Luke DeCock

DeCock: Chizik’s work at UNC award-worthy

North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has taken a defense that gave up touchdown after touchdown a year ago and, with mostly the same personnel, turned it into a group good enough to win a Coastal Division title.
North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has taken a defense that gave up touchdown after touchdown a year ago and, with mostly the same personnel, turned it into a group good enough to win a Coastal Division title. rwillett@newsobserver.com

There has never been a two-time winner of the Broyles Award that goes to college football’s top assistant coach. It typically goes to an up-and-coming coordinator who quickly goes on to become a head coach.

There are exceptions, like Virgina Tech defensive coordinator-for-life Bud Foster, who won in 2004, but for the most part, there hasn’t been a repeat Broyles winner because only nine of the 18 Broyles winners so far have remained assistant coaches. Like Gene Chizik, the 2004 Broyles honoree at Auburn and the coach of Auburn’s 2010 national champions.

“I didn’t think you could even be nominated for it twice, to be honest with you,” Chizik said.

Chizik is a finalist again this year for his work at North Carolina, something that surprised even him. (So is Alabama’s Kirby Smart, the 2009 winner.) If the intent of the award is to honor up-and-coming assistant coaches who go largely unrecognized, then it would probably be best if one of the other finalists won. Chizik, you get the sense, would be just fine with that. Being the first two-time Broyles winner might be sort of a dubious honor.

They’re going to try to keep everything in front of you and outscore you on offense. I think what Gene Chizik has done is truly phenomenal this year.

Clemson guard Eric Mac Lain

Based solely on Chizik’s 11 months at North Carolina, there shouldn’t even be any other finalists. What Chizik has done, taking a defense that gave up touchdown after touchdown a year ago and, with mostly the same personnel, turning into a group good enough to win a Coastal Division title.

“Hey, we haven’t played great defense all year,” Chizik said. “Sometimes we’ve played great. Sometimes we’ve played good. Sometimes we’ve stunk. Right? But if you look at the whole body of work, what we always talk about is scoring defense. You can take every other stat and throw it out the window.”

The Tar Heels have given up points at times, but typically either off their own turnovers (Virginia Tech) or playing vanilla defense with the game well in hand (Duke, N.C. State).

Chizik’s formula for success hasn’t been complicated. In fact, it’s been the opposite. Above all else, he’s really simplified things and gone back to the basics of defense: tackling, positioning, hustling. There’s nothing fancy or tricky, just doing the basics well.

“In a way it’s definitely simplified,” North Carolina linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “A couple games throughout the season we’ve only had two or three calls we’ve used throughout the game. He believes if the players are seeing the game well, there’s no need to call multiple blitzes and things. This game we’ll have definitely a lot of things dialed up for Deshaun Watson.”

Watson and Clemson will be the toughest test for the Tar Heels yet on Saturday in the ACC Championship Game, an explosive offense that can score so quickly in so many ways. Which is exactly what North Carolina’s defense is set up to prevent, a strategy not lost on Clemson.

“They’re not going to give up big plays,” Clemson guard Eric Mac Lain said. “They’re going to try to keep everything in front of you and outscore you on offense. I think what Gene Chizik has done is truly phenomenal this year.”

Chizik is quick to give credit to his position coaches, support staff and players – and to be sure, the defense benefited as much as anyone from the priority Larry Fedora placed on leadership and teambuilding in the offseason, which would have been true no matter who was hired to oversee the defense – but Chizik knows as well as anyone that the farther you get up the coaching food chain, you get more credit than you deserve and accept more of the blame.

You might even accept an award you never expected to win a second time, or happily watch someone else win it for the first time on Tuesday, even when you’re the most deserving candidate.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

  Comments