Mack Brown made a big hire over the weekend, naming the Defensive Coordinator at Army, Jay Bateman, as the Co-Defensive Coordinator for the Tar Heels. He’ll serve in the role along with returning staff member Tommy Thigpen. Bateman will coach the safeties, while Thigpen will take on the role as coach of the linebackers.
Bateman led the Army defense for five seasons, from 2014-2018, and has been coaching since 1997. His first season was a rough one for the Black Knights, as they finished 90th overall in defense and Army only managed a 4-8 record. They were especially poor in stopping the run, giving up nearly 200 yards a game. From that point forward, however, Army managed to rise up the board. They finished 50th in total defense in 2015, and then an outstanding 3rd in 2016. That effort got him nominated for the Broyles Award as one of the top coordinators in the country. They slipped to 33rd in 2017, but jumped back up to 8th this season, and once again he was nominated for the Broyles award, this time being named a finalist.
The defensive success at Army is notable considering the athletes that Bateman was able to get to Army. While they are still recruited, the rigorous academic standards of West Point plus the five year military commitment severely limit the talent that Army, like the other service academies, has to work with. Bateman’s defense was a big key to Army having a winning record over the last three seasons and making three straight bowl games, winning their last two.
The scheme Bateman installed shifted the focus of the defense from the front to the back end, making his safeties responsible for the play calls. With this in mind, it makes sense that he will be in charge of coaching the safeties, and with Myles Dorn likely to return, he could see a significant role change under Bateman.
It should be noted that while Army has been near the top third in defense the last few years, it’s come on the heels of relatively weak schedules. Their biggest win of the last three years, besides Navy of course, would likely be Duke in 2017. They also had the classic game this year against Oklahoma, losing 28-21 in overtime, but the Sooners were able to put up 355 yards on the Black Knights, including 190 on the ground. That game was also emblematic of one of the reasons why Army’s defense could be ranked so high, in that Army controlled the ball for 45 of the game’s 60 minutes. For OU to put up 21 points in regulation after only having the ball for 15 minutes showed at least the limitations of what Army could do.
Still, the hire is one that many fans of the program were hoping for when Mack Brown was hired. Bateman has experience in North Carolina, previously coaching at Elon, and still has connections in the state: The current West Point squad boasts 13 players from North Carolina, many from around the Charlotte area. Him teamed up with Thigpen should make a powerful recruiting combo, and let loose of the restrictions of the service academy, it’s an exciting prospect to learn what sort of athletes Bateman will try to target. He has proved himself as an effective coach with the potential to be a head coach one day if his trajectory continues. He has a lot of respect in coaching ranks and this hire has been widely praised around the nation. This article from Sports Illustrated details some aspects of his rather amorphous, matchup-based philosophy to coaching defense, and should give fans serious excitement about what he can do with UNC-level talent.
A little later, we will do a more in-depth film study of the defense that Bateman employed while at Army to give fans a better idea of what he has in store for the Tar Heels. In the meantime, we just wait for the rest of the staff to be filled out.