Despite track record, Chavis hire fails to thrill some

By: Harry King
Published: Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis watches drills before the start of an NCAA college football game against Ole Miss Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)
Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis watches drills before the start of an NCAA college football game against Ole Miss Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/Sam Craft)

— Tracking enthusiasm for Arkansas football since the hiring of Chad Morris, the graph resembled the onward and upward chart of the 2017 stock market until the media zeroed in on the identity of the Razorbacks’ new defensive coordinator.

In reaction to John Chavis’s name, Razorback fever leveled off.

Morris’ hiring in early December fired up the Razorback base, mostly because of points promised in Arkansas’ new-look offense. Fans gorged on statistics compiled by Morris offenses at Clemson and SMU, speculated about which on-campus personnel would fit best the up-tempo spread, and perpetuated the enthusiasm by repeating Morris’s image-inspiring catch phrases.

Early on, it was assumed Chavis would be named the Arkansas coordinator a day or two after Texas A&M completed its Dec. 29 bowl game. At one point, Wikipedia even identified him as Arkansas’ coordinator. Later, his employer was changed back to the Aggies.

After two weeks of waiting, the Arkansas hiring was announced, but fans’ offense-only conversations had already been diluted by “why him?” and “how much?” Likely packaging the return of Steve Caldwell, a good recruiter and proven commodity at Arkansas, and others with the Chavis announcement is unlikely to move the needle more than a smidge.

Contributing to the discontent, A&M replaced the 61-year-old Chavis with 40-year-old Mike Elko of Notre Dame, and Ohio State hired Alex Grinch, who is in his 30s, as co-defensive coordinator in the days preceding the Arkansas announcement.

Morris set himself up for such pushback before Christmas when he said, “We’re going to get the best coordinator in the country.”

Eight days later at the Belk Bowl in Charlotte - the site where a loss a year earlier contributed to the firing of Bret Bielema - Wake Forest reminded Razorback fans that Chavis’ defense at A&M was not the end-all. The Aggies gave up 55 points in 60 minutes to a five-loss ACC team and some fans quickly recalled that was the same defense that allowed 43 points by Arkansas in September 2017.

To be fair to Chavis, recent results must be weighed against his long-time reputation as one of the best. Folks on both sides can cherry-pick stats to support their position, but his achievements at Tennessee and LSU involved more than 70 players taken in the NFL draft during 25 years.

More recently, nasayers hold up the Wake Forest loss and the fact that A&M was 28th in the country in scoring defense in Chavis’ first year, but dropped 12 spots in 2016, and was 87th after the recent bowl game.

Likewise, the Aggies were No. 51 and No. 56 in yards allowed per play, but 68th this year. For those who care, Arkansas was No. 116 in that category in 2017.

On the other hand, A&M’s interim head coach, Jeff Banks, defended Chavis and his unit’s performance in the bowl game, saying, “We played three defensive ends and three safeties. That’s not exactly how you draw it up depthwise.”

Also know that the Aggies used several true freshmen on defense during the 2017 season.

Defenders of Chavis contend that A&M’s fast-paced offense did not keep the defense off the field for very long, but Morris’ offense is built similarly.

Fans also complain that Chavis is not a particularly effective recruiter. Supporters contend his name will get Arkansas in the door with some athletes that might not listen otherwise, but how many 18-year-olds know or care about the success Tennessee’s defense enjoyed before they were born?

The only way for Chavis to improve his favorability rating with Arkansas fans is for the defense to make documented progress and Chavis is going to be shorthanded for his first year or two at Arkansas. With the College Football Playoff fresh, consider how many of the Razorbacks’ returning starters on defense could crack the lineup of Alabama or Georgia or Clemson.

Other than defensive end McTelvin Agim, nobody comes to mind, and even he is a maybe.

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