Just a few days after announcing the staff’s dismissal of Scott Boone from his position of Special Teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach, Mack Brown has found his replacement: Jovan Dewitt, who will take over both of those roles after two years at the same position at Nebraska. Dewitt has some familiarity with UNC’s defensive scheme, as before he was with Scott Frost at UCF and then Nebraska, he coached special teams and linebackers under a guy named Jay Bateman. Other than that, he has coached at several stops over a 21-year coaching career, including FAU and Northern Iowa.
Dewitt has been successful at just about every stop he’s made, according to UNC’s press release and his coaching page at the Huskers’ website: Nebraska’s punt coverage was 7th in the nation this past year, allowing just 2.3 yards per return; he coached up upperclassman linebackers to drastically improve their production between their junior and senior years in 2018 and 2019, including turning Luke Gifford, a depth player, into an All-Big Ten performer in 2018; his units have scored 7 return touchdowns in the past 4 years; his UCF teams had elite return games; and his teams routinely block punts: Nebraska had 3 of them last year. He gets punters all-conference recognition more often than not, including Isaac Armstrong in 2018, who took over punting halfway through the season. It’s safe to say that he’s got a reputation for improvement and excellence, which is just what UNC, with a very young core of specialists, needs.
For all of the improvement and excitement that UNC’s 2019 season brought, special teams performance was a relative disappointment: Dazz Newsome, after an electric sophomore year where he ranked 6th in the country in yards per return (among players with 10 returns or more), struggled to get anything going on returns, ranking outside the top 30 with 6.8 yarsd per return with a long of 20 against Virginia. Michael Carter was an adequate kick returner with an average of 24.5 yards per return, but if kickoffs didn’t go to him, and they often didn’t, UNC was in trouble. Ben Kiernan had an extremely rough start as a true freshman punter before settling in, but still has work to do to become one of the conference’s best, and sophomore kicker Noah Ruggles was just about automatic from inside 40 yards (especially after his one-half benching against Duke, after which he didn’t miss a field goal under 50 yards or a single PAT) but needs to develop accuracy on deeper kicks. And coverage was fairly average as well. There are pieces to work with on this roster and achievable goals for Dewitt.
Coach Dewitt seems up to the task: In a statement to GoHeels, he said: “I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with [Mack Brown] and the rest of the staff at UNC. It’s clear this is a program on the rise and I’m looking forward to doing my part to continue the positive momentum created last season.” For his part, the UNC head coach welcomed his new asssistant with these words:
Jovan brings a wealth of experience in special teams and is known as one of the best special teams coaches in the nation. He also has a long history coaching linebackers, and because he spent time working with Coach Bateman at Army, he’s familiar with what we’re trying to do on defense, which should really help us. For those reasons, we felt like he would be an excellent addition to our staff. We expect Jovan to have a positive impact on both of those areas, as well as recruiting, and we look forward to having the Dewitt family in Chapel Hill.
Alongside his coaching expertise, Dewitt brings an alternately fascinating and inspiring personal story to Chapel Hill as well. According to his Nebraska bio, he turned down an opportunity to work at NASA in favor of getting into football coaching after a standout career at Northern Michigan, which feels fairly unique in the profession. And in the spring of last year, he underwent treatment for throat cancer, facing several close calls before winning his fight and happily announcing that he is free of cancer as of last August. We at Tar Heel Blog are happy to have him in Chapel Hill and can’t wait to see what he does with this team.