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Replacing John Chavis a huge decision for LSU coach Les Miles

1/7/2015

BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU has developed a particular identity in a decade under Les Miles, and for much of that time, John Chavis' defense was the leading reason why Miles' philosophy worked.

That's what makes Miles' impending selection of Chavis' successor so important.

As LSU's defensive coordinator from 2009 through 2014, Chavis instilled a defensive mentality -- fast, aggressive, hard-nosed -- that allowed the Tigers to typically play a conservative brand of grind-it-out football on offense. For most of those six seasons, that approach was wildly successful and LSU's defense ranked among the nation's best.

Try these numbers on for size:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, LSU's defense ranked second nationally in scoring defense (17.1 ppg) in Chavis' six-year tenure and fifth in total defense (309.6 ypg). The Tigers were 11th against the run (125.9 ypg) and third against the pass (183.7 ypg) between 2009 and 2014.

We use the past tense here because Chavis responded to a contractual dispute with LSU by accepting the same position under Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M, leaving behind a major void on Miles' staff.

It has been barely a week since Chavis' departure, and Miles has already looked into multiple potential options -- a group that at one point or another has included former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and LSU defensive line coach Brick Haley -- but has not yet made an official decision.

Shoop was scheduled to interview with the Tigers' boss this week, but he appears to be out of the mix now after tweeting Wednesday night about his plans to remain at Penn State.

Miles vowed after LSU's season-ending bowl loss to Notre Dame that LSU would still “have a great defense and play like hell” even without Chavis. Of course it will. By now, it's seemingly embedded in LSU defensive players' DNA. With the lone exception of 2008, when Doug Mallory and Bradley Dale Peveto shared the defensive coordinator role following Bo Pelini's departure, Miles' time at LSU has been marked by suffocating defense and strong-willed coaches leading the defense.

Chavis' final season at LSU had its ups and downs. The Tigers are ninth nationally in total defense (316.8 ypg), marking the fifth straight season that Chavis led them to a national top-20 finish. But they also surrendered 570 yards to Mississippi State and 560 to Auburn -- two of the biggest opponent yardage totals in the Miles era at LSU.

Nonetheless, he leaves behind a defense that could return as many as seven starters from the bowl game, depending on what happens with potential NFL early entries Danielle Hunter and Jalen Mills. The group made huge strides from the beginning of the season, particularly up front once defensive tackles Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux settled into starting roles, so Chavis' replacement will have plenty of talent at his disposal.

Now it's just a matter of Miles making a decision on who will best fit on his staff. With national signing day only 27 days away, however, it's probably safe to expect a hiring in the near future for recruiting purposes.