KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis is focused on beating another Southeastern Conference opponent this week. That team just happens to be his alma mater and the place he spent two decades coaching.
"I know this is going to sound cliche. I have moved on," Chavis said. "Certainly I had a wonderful stay there. It was a great opportunity, and we had a really fun time there. I think probably in my mind some of the best years in Tennessee football history. That was good and it was good being there, but I've moved on since then."
It's been nearly two years since Chavis stoically gathered his belongings and left Tennessee's Neyland Stadium for the last time, ending a 20-year career with the Vols with a strong defensive performance over Kentucky.
The man known to his players and colleagues as "Chief" probably would have stayed at Tennessee for the rest of his career, given the chance. But his boss Phillip Fulmer was fired, and Chavis found a home almost immediately at LSU.
Chavis' dominating defenses were a staple at Tennessee, helping the Volunteers win two SEC titles and the 1998 national championship. Now they are just as much a part of LSU's brand.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0) currently rank ninth in the nation and top in the SEC, limiting opponents to an average 254 yards per game. Chavis' defenses have ranked among the top 20 in the nation five times in the past decade, and the Vols were third in the FBS in total defense when he was forced out at the end of the 2008 season.
Vols coach Derek Dooley has faced Chavis' defenses enough to have plenty of respect for the way his players compete. He faced Chavis' Tennessee defenses in 2000 and twice in 2001 when he was an LSU assistant and coached against Chavis' first LSU defense last year as Louisiana Tech's coach.
"He's one of the best in the country," Dooley said. "His defenses are always aggressive and fast and physical, and he brings a lot of pressure. You've got to earn it. You've got to earn it the hard way, so it's going to be a challenge for us. And I know he's going to be licking his chops right now seeing our young offense and our problems we've had in the last four games."
Vols senior linebacker Nick Reveiz got his chance from Chavis, who also played linebacker, after walking onto the team in 2006. The lessons Reveiz learned from his former defensive coordinator helped him work his way into a scholarship in 2008 and a starting role in 2009.
"Chief ... he's the man that will get after you," Reveiz said. "I'll never forget my butt-chewings I've gotten from him because he's a guy who can make you feel pretty bad, but he can also make you feel pretty good. He's a great man. I have so much respect for coach Chavis. He believed in me."
Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) wrapped up its overtime win against UAB last week early enough to give Reveiz a chance to watch Chavis' defense keep the Tigers alive in their 20-14 win over West Virginia. He saw plenty of the stingy blitzes characteristic of Tennessee's defense under Chavis, but he also figures they're no longer named "Smokey blitzes" after the Vols' mascot.
"People were asking me if I was going to be scouting for our offense because sometimes when I watch LSU I try to see if I can call the plays. I tried to do that versus West Virginia, but I wasn't extremely successful," Reveiz said.
It's the players like Reveiz that Chavis misses about Tennessee. He phoned Reveiz last season after the linebacker's season ended from a torn knee ligament.
He might call a few more of the Vols — but only after this game and the season is through. For now, he's got to focus on the Tigers where he's formed equally strong bonds.
"I'm more concerned with purple and gold, and that's where I'm going to be," Chavis said. "That's what this is all about. It's about LSU, not about me in any way, obviously. But there are some kids, like I said, maybe I'll pick up the phone and give them a shout."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this story.