NEW ORLEANS -- It's taken 13 years, but John Chavis is back in the big one.
Chavis was Tennessee's defensive coordinator in 1998, when the Volunteers won the inaugural BCS championship with a 23-16 victory over Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl. Now he is in his third season running the defensive show at No. 1 LSU, which will face No. 2 Alabama in Monday night's BCS title game at the Superdome.
The Tigers allow just 252.1 yards and 10.5 points per game and could start as many as seven sophomores against the Tide, and each of them know how special Monday is for their coordinator.
"I know he's a little excited and emotional about all this, but he's keeping it together pretty well," defensive tackle Michael Brockers said. "He's getting us prepared for everything that can happen."
Chavis was defensive coordinator at his alma mater from 1995 to 2008, with his last Tennessee unit tying for third nationally in fewest yards allowed despite the team finishing 5-7. This season, the 55-year-old received the Broyles Award, which is given annually to college football's top assistant coach.
He discussed his second trip to the BCS championship as well as this year's defense and the one he had in '98:
How does it feel to be back in a national title game?
"It's what you work for all year, and it's nonstop. You want to be in a situation like this, and there are a lot of people involved in the game who never have this opportunity. Our football team has earned the right to be here, and it's been an exciting season. We're looking forward to this game."
It has been 13 years for you, so how does it feel on a personal level?
"The first one was special, and this one is even more special because it's now. It's with a special group of young men, and the one in '98 was with a special group of young men. You have to be special to be here, because you're talking about the best of the best."
How does this year's defense compare to the one you had at Tennessee in '98?
"I think this group is deeper, certainly. We're able to play more guys, particularly in the secondary. We're a lot deeper there. I don't know how many off that '98 team went on to play in the Pro Bowl, but I think nine of the 11 went on to get drafted in the NFL, and it will be the same for this group.
"Most of these kids will have that opportunity, and when you get to where you can say you're the best of the best, that's the way it's going to be. You don't do it without great athletes, and that's true on the other side of the ball. It was true with the Florida State team we played in '98."
Do you still keep in touch with Coach (Phillip) Fulmer?
"We don't talk every day and we don't talk every week, but we stay in touch. When I get a chance to be around Knoxville, I always make sure I have an opportunity to see him. When you spend as much time as we do working together in this profession, you create bonds that are going to last forever, and that one will last forever. We will always be good friends.
"We were able to share some special things together, as will this group with Coach [Les] Miles. My time has been a lot shorter here thus far, but there is a great bond."
How fortunate do you feel to be a part of Tennessee's run in the 1990s and LSU's run now?
"I'm very fortunate, and I'm thankful every day to be able to do what I love doing and to be able to do it on this level with these athletes. LSU gives you everything you need to be successful, but that doesn't mean you're going to. You still have to work to reach your goals, but the tools are here. The leadership from the head coach is remarkable.
"He does a great job of setting the standard, and it is a high standard."
Tyrann Mathieu said you showed him the "Honey Badger" video. How did that come about?
"The name kind of got out there, and someone else tagged him. To be honest, I wanted to know what the honey badger was, too. I pulled it up on YouTube and thought it would be neat to show him, but I didn't know how he would feel about it. He had not seen it, so I showed it to him.
"It's a neat thing, but he's probably got a nickname that will stay with him for life."