For the first time in five seasons, Gene Chizik will be on the sidelines for a college football season and he will be doing so as a member of the team that he coached the last time that he was on a sideline.
As first reported by FootballScoops.com and confirmed by the university a short time ago, the Tar Heels are bringing back the veteran defensive coordinator to try and turn this struggling defense around like he did in his first stint in Chapel Hill. Back in 2015, Chizik came in and replaced Vic Koenning after a disastrous defensive season in 2014 for the team and turned things around quickly. In that 2015 season, the Tar Heel defense went from allowing 39.0 points per game to just 24.5 per game and 257.4 passing yards per game to allowing just 188.1. Those are two areas that the team needs improvements at right now and the good news is that the run defense is much better than the one that he took over back then. His 2016 defense struggled to take away the football, but still allowed just 24.9 points per game and 180.8 passing yards per game. This is also a defense that, as a whole, has more overall talent than the group that he had in his two seasons in Chapel Hill a few years ago and this group also has a much deeper front seven than that one as well.
In his two seasons with the Tar Heels, the team won 19 games, the most in a two-year stretch for the team since the team won 21 games from 1996 to 1997. Prior to his time in Chapel Hill, Chizik worked as part of the 2005 and 2006 staffs under Mack Brown at Texas as a co-defensive coordinator alongside Duane Akina before he left to become a head coach. In 2005 with the Longhorn team that took home the national championship, he coached a unit that allowed just 16.4 points per game and 302.9 total yards per game to opponents. The number in 2006 were strong as well for Chizik, as his group allowed just 18.3 points per game, 297.4 yards of total offense per game and 61.2 rushing yards per game. Chizik also won a national title as the head coach of the Auburn Tigers in 2010 and also was a head coach at Iowa State from 2007 to 2008, the job he took after leaving Texas. Since his retirement back in 2017, Chizik has been working on the television side of things as an analyst for the SEC Network, a job that he also had with in between his time after being fired at Auburn.
In terms of the scheme, Chizik installed a 4-3 his first time in Chapel Hill and there is no reason to think that that won't be the case again this time. The current roster has the depth in the defensive front to do so without much issue and the scheme honestly might serve some of the guys on this roster better than the 3-4 base. At linebacker, this will give the Tar Heels a chance to potentially get the trio of Cedric Gray, Power Echols and RaRa Dillworth on the field at the same time, something that the team wouldn't have been able to do in Bateman's scheme. The concern is with the edge rusher group. Guys like Des Evans and some of the young guys, including the signees that the group added in the early signing period, will likely have to add more weight than before to play at the 4-3 defensive end spots or will have to convert to stand up linebacker. Chizik was able to do it in his first tenure, though, and the players that he will be trying to help convert this time will more purely talented than the group that he worked with the last time.
Coming back to Carolina along with Chizik is his former defensive backs coach from his time in Chapel Hill, Charlton Warren. Warren, who will be leaving his position as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Indiana Hoosiers after just one season. He brings with him an extremely proven track record, including his time here in Chapel Hill where he helped develop guys like M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence and helped that group to be one of the best in the country during those two seasons. After leaving Chapel Hill following the 2016 season, he went on to coach the defensive backs and special teams at Tennessee and helped coach a group that allowed just 161.7 passing yards per game that season. Warren was not retained as part of the coaching change in Knoxville after that season and instead landed on Dan Mullen’s staff at Florida for the 2018 season as the cornerbacks coach. He helped coach Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to an amazing season and also coached future NFL first-round pick C.J. Henderson as part of a group that allowed just 178.9 passing yards per game. Prior to taking the job at Indiana, Warren spent two seasons as that defensive backs coach for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs. In those two seasons, the team allowed just 224.9 passing yards per game and he helped coach guys like Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes who were selected in the first two rounds of last year’s draft. 2021 was a bit of a rough season for him as the defensive coordinator for Indiana, but that was a group that simply lost a ton of talent from the year before. He brings with him an extremely successful recruiting background, including his time here with the Tar Heels where he did a lot of damage in the state of North Carolina and in Georgia. His official title will be co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, which should combine nicely with Dré Bly, who will reportedly remain as the cornerbacks' coach.
When you combine the two hires, this is a really nice upgrade for the Tar Heels. Chizik has been here and rebuilt the defense one time before and there should be confidence that he can do it again and help change the finesse culture that just hasn’t worked for the Tar Heels these last couple of seasons. Bringing Warren along with him will be a big help in changing that culture and is a big boost for a defensive back unit that simply has to be better than they have been under Bateman. There are some concerns here with Chizik for sure, but the Tar Heels needed to go with a safe option and this combination is definitely that.