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Gene Chizik resigning as UNC defensive coordinator, John Papuchis taking over

UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is resigning after two seasons to spend more time with his family.
UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is resigning after two seasons to spend more time with his family. rwillett@newsobserver.com

After two seasons as the defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Gene Chizik is resigning and leaving coaching to spend more time with his family, he announced in a statement on Thursday. Chizik informed the football team of his decision in a team meeting on Thursday afternoon.

Chizik arrived at UNC in January 2015, and head coach Larry Fedora hired him to rebuild a defense that, during the 2014 season, was among the worst in school history. Chizik in his two years helped bring the Tar Heels back to respectability defensively.

John Papuchis, who arrived at UNC at about the same time as Chizik, will become the Tar Heels’ new defensive coordinator. Papuchis has coached the team’s linebackers the past two seasons.

In announcing his decision to leave, Chizik detailed the strain in his personal life the past two seasons. While he worked at UNC, his family remained in Alabama, where Chizik had been the head coach at Auburn from 2009-12.

After Auburn fired him following the 2012 season, Chizik remained in Alabama while he worked in broadcasting. His family never joined him in Chapel Hill. In an open letter Chizik released on Thursday, he wrote of missing his twin daughters’ entire senior year of high school. He wrote of seeing only two of his son’s football and baseball games the past two years.

Chizik wrote that he “poured my heart into UNC football,” but that “after a lot of prayer and discussions” with his family, he decided to resign. In a statement that UNC released, Chizik described it as a “difficult decision.”

“I have always told my players family should come before football, and it’s time for me to follow my own advice,” Chizik said in that statement. “I look forward to watching my own son play the game I’ve dedicated my life and career to for the next two years, and I look forward to the simple joys of being a father and husband I’ve missed out on.”

On the field, Chizik’s departure is another blow to a program that has endured its share of them in recent weeks. The Tar Heels are losing their starting quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, who decided to skip his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

Trubisky is projected as a high first-round pick. UNC is also losing its starting running back, Elijah Hood, who also decided to skip his senior season to enter the draft. The Tar Heels’ best three receivers in recent seasons, Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins, were all seniors last season.

Defensively, the Tar Heels lose Nazair Jones, the centerpiece of the defensive line. He also decided to skip his senior season and make himself eligible for the draft. And now Chizik, the leader of the defense, is leaving, as well.

Chizik’s contract was due to expire at the end of this month. Papuchis, meanwhile, is “a natural fit” to succeed Chizik, Fedora said in a statement. Papuchis coached at Nebraska from 2008-14, and was the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator his final three seasons there.

“He knows our players and staff and will seamlessly transition into an expanded role,” Fedora said.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter

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