Heel Tough Blog: Phil Longo Reportedly Leaving to Take Wisconsin OC Job, Jack Bicknell Jr. Following
There have been a few surprises this week around Tar Heel football this week with the opening to the transfer portal. However, nothing is as surprising as the news that just dropped moments ago.
According to Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports, offensive coordinator Phil Longo is leaving the Tar Heel staff and joining the Wisconsin Badgers new staff under new head coach Luke Fickell in the same role. Feldman reports that Longo did have a strong relationship with Fickell dating back to his time with Cincinnati and that he did interview for the Cincinnati offensive coordinator job at one time. In a separate report, Feldman says that offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. will be following him to Madison after just one season on the Tar Heel staff.
Longo’s departure would be a massive blow for the Tar Heels. Since arriving in Chapel Hill, his offenses have averaged 36.3 points per game, 488.3 total yards per game and 6.8 yards per play, all of which rank inside of the top ten in the FBS. He has produced two of the nation’s top quarterbacks during that stretch in Sam Howell and Drake Maye, having both been a part of the Heisman conversation at some point throughout their careers. Just like at Ole Miss, Longo also did tremendous work with the wide receiver room, helping to produce five 1,000-yard receiving seasons, including back-to-back seasons for both Dyami Brown and Josh Downs.
The main criticism that many have had about Longo in his time in Chapel Hill has been the red zone offense and rightfully so. Longo’s offenses had a high overall conversion rate, ranking outside of the top 35 just once in his four seasons. However, in terms of scoring touchdowns, the offenses have struggled the same way that Ole Miss offenses struggled when he was there, having a touchdown percentage of over 65% just one time in his four seasons.
As for Bicknell Jr., he helped the Tar Heel offensive line take a step forward this season after an absolutely brutal 2021 for the unit. The unit has really struggled in the last three games, but he did help Asim Richards take a major step forward on the way to third team All-ACC honors and settle down the center position that was a mess the year before by helping to bring in Corey Gaynor, who earned an All-ACC honorable mention. The unit's fall late in the season, though, was incredibly drastic, as the unit finished 111th and 112th nationally in tackles for loss allowed and sacks allowed respectively. Bicknell Jr. was Longo’s offensive line coach for both of his seasons at Ole Miss, so it is no shock that he is following him.
The sudden move is as mysterious as it gets. His star quarterback seemed to confirm his return for next season following Saturday’s ACC Championship Game and while he has limped the finish line a bit down the stretch of the season, he is one of, if not the best quarterback in the country that will return next season. Couple that with the amount of talent this offense was expected to have at the skill positions and this was set to be one of the best offenses in college football again next season. One has to wonder if this is a sign of more moves to come, including possibly from the head coach Mack Brown himself.
The other interesting thing to monitor will be the ripple effects that this move will have on the staff and the roster. We have already seen Bicknell Jr. follow him and with how much success Longo has had and the time that the rest of the staff has been together, you have to wonder if anyone else will follow. The main focus right now, though, has to be on making sure that Maye is not considering a move to the transfer portal with the instability at offensive coordinator. If Mack Brown is planning on being the coach next season, he will need to have some names in mind that will impress both the starting quarterback and rest of the staff to try to keep them in place.