The Tar Heels suffered one of the most unprecedented losses in program history on Friday night against NC State to complete a 6-6 regular season in a year that presented some of the biggest preseason expectations in program history. Following the mind-blowing collapse, there was a lot of reaction from the Tar Heel football fanbase, most of it centered around making staff changes. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular names that popped up and what we think should happen with each of those coaches this offseason.
Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman
This might be the most polarizing name of the group and for good reason. Up until the late collapse on Friday, the defense as a whole was showing some signs to bookend what was a brutal stretch in the middle of the season for this defense. The Tar Heels allowed at least 30 or more points eight times this season, including in each of the last six games of the season against FBS opponents. The lack of a pass rush was a major issue this season as were the communication issues on the back end of the defense that hurt them at times last year. The safety group that he coaches also remains as inconsistent as any on the team and that was the group that was ultimately behind the downfall on Friday. The Tar Heels ranked outside of the top 80 in every major defensive category this season and in a year where they were supposed to take a step forward, they instead took a collective step back.
What Should Happen: Go. A lot of people have said that they could get behind keeping Bateman have sighted the fact that there are still a lot of Fedora holdovers that are a part of this defense, but three years into this, that can’t be an excuse. The expectation is that with more youth being worked into the unit, this group will finally be able to show some improvement next season, but similar results continuing could be disastrous to goals that Mack Brown 2.0 had assumed. With how short the timetable is to get those goals accomplished, it might be time to move on, especially if Will Muschamp is interested in taking over the role, which should be the teams first call if they make the move.
Defensive Line Coach Tim Cross
This is a move that has gathered more steam as the season has gone along with the lack of consistency from the defensive line. The unit had members who flashed throughout the season, but even its most productive player, Myles Murphy, had a relatively quiet finish to the season. The good news for Cross is that a lot of the group's best talent is still young. The question is, though, are you getting the best out of the unit all together? There is no doubt that shedding blocks and winning the one-on-one battles are things that need to be focused on even more this offseason than they were this past offseason if they want to be able to take the next step as a unit.
What Should Happen: Stay. With just how young some of the best talent one this unit still was this season, giving Cross one more year seems like the right move, especially with how well he has been recruiting. 2022, though, is one where Cross, like many others, will need to prove himself.
Special Teams Coordinator/Outside Linebacker Coach Jovan Dewitt
Dewitt came into this season with some pressure to step up after a tough 2020 season for the Tar Heels and up until Friday night’s game against NC State they had done just that. Friday was a disaster for the group, though, outside of Grayson Atkins, getting two punts blocked and failing to recover the crucial onside kick that led to the eventual loss. As for the outside linebackers, they failed to consistently produce once again and honestly took a step back as a unit this season. Tomon Fox may have had 8.0 sacks, but like it has his entire career, it came in bursts. Meanwhile, the rest of the players who saw the majority of their action there combined for just 7.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. In this type of defensive scheme, the edge rushers need to be the ones producing the most pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that simply hasn’t happened.
What Should Happen: Stay. This is a tricky one because Dewitt should not be coaching the outside linebackers next season, but the improvements that the special teams unit saw were good enough for him to stick around in that capacity. If the deal is that they have to keep him in both roles or neither, though, then the team would have to move on.
Offensive Coordinator Phil Longo
This is a name that has popped up the most amongst Tar Heel fans this weekend after his choice to throw the ball three times on 1st & Goal from the NC State 4 despite the success that that team had running the football for most of the night. That was part of continued struggles from this Tar Heel offense in the red zone, who have just 12 touchdowns in their last 24 attempts inside the 20s. Those struggles do run parallel with the issues that the team is having in short-yardage situations, issues that popped up once again on Friday. Slow starts were a major issue in just about every road game this season, as well, and were a big part of the recipe for the 0-5 mark away from home.
What Should Happen: Stay. Some of these criticisms are justified and the slow starts and red zone struggles are definitely concerning long term. However, Longo deserves a ton of credit for how successful this offense has been this season because of just how much the team lost from last year’s team and how big of a step back this offensive line took this season. The Tar Heels still had one of the nation’s most explosive offenses, despite basically having to change the way that Sam Howell was utilized because of the lack of execution from wide receivers outside of Josh Downs. Phil Longo is going anywhere, nor should he.
Offensive Line Coach Stacy Searls
Searls has been on the hot seat since the first few games of the season and Friday was far from the finish that he needed to turn the heat down. The Tar Heels allowed five more sacks against NC State, finishing the season with 45.0 sacks allowed, the fourth-most in the country. The team also allowed 88.0 tackles for a loss, which ranked amongst the worst in the country, as well, showing just how porous they were this season. The group had some nice moments in run blocking against Virginia and Wake Forest, but ultimately lacked consistency and had games, especially early in the season where they couldn’t create running lanes for an offense that needs to be able to run the football to function at its peak. The struggles of the unit were heightened on the road, as well, with 27.0 of the team's sacks allowed this season coming in the five road games.
What Should Happen: Go. With everything that was returning for this offensive line this season, this was supposed to be one of the strengths of the team and instead it was one of the biggest weaknesses. Injuries definitely were a factor here, but even when the group started to get healthier late in the season, they didn’t show much improvement. Even though he has landed some solid pieces on the recruiting trail in the past couple of years, this group still doesn’t have the depth that they need and the young talent on the roster clearly isn’t being developed well enough to get on the field over the struggling veterans. It is time for a move to be made here.