares to those five before John Chavis arrived.
2010: 55th (364.3)
2011: 59th (378.2)
2012: 58th (390.2)
2013: 111th (475.8)
2014: 104th (450.8)
2015: 49th (370.8)
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.