Fulmer expected Chavis to make a smooth transition with LSU “because of how hard John works and the type of person he is. He’s a great defensive coordinator, but he’s an even better person, and that’s why John has accomplished everything he has.”
He credits his hard-working parents. His mother was Cherokee and his father, a sharecropper, was a member of the Lumbee tribe.
Chavis is believed to be the lone Native American defensive coordinator in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The NFL has one assistant coach of Native American descent, according to research by the league.
Chavis’s family struggled financially, he said, “but my parents always encouraged us to do well at whatever we chose.”
For Chavis, it was football. The game helped him become the only one of nine siblings to earn a college degree.
Proud of his heritage, Chavis embraces his standing as a positive Native American role model, “and I am involved in some situations right now, in terms of helping [other Native Americans]. But obviously this is a great country, and you’re able to, if you’re willing to make sacrifices and work hard, have success in this country.
“Athletics have been an opportunity for a lot of people, particularly a lot of different minorities, to do well and to grow. And certainly when you’ve received as much from the sport as I have, you want to be able to give back. That’s important for me.”
Although many Native Americans are displeased that Washington’s NFL franchise continues to call itself the Redskins, Chavis said he is not offended.
“And I know this would probably be maybe a little bit offensive to someone who saw it differently, but to me, I think it pays respect,” Chavis said. “I don’t think it’s any disrespect at all. When a team or an organization chooses that as a mascot, in my opinion, they’re not belittling anyone. To be honest with you, I think it’s a quite an honor.”
That’s Chavis’s straightforward view. And it’s fine with him if others disagree. He’s not the type to simply follow the majority — he’s busy leading.