As has been mentioned plenty of times before, North Carolina is a football team that is undergoing some pretty big changes in personnel in 2017. That obviously includes players, as UNC will have a new starting quarterback and new starters at most of the offensive skill positions.
The changes also extend to the coaching staff. Carolina have elevated some new coaches, and brought in some new ones, mainly on one particular side of the ball.
Coming into the 2017 season, the defense is expected to be the steadier side of the ball. Funnily enough, it’s also the side that’s had the biggest change in coaching personnel.
The biggest change in the coaching staff came when defensive coordinate Gene Chizik decided to leave the program in February. To replace him, UNC elevated linebackers coach John Papuchis to the DC role.
Papuchis joined Tar Heel staff with Chizik in 2015. In his first season, linebackers Shakeel Rashad and Jeff Schoettmer were named All-ACC, as the defense improved and helped UNC to an 11-3 season.
His elevation marks the second time he’s served as a defensive coordinator, having previously held the role at Nebraska from 2012-14. His first season saw Nebraska finish as a top-20 defense in the S&P+ rankings, before dropping the next two seasons. Other than maybe his first season, none of Papuchis’ defenses were quite elite, but none were terrible. In all three seasons, Nebraska gave up somewhere in the vicinity of 25 points per game. Just judging on PPG isn’t always a fair things to do, but his defenses did manage to limit scoring somewhat, even when they weren’t elite.
Papuchis runs a 4-3 defense, like Chizik did. Considering they came to Chapel Hill in the same year, it’s likely that there won’t be any massively drastic changes in the way they run and call things this season.
To replace Papuchis as linebackers coach, UNC brought in Mike Ekeler. Before coming to Chapel Hill, Ekeler spent last season as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach under former UNC assistant Seth Littrell at North Texas.
Ekeler previously worked with Papuchis at Nebraska, but also LSU, where they were both grad assistants under Nick Saban. Before going to North Texas, Ekeler had stints the linebackers coach at Georgia and USC.
After losing defensive line coach Tray Scott to Ole Miss (and then later Georgia), UNC brought back Deke Adams.
Adams was defensive line coach in Larry Fedora’s first season as UNC coach, having come with him from Southern Miss. Adams returns to Carolina after one season at ECU with the same role. Before going to ECU, Adams was defensive line coach at South Carolina, where he was position coach for #1 NFL Draft pick Jadeveon Clowney. In addition to that, Sylvester Williams went in the first round after Adams’ first stint in Chapel Hill.
Another new coach on the defensive side of the ball is defensive backs coach Terry Joseph.
When Charlton Warren left for Tennessee, UNC quickly brought in Terry Joseph from Texas A&M. Joseph’s time in College Station peaked when the Aggies finished fourth in passing yards allowed per game in the nation in 2015. Before his time at Texas A&M, Joseph has experience working with Papuchis, having been the defensive backs coach at Nebraska, where his teams also rated highly in defending the pass.
Joseph also comes in as a highly rated recruiter. Considering UNC’s current secondary, there’s not much improvement to be made this year at least.
The one major change on the offensive side of the ball is a new running backs coach. UNC has had a lot of success developing running backs over the years, but will have to replace coach Larry Porter, after he left for Auburn.
For his replacement, Carolina brought in DeAndre Smith, who spent last year as running backs coach at Purdue. His year with the Boilermakers didn’t produce great results, but before that he’s had success at various stops. (Also, it’s Purdue.)
Among players to have been coached by Smith over the years is Michael Turner. After playing under Smith at Northern Illinois, Turner went on to an eight-year NFL career, making two Pro Bowls.
In general, UNC have gone through a lot of changes since the end of the 2016 season. They have a lot to replace heading into 2017, and it remains to be seen what happens on the field. They’ve definitely got some talent though, both on the field and on the coaching staff.