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Heel Tough Blog: Five Names We Think Tar Heels Should Target as New DC

The Tar Heels mutually parted ways with defensive coordinator Gene Chizik on Wednesday morning after the team’s defense faded down the stretch of the season, resembling the inept unit from last year. That move means that Mack Brown will be searching for the third defensive coordinator since his return, a hire that will be absolutely pivotal to nail if he wants to turn the momentum back in the right direction. Here is a look at five names that we believe the team should have at the top of their search list.

Jim Leonhard- Illinois Senior Football Analyst

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This is probably a pipe dream, but it would be one of the best hires the program has ever made. Leonhard was one of the best defensive coordinators in the country when he was at Wisconsin from 2017 through 2022. In those five seasons, Leonhard’s defenses never finished outside of the top 30 in total defense and only finished outside the top 20 in scoring defense one time. The other thing that would be very welcome would be the success his defenses have had defending the run. Four of his five defenses allowed more than 100.0 yards per game and that came in an odd down year for his unit in 2018 where they finished 54th in rushing defense, which would be welcomed in Chapel Hill. Leonhard could demand a lot of money and the Tar Heels would have to shift to a 3-4, but he is the type of big splash the Tar Heels should adjust to if he’s interested.

Geoff Collins- Former Georgia Tech Head Coach

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There are a ton of things to line about the idea of Collins as the defensive coordinator. His defenses as a head coach weren’t great, which could be a red flag to some, but his track record as a defensive coordinator is really strong. He had very successful two year stints at both Mississippi State and Florida before getting the head coaching job at Temple, including two of the best scoring defenses in the country both of his years in Gainesville. The other big advantage is that he is very familiar with the recruiting footprint for the Tar Heels, especially the Atlanta area that the team has been hitting hard in the last year and a half. Collins has had a year off to rejuvenate and would be an exciting hire, which is what this team needs. 

Zach Arnett- Former Mississippi State Head Coach

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Arnett would be an amazing hire, but there are some obstacles here. He coordinated some of the nation’s best defenses in his two seasons at San Diego State, including the No. 2 total defense nationally in 2019. At Mississippi State, his defenses improved every year he was there and never ranked lower than 52nd in total defense despite not having the same talent as others in the SEC. The biggest problem with Arnett is that he may want to take the year after being bought out at Mississippi State, which would certainly be understandable and the Tar Heels would probably have to pony up a significant amount of money to get him. The other concern would be shift in scheme, as he uses the 3-3-5 as his base defense. If he is interested, this would be a great addition that would give the team a young up and coming defensive mind with a very solid early track record. 

Will Muschamp- Georgia Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safties Coach

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Muschamp’s name is one that is going to come up anytime the defensive coordinator job is open and for pretty good reason. This is the one guy that on this list that Brown has a previous relationship with and his track record is pretty good on top of it. Prior to getting the head coach job at Florida, he was regarded as one of the best defensive coordinators in the country in his time at LSU (2002-04), Auburn (2006-07) and Texas (2008-10). He carried that over into his time at Florida, where his defenses remained one of the best in the country despite the team’s offenses struggling which eventually led to his firing. He would head back to Auburn as a defensive coordinator before he would get the head coaching job at South Carolina. That last stint at Auburn was the last time that he was a full-time defensive coordinator, which is a little bit concerning. Even if Brown is willing to overlook that, he will have the obstacle of trying to convince Muschamp to leave his alma mater where he is a part of a national title contender year after year. His track record and relationship with Brown makes him an interesting option, but with his layoff from his time as a full-time defensive coordinator and lack of involvement in recruiting makes him a risky candidate.

DJ Durkin- Former Texas A&M Defensive Coordinator/Linebacker Coach

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This is probably the most controversial name on the list. Durkin was fired from his lone head coaching job with Maryland following the death of Jordan McNair back in 2018, leading him back down the road of being a defensive assistant. As a defensive coordinator, Durkin has had a lot of success, including at Texas A&M where he spent the last two years under Jimbo Fisher. His stops at Michigan and Florida (under Muschamp, which is notable) were also incredibly successful, finishing in the top eleven in total defense in each of his four years split between the two schools. His defenses when he was the head coach at Maryland, though, weren’t great and the ones he was a part of co-coordinating at Ole Miss are some of the worst in the country. Him getting back on track at A&M was huge, but it’s understandable if the dip in success outside of elite programs and the incident at Maryland is too much to stomach.


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