Gene Chizik steps down as UNC defensive coordinator

Chapel Hill, NC – North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, whose leadership helped significantly improve the Tar Heels’ defense over the last two seasons, has decided to step down from his position to spend more time with his family in Auburn, Alabama.

North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik with his 2016 defensive squad.

North Carolina defensive coordinator Gene Chizik with his 2016 defensive squad.
photo by Gene Galin

“After a lot of prayer and discussions with my wife and children, I have made the difficult decision to step away from coaching to be with my family,” said Chizik. “The past two years at the University of North Carolina and the opportunity to work with Coach Fedora have been a blessing, and I’m extremely proud of the success we enjoyed. I have always told my players family should come before football, and it’s time for me to follow my own advice. 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.”

“These last two years with Gene have been exactly what I hoped they would be,” said head coach Larry Fedora. “The defensive improvement speaks for itself, but I’m equally as proud of the growth and development of our student-athletes on the defensive side of the ball.  I hate to lose Gene but certainly understand the reasoning behind his decision, I know it’s been hard on him and his family.  We wish the Chizik family all the best and appreciate their dedication to Tar Heel football.”

Chizik made an immediate impact on the UNC program in his first season, leading one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football.  Carolina was the nation’s most improved Power 5 defense in 2015 en route to a record-setting 11-3 season, a berth in the ACC Championship Game and a No. 15 final ranking in both national polls.

Based on UNC’s remarkable turnaround, Chizik was named a finalist for the 2015 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach.

Over the last two seasons, Carolina has won 19 games, including an 8-5 mark in 2016.  The 19 wins are the most in back-to-back seasons at UNC since winning 21 in 1996 (10) and 1997 (11).  Only 10 Power 5 schools have won more games in the last two years.

“I want to thank Coach Fedora, Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham, the administration, our players who have given so much, the loyal Tar Heel fans and donors who’ve made this an experience I’ll never forget,” said Chizik. “I will forever be a Tar Heel.”

Current linebackers coach John Papuchis, who worked with Chizik the last two seasons, will take over as Carolina’s defensive coordinator.

“John is a natural fit to take over our defense given his role the last two years and his previous experience as a coordinator,” said Fedora.  “He knows our players and staff and will seamlessly transition into an expanded role.”

Prior to joining the Tar Heel staff in 2015, Papuchis coached at Nebraska from 2008-14 and was the Huskers’ defensive coordinator during his last three years in Lincoln. Papuchis was the fourth-youngest defensive coordinator in the country and the youngest solo defensive coordinator when he was promoted to the position at Nebraska in 2012. Prior to joining Bo Pelini’s Nebraska staff in 2008, he worked at LSU under Nick Saban from 2004-07, and was a graduate assistant at Kansas from 2001-03.

Papuchis has plenty of big-game experience having coached at three other Power Five programs Nebraska, LSU and Kansas. In the past 12 seasons, he has coached in one national championship game (2007) and six conference title games, including the 2015 ACC title game in Charlotte.