NORMAN – Long before he ever became a coach, Miguel Chavis was a leader.
His unique leadership style was reflected in his first few days as Oklahoma’s new defensive ends coach. Rather than get to know his players di lui as players, he insisted on getting to know them as people.
“Just like, taking my guys out to dinner,” Chavis said last week. “You know what I mean, like, not talking football. Listen, I coach for Brent Venables. We’re gonna have more than enough time to talk football. Alright? Our guys are gonna know what the heck that they have to do.
“But just in investing in them, man. You know, making phone calls. That’s one thing we did, calling them all personally, asking them about their mom or dad. Little Suzy; they’ve been dating for two weeks; now they’re Facebook official for two weeks. OK? We’ll ask about another one here soon. But just, you know, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your fears? What are your aspirations? I think all of these things are super, super important. “
Chavis, 33, is measured, warm, patient. He smiles a lot. When he talks to you, he insists on knowing your name.
It’s all part of his makeup. He fits well – along with Todd Bates, Brandon Hall and Jay Valai – into Venables cultural renovation at OU. Chavis played football as long as he could – he had “a cup of coffee” in the NFL, he said – but he was always destined to coach. He just took a little career detour first.
“I did pastoral ministry,” Chavis said. “I was a youth minister and a college minister for three years after the NFL, before I started coaching.”
Leadership, Chavis said, essentially comes with responsibility.
“The best CEOs of companies, the best pastors, the best leaders of families, the best men and women I’ve ever been around,” he said, “are those people who can connect and love the people that they serve. Period. “
In football, that’s the players. In OU’s case, specifically, it’s the defensive ends. But anyone who comes in contact with Chavis – anyone on the defense, or the offense, or their parents, or recruits, or whoever – feels an unmistakable vibe of honesty and personal investment.
His past five years were spent in a player development role on the defensive staff at his alma mater. It was something Clemson coach Dabo Swinney valued, so it was something that became engrained in the Tigers’ program – part of their DNA.
Having just retired as a player, Chavis was equal parts father figure and big brother, someone who could relate closely with what the players were going through but also someone who could counsel and advise and mentor – an in-between buffer for coaches and players, but something much bigger.
Chavis described a different style of leadership when he played.
“When I was coming up, a coach, you know, (it was) just kind of like, ‘Oh, you’re the leader. OK, I’ll follow you. Oh, you’re the elder. Okay, I’ll follow you. Go run through the wall? Okay, I’ll do that. ‘ That’s not this generation. They need to know that you care.
“They need to know their identity. And they want to know that you love them. And if you love your players, you can coach them as hard as you want to. “
Chavis said “being very, very connected with them” is important, and his efforts to get connected and stay connected involve a variety of methods.
“Send them encouraging messages almost every morning,” he said. “Things that are, whether it’s things from Scripture, things that are motivational or encouraging to me. And then just being able to take the time out to not talk ball all the time. And thinking, understanding and learning the different types of personalities. “
In 2022, there’s more to coaching than just coaching, Chavis said.
“I think a great football coach is like, 50 percent a great psychologist,” he said. “And understanding that, just like parenting, you can’t treat all kids the same. And so, (there are) different coaching techniques, and they all learn differently. I think being intentional with your words, I think getting to know parents, getting to know players, their likes and dislikes, their fears and aspirations, makes them a lot more likely to trust you and to be endeared to you and to play hard for you.
“The guys that I’ve seen that played the hardest for their coaches are the guys that would literally die, lay their life on the line for the coaches, because they know the coach loves them and would do the same.”
Coming out of Fayetteville, NC, in 2006, Chavis wasn’t an elite high school prospect, but he spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, VA, and, at 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, gained the attention of coaches in the region. Wake Forest, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia and Clemson offered him scholarships, and he just seemed to gravitate to Swinney.
When he’d finished playing and had worked in the seminary, he felt the Clemson call again.
“My first year I had to learn just what the heck Coach V was saying as a support staff person,” Chavis said. “By year three, I had a pretty good grasp of the defense. By year four, I felt like a lion in a cage – just ready to go. “
The last few years, Chavis said, he’s been patient with an eye on the future.
“Turned down some job opportunities, and was just patient,” he said. “Had great counsel from Coach Swinney and other people in my life – ‘That’s not the one, just wait. That’s not the one, just wait. ‘ It was God’s perfect timing. When Coach V said, ‘Will you go with me?’ It didn’t take me long to say yes. “
Meanwhile, Chavis and his wife Megan – married 10 years in June, he said – have raised a team of their own.
“We have four kids 6 and under,” he said, “so please pray for us.”
Chavis is still learning – about football, about coaching, about young people – but he’s been adaptable. So far, he said, he and his family di lui have found Norman to their liking di lui.
“We’ve been really pleasantly surprised,” he said. “The only thing I know about Oklahoma was they won a lot of games and everything Coach V had said about it. We came out here just with excitement and ready to get going. Everything has been great so far. “