Originally found on CBS Sports:
North Carolina coach Mack Brown announced Wednesday that Gene Chizik is out as the Tar Heels defensive coordinator as part of a staff shake up heading into the 2024 season.
Chizik was brought back to Chapel Hill to reunite with Brown, for whom he worked during the 2005 and 2006 seasons at Texas, as well as the program itself. (Chizik was previously Larry Fedora’s defensive coordinator during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.) The exit for the former national championship-winning head coach was described as a “mutual parting of ways,” and North Carolina will begin a national search for a new defensive coordinator immediately.
Chizik pointed out in an official statement that he had been a part of 36 wins and two ACC Coastal championship (2015, 2022) across his four total seasons at North Carolina. And though the defense made improvements from 2022 to 2023, Brown said it would be in the best interest for both Chizik and the program to make a change.
Other changes to Brown’s defensive staff include senior defensive analyst Ted Monachino taking over for Tim Cross as defensive line coach, ending Cross’ five-year tenure with Brown and the Tar Heels. There’s also an adjustment for co-defensive coordinator Charlton Warren, who now carries the title of Assistant Head Coach for Defense with the responsibility to oversee the defensive backs.
North Carolina’s defense ranked No. 98 nationally in yards per game allowed (404.4) and No. 65 in yards per play allowed (5.62) for the season, and defensive shortcomings played a key role in a late-season collapse that saw the Tar Heels lose five of their final six games against FBS opponents after a 6-0 start to the year.
Tar Heels’ DC proving to be a difficult gig
Brown is heading into his sixth season back as North Carolina’s coach in his second stint, and he’s about to make his third defensive coordinator hire. Jay Bateman had the role for the first three years before being part of another defensive staff shake up, and after two years on the Florida staff he was recently hired as Texas A&M’s new defensive coordinator.
Bringing back Chizik was a move meant to solidify a defense that had become prone to giving up big plays, but last season’s defensive debacle was so bad that North Carolina ranked dead last in the ACC in yards per game allowed (436.5) and yards per play allowed (6.14). Brown is correct that there was year-over-year improvement from 2022 to 2023, but it was still a season-long performance that was average with a late-season showing that left the team well short of meeting its ceiling with a generational talent at quarterback in Drake Maye.
Brown’s recent run at North Carolina has included two NFL quarterbacks and five straight years of offenses that have ranked no worse than third in the ACC, but also instability on the defensive coaching staff and sub-standard defensive performances on the field. Getting the defense stabilized is a big key for North Carolina’s growth moving forward, which puts even more importance on the hire to replace Chizik.
Defense will be asked for more post-Maye
Fielding one of the top offenses in the ACC every year since Brown returned has helped raise the floor of a program that won just five games combined in the two years prior to his arrival. With Sam Howell and Maye leading the way, North Carolina could move the ball on almost anybody in the country. That helped power five straight bowl appearances, an ACC Coastal Division title and three seasons with eight or more wins. Now that defense, which in a way was putting a ceiling on just how high the Tar Heels have been able to climb, is going to carry even more responsibility as the Tar Heels enter 2024 with questions at the quarterback position. Texas A&M transfer Max Johnson has committed to North Carolina and backup Conner Harrell showed flashes of potential in the bowl game against West Virginia. However, it is a position that is going to see a downgrade from the levels it has gotten in recent years.
That means the defense is going to need to be more effective in 2024, which will be the challenge for Chizik’s replacement at defensive coordinator. There is some talent on the roster that can be the building blocks for that group, but someone who is above-average at scheming up success could go a long way to helping that group improve enough to keep North Carolina as a top-half team in the ACC.