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Offensive Line coach Stacy Searels will leave UNC to take the same position at Georgia

After an underwhelming stint in Chapel Hill, the assistant will join the National Champions, I guess.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Mayhem at MBS - North Carolina at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

According to multiple outlets, but reported first by DawgsHQ, Kirby Smart is expected to hire UNC offensive line coach Stacy Searels for the same position in Athens after Matt Luke’s unexpected retirement. Searels had been in Chapel Hill since 2019, when Mack Brown hired him for his second stint. Searels had previously worked under Brown at Texas, but also has ties to Kirby Smart, as the two were both assistants with LSU in the early 2000’s. Searels also previously worked at Georgia as the teams’ offensive line coach and run game coordinator from 2007-2010.

Searels’ tenure in Chapel Hill is widely seen as a disappointment, though he’s not without his defenders. He oversaw the line of an offense that has ranked in the nation’s top 15 in total offense all three years and that has been in the top 15 in Offensive SP+ the past two. In 2020, particularly, his offensive line led the way for Javonte Williams and Michael Carter to have two of the best individual running back seasons Chapel Hill has ever seen in addition to one of the best overall offensive seasons UNC’s ever had, culminating with an Orange Bowl berth. Even without them and with only question marks at running back, UNC averaged better than 6 yards a carry last year and managed two 1000-yard rushers with Ty Chandler and Sam Howell (if you don’t count negative sack yardage). Charlie Heck was drafted higher than expected after one year with Searels, and he’s sending two of the linemen who started all three years for him to the upcoming NFL Combine.

On the flip side, Searels’ lines struggled mightily to protect Sam Howell all three years, and the problem only got worse each year: Howell was sacked 37 times in 2019, 34 times (with one fewer game) in 2020, and a whopping 49 times in 2021. The run game had a good statistical 2021, but was terribly inconsistent, with multiple games where it averaged worse than 4 yards a carry buoyed by a couple of insane games like Virginia. Searels’ lack of experience with Air Raid offenses was evident, as was his discomfort teaching proper technique for run-pass options. His lines also were ill-suited to run a zone-heavy running game like Phil Longo’s; his linemen were frequently 20-30 pounds overweight generally, but especially for the mobility required in a zone-blocking scheme. On film, the UNC line regressed each year with their technique, athleticism, and communication, and the 2021 season was an abject disaster. They struggled to pick up twists and stunts, failed to get to spots when asked to kick out, and didn’t often execute the basics of pass blocking. Through sheer force of repetition, they were able to successfully execute split zone run plays, but that was about the only thing they did right, and the UNC offense’s successes were almost entirely despite them, not with them. This was no more evident than on the multiple occasions UNC tried and failed to gain a yard or less by just pushing the line of scrimmage, because Searels’ line could not generate push on neutral ground. And this was true even for defensive fronts that for the rest of the season parted easily — Georgia Tech sacked Howell 8 times out of a season total of 20, and even FCS Georgia State was able to collapse the line multiple times.

For Searels, this departure marks the latest in a long career of three-year (or less) stints as an offensive line coach at the Power 5 level. Since 2003, he’s spent 3 years at LSU, 3 years at Georgia, 3 years at Texas, 2 years at Virginia Tech, 3 years at Miami, and now 3 years at UNC, all in the same role. He’s had some success everywhere he’s gone and is an established name in the industry, and it’s likely that Georgia, with its more pro-style offense, will be a better fit for him than UNC and Phil Longo were.

The timing is inconvenient for Mack Brown and UNC, as Spring Practice starts tomorrow. According to Inside Carolina, former UNC and Carolina Panthers offensive lineman and current UNC Director of High School Relations Kevin Donnalley will serve as the Heels’ interim offensive line coach. Donnalley has coached at Charlotte as both an OL coach and a director of player development, so he’s not new to the job. With Mack Brown’s recent history, though, expect a replacement to be named soon, likely one he’s worked or coached in the past. With no knowledge of the situation, I’d guess he’s calling Jeff Saturday and Kyle Ralph (who’s one of the most successful high school coaches in the country) — Donnalley could also just retain the position and I wouldn’t be surprised. Phil Longo may also have a say in the hire this time around, if Brown recognizes the need for a line coach that’s more experienced with Air Raid and RPO concepts; if that happens, Jack Bicknell Jr — who’s the offensive line coach at Louisville but previously had the same title at Ole Miss when Longo was there — and Zack Patterson, the offensive coordinator at Hampton who was OL coach for Longo at Sam Houston State where they set FCS records together, will probably receive interest. Brown may also call Brandon Jones, who was his first choice for the job in 2019 before he took the same job at Houston.

Searels moving on is probably best for both sides, ultimately. And with UNC needing to replace possibly its entire offensive line ahead of the 2022 season, a change of eyes regardless of who it is might be something the program needs to reverse its worrying momentum from last year.