PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Louisiana State University defensive coordinator John Chavis had a message to deliver to the attending coaches and their wives to open his class at the 2012 Carson-Newman Coaches' Clinic, and it wasn't about coaching football.
Chavis instead related a story from his own life as a first-year assistant with a young wife and new baby and how he had let his priorities get out of whack, and how his wife had helped him see the light.
"Those things are very, very real and our focus isn't always where it needs to be," Chavis said after the class. "My wife helped me understand that. The importance of her in my life, that's the reason I wanted the wives to hear that. It's not an easy role. It takes a special lady to be the wife of a football coach. They're deprived of their time so much and I wanted them to feel good about that."
Sparks and Chavis have known each other since the Carson-Newman head coach ran the Farragut High School program. In the spring, Chavis would help Sparks coach and the two men have shared a bond ever since.
"I've always admired Ken and what he stands for," Chavis said of Sparks. "In my opinion he's as good a role model as there is. He's always had his priorities right."
Sparks calls Chavis his "Heart" coach and when Chavis became emotional multiple times during his opening remarks, it's easy to see why.
"To me there's only two ways of doing things; God's way and man's way," Sparks said. "God's way is empowered by an almighty God and I've got a feeling that's better than man's way that's just powered by a finite man."
Chavis, like Sparks, believes in coaching the player from the inside out. He likes to form a close bond with his players and the former University of Tennessee defensive coordinator thinks that's why he stayed at Tennessee so long, a span of 19 years.
It also made his move to LSU after the 2008 season easier as the Tigers had many players on their roster that Chavis had met when they were in high school and built relationships with.
"When I made the transition from Tennessee to LSU, there were kids there I had recruited," Chavis said. "They made it easy and felt I had something to offer to make them better. That's what's important. You can have a lot of great ideas, but if guys don't buy into those ideas, then it's going to be difficult to perform at a high level."
The Tigers defense has been performing at a high level since Chavis joined the program. Last season Chavis was named the National Assistant Coach of the Year, had LSU's defense ranked in the Top Three in the country and helped the team with the Southeastern Conference Title and play in the national championship game.
On the way, he's going to add multiple players, including consensus top cornerback Morris Claiborne, to the NFL. For Chavis, though, that's not what's most important.
"We want them to get a degree," Chavis said. "Not everybody is going to be a Top Five pick. Not everybody is going to make it that gets picked. They have to have something to fall back on. With the exception of two, all the guys that played linebacker for me that stayed there their whole career left with a degree. I'm as proud of that as anything else that we ever accomplished. It all goes back to having the commitment to those kids and helping them be the best that they could be."