Updated: Jan 25, 2021
On Sunday afternoon, it was reported that Tar Heels’ running backs coach Robert Gillespie will be leaving the Tar Heels coaching staff to take a job in Tuscaloosa with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Almost immediately, there was a ton of speculation about who his replacement could be and there were plenty of names that were thrown around by fans. We give you a look at some of the names that we think could come up in the search for the team’s next running backs coach.
This seems to be the obvious choice in a lot of fans' minds and there are plenty of reasons why. Porter has a fantastic track record that includes a stop in Chapel Hill from 2014-16 where he saw plenty of success. Porter has coached numerous big names in his time as a running backs coach, including guys like Tatum Bell, Joseph Addai, Marion Grice, Malcolm Brown and Elijah Hood. He worked wonders with both Hood and T.J. Logan in his time with the Tar Heels under Larry Fedora and also landed Michael Carter, who ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his final two seasons at Carolina and never finished with less than 500 yards rushing in any of his four seasons. Porter, who was the recruiting coordinator for the last four years under Gus Malzahn at Auburn, is regarded as one of the top recruiters amongst running back coaches in the country. There is a lot to like about Porter and there are rumors that he has already had a conversation with Mack Brown about the job.
The former Tar Heel running back is another experienced option that might be worth looking at. Although he coached tight ends the last time he was in Chapel Hill from 2016-18, Scott has a very solid track record as a running back coach at the other stops he has made in his coaching career. While his list of players coached might not be as prestigious as Porter’s, he still has coached guys like Dujuan Harris, Boom Williams and Javian Hawkins among others. He also had a nice recruiting resume, landing some big name recruits, such as William Barnes, C.J. Cotman and Antoine Green in his last stint at Carolina, and also has landed players such as Drew Barker, DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams during his stops at the other schools. Even though he might not be as coveted as Porter, Scott, a former Tar Heel running back, would be a solid replacement for Gillespie.
Every Tar Heel fan remembers Means as one of the more underrated running backs in program history, but he has had some nice success as a coach, as well. Means was the running backs coach at Winston-Salem State University from 2014 to 2019, earning the title of associate head coach in his final season with the Rams. This summer, Means signed on with the Fayetteville State Broncos as the team’s associate head coach, offensive coordinator and running backs coach, but with the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc, it would be at least until this upcoming fall before we’d get to see Means in action. Means has some established recruiting roots in North Carolina, especially in the Charlotte area where he used to coach at the high school level, but he doesn’t have the track record that some of the others in this conversation have. This hire would be very similar to the hire of Dre Bly back in 2018, as he played under Mack Brown and would be able to sell the experience. This would be a risk, but it worked out with Bly and Means possesses more college coaching experience than Bly did when he was selected as the team cornerback coach.
This is a name that Tar Heels fans might be familiar with from his time at NC State, but don’t let the fact that he has been a member of the rival Wolfpack’s staff sway you. He is yet another name that would bring a pretty strong track record to the table, having coached eight seasons in Raleigh and helping produce a running game for the Wolfpack that averaged 176.7 yards per game during his time there and helped produce three straight 1,000 yards rushers from 2016-18. Kitchings left to join Will Muschamp’s staff at South Carolina as the running backs coach prior to the 2020 season and in his lone year with the Gamecocks, helped produce yet another 1,000 yard rusher. Kitchings is another very strong recruiter, who spent most of his time on the NC State staff recruiting the triangle area of North Carolina and seeing plenty of success. He was retained by the new staff at South Carolina, but if the Tar Heels were willing to spend a little bit of extra money, this would be another exciting possibility, although that doesn’t seem likely.
This is another former Tar Heel player that Mack Brown could look to if he is wanting to go with someone who is familiar with the staff and has been around Chapel Hill for a while. Blue has been a part of the strength and conditioning staff in Chapel Hill since 2015 when he was hired by his former head coach Larry Fedora, being one of the few to survive the transition between coaching staffs back in 2018. Blue is one of the most respected members of the Tar Heel coaching staff and his energy is absolutely loved by those around the team. The challenge here would be the fact that Blue has never been a coach at any level, but Mack Brown definitely feels comfortable with him and the respect the players have for him could go a long way while he develops under the tutelage of the staff if he was to be the pick.