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The Daily Tar Heel

On Thursday, UNC was dealt a defensive blow.

Gene Chizik announced he is stepping down as the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator to spend more time with family.

“At every step in my coaching career, I have emphasized to my players and coaches that family must come first; that family comes before football,” Chizik said in a statement. “Simply put, it is time for me to walk the walk.”

Linebackers coach John Papuchis will take over as UNC’s defensive coordinator.

When Chizik joined the Tar Heels’ coaching staff in 2015, he switched the defensive scheme from a 4-2-5 alignment to a simpler 4-3 and provided stability and accountability to the defense. The fixes were visible immediately.

The season before Chizik arrived, North Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to score 39 points per game. Low points included allowing East Carolina to score 70 points and Notre Dame and Clemson to score 50.

A year later, the Tar Heels allowed opponents to score 24.5 points per game. UNC boasted the nation’s most improved passing defense in efficiency and yards per attempt.

Thanks in part to the improved defense, North Carolina has had incredible success in the past two seasons.

UNC has won 19 games since Chizik joined the staff — the most wins in back-to-back years since the Tar Heels claimed 21 victories in the 1996-97 seasons.

“I have poured my heart into UNC football,” Chizik said. “I have zero regrets ... I am confident Carolina will continue to ascend under the outstanding leadership of coach (Larry) Fedora and the hard work of his great staff.”

Papuchis takes over after coming to UNC with Chizik as a linebackers coach. He worked at Nebraska from 2008-14, serving as the defensive coordinator for the final three seasons. He was the fourth-youngest defensive coordinator in the country when he took the job in 2012.

Under Papuchis’ leadership, Nebraska’s defense held almost a quarter of its opponents to fewer than 10 points.

But Papuchis will have his work cut out for him when he takes over for UNC next season.

North Carolina’s defense was a relative weak spot this season — ending the season ranked 63rd in total defense in the country.

North Carolina has also had a brain drain on the defensive staff. Chizik’s exit follows the loss of defensive line coach Tray Scott, who left for Georgia, and defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who joined the football staff at Tennessee.

The new defensive coaching staff inherits a defensive with talented pieces. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke, linebacker Andre Smith and cornerback M.J. Stewart will lead the way at each of their respective position groups.

sports@dailytarheel.com

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