On New Year’s Eve, a day after the North Carolina football team suffered a blowout 38-21 loss to South Carolina in Duke’s Mayo Bowl, UNC head coach Mack Brown sat down with then-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman to discuss what went wrong over that game and the season as a whole.
By the end of that conversation, Bateman was out as UNC’s defensive coordinator.
Almost immediately after, Brown picked up the phone and made the call to a man he knew well — someone who already spent two seasons as a defensive coordinator in Chapel Hill, and who’s won national championships with and without Brown.
And, by the end, UNC had rehired Gene Chizik as assistant head coach of defense.
“He didn't ask me anything about the job,” Brown said of Chizik at an introductory press conference on Thursday. “He didn't ask me what he was going to coach. He didn't ask me about the salary. He just said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’”
Chizik and Brown first worked together at the University of Texas, where Chizik served as Brown’s defensive coordinator and led the Longhorns to a national championship win in 2005. After his stint in Austin, he entered the head coaching ranks — first at Iowa State, then at Auburn from 2009 to 2012, where he won a national championship and multiple coach of the year awards in 2010.
Then, in 2015, Chizik joined Larry Fedora’s coaching staff at UNC, creating one of the ACC’s best defenses en route to a Coastal Division title in his first season. And though the Tar Heels only regressed slightly the following season, Chizik made the decision to resign to spend more time with his family, while also dedicating time to joining Brown as a TV analyst for ESPN.
And by Chizik’s own admission, only two things could’ve lured him back to college coaching — coming back to Chapel Hill and coaching under his old mentor.
“I was extremely excited about both of those,” Chizik said. “It's really amazing, though — leaving here for five years, and coming back and meeting some of these players, and looking at the bodies and how the recruiting classes have unfolded — that's definitely a perk of the job for sure, because they've done a great job with that.”
But Chizik wouldn’t return to Chapel Hill alone.
On the same phone call he got the offer, Chizik insisted that Brown also call up Charlton Warren, the defensive coordinator at Indiana, who also worked with Chizik as a defensive backs coach at UNC. Chizik told Brown that Warren was “the guy.”
And after phone calls with both Chizik and Brown, Warren was on board as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.
“It's one of the greatest combinations of academics and athletics that you can hope for in the United States,” Warren said. “The resources and the investment into football, and advances made by coach Brown that you can see throughout the building with the players with the recruiting, has been phenomenal.”
Chizik said that, like all great things, his relationship with Brown came in threes — first at Texas, then while working as analysts at ESPN and now at North Carolina. Naturally, with Chizik’s championship pedigree as both a coordinator and coach, as well as Brown coaching into his 70s, questions will arise as to whether Chizik could replace Brown upon his eventual retirement.
But those are not questions Chizik wants to entertain.
“I want to put a great defense on the field for the University of North Carolina and Mack Brown,” Chizik said. “And that's all that that's all I care about, that's all I focus on. There's been zero discussion about (becoming head coach).”
Chizik and Warren seemingly have everything going for them, such as decades of combined coaching experience, a defensive unit filled with four- and five-star recruits, and the eighth-best recruiting class in the country, per 247 Sports.
Now it’s up to them to ensure that their homecoming is a happy one.
“There's no honeymoon, right?” Warren said. “We're going right to it. So I'm looking forward to getting work with (Chizik) and heading off and hitting the ground running.”
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