Since arriving at Texas A&M in 2012, Kevin Sumlin has never really worried about this offense.
The defense, however, was in need of a makeover.
“I think we’ve always had confidence offensively,” Sumlin said during Wednesday’s SEC teleconference. “I think the way we’ve done things there has been a confidence level since we got here. Our defense was something that needed not only a change schematically, but to get some confidence and some pride.”
After three seasons under former defensive coordinator Mark Snyder, in came John Chavis.
In the second season under “Chief,” those questions about the defense’s pride no longer remain. Now, the talking points surround the Aggies’ defensive improvements, and the changes that Chavis has brought to College Station.
That was evident on Wednesday during the weekly SEC teleconference when Sumlin’s allotted 10-minute media availability was dominated by questions regarding the second-year defensive coordinator.
“I think what he’s brought is an attitude that really started with our defensive players” Sumlin said. “To give them a reference point or standard of what the defense should look like and what the expectations are defensively. And held them to that standard. That has really kind of bled over into what we want to do. We’ve changed a little bit philosophically offensively. Obviously to practice into that style and try and create a more physical football team. I think it started on defense. What we’ve tried to do across the board is continue that sort of aggressive and physical style. And I think it’s kind of permeated throughout the football team.”
Chavis came to Texas A&M in 2014 after spending 2009-14 at LSU as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.
Prior to that, Chief held different coaching positions at Tennessee from 1989-2008, serving at the Volunteers’ defensive line, linebackers coach and defensive coordinator during his long stint in Knoxville.
Sumlin coached against Chavis while he was at LSU, and notices the same thing with the Aggies’ defense this season as he did when going up against the longtime SEC coordinator.
“They are well coached, well schemed. I think he has a good feel for personnel,” he said. “The first thing that I think he does well is he has a good grip on his personnel. It seems simple, but it’s not that simple to put guys in the right position so that they can be successful.
“Some guys even back in the day, the Honey Badger, were littler guys that maybe somebody thought couldn’t play certain positions. What he’s looking for at corner, what he’s looking for at different positions. From a recruiting standpoint has been interesting. That in combination with his ability to match up personnel wise has been the biggest thing. I think he’s looking for one-on-one opportunities with matching his personnel with the offense.”
That veteran presence is felt throughout the week, not only with Chavis, but also offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The first-year Texas A&M assistant has been an offensive coordinator since 1995 when he ran the Ole Miss offense. He’s also held offensive coordinator stints at Auburn, Oregon State, North Carolina State, Arizona State and UCLA, as well as being a wide receiver coach with the New York Jets from 2006-08.
Sumlin, 52, is the youngest coach among him and his two coordinators. He still calls the shots in College Station, but has been able to bounce ideas off the two veteran coaches all season long.
“I think the biggest thing that we have done this year has been across the board. With two veteran coordinators it has been kind of interesting,” Sumlin said. “There’s things that I see offensively. I spend time on both sides of the ball. I spend time on the practice field. Chief is always interested in my thoughts about where people are trying to attack you, what they are trying to do to you offensively from this set, what this play really looks like, what are they trying to accomplish here.
“Which I think helps make some decisions on defense. Even during the games, a feel for the game. It is a conversation piece that goes on throughout the week. I give kind of an offensive perspective on what’s going on instead of just watching the video. He knows what he is doing. Offensively, it’s the same thing with Noel. We have the ability to talk about different things offensively throughout the week. What looks good where we are. Game Day, the communication with both those veteran guys has been fantastic.”