App State eyes in-house, outside candidates

With Scott Satterfield gone to Louisville, the Mountaineers are searching for their next football coach

Appalachian State’s next coach will benefit from the return of standout freshman quarterback Zac Thomas. (Andrew Dye/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

There wasn’t any question of who would replace Jerry Moore when the legendary Appalachian State football coach retired in 2012 following a career that included three straight FCS national championships and one epic upset of Michigan.

Scott Satterfield was a former Mountaineer quarterback and offensive coordinator who was seemingly groomed for the job.

The line of succession isn’t as clear now that Satterfield has left Boone to take over the program at Louisville.

Defensive line coach and fellow App State alumnus Mark Ivey has been chosen to lead the team in this weekend’s New Orleans Bowl game against Middle Tennessee State and is a viable candidate to be Satterfield’s permanent replacement.

But according to a statement issued by athletic director Doug Gillin, the Mountaineers’ search for their next coach won’t be limited to the confines of Watauga County.

“We have already commenced a national search to find the next leader of App State football,” he said. “When you have a winning program, there is going to be outside interest in your coaches, as has been the case often since I arrived at Appalachian. I can assure you that we have a plan for this search process to find the right fit who understands our culture to lead this program.”

Satterfield compiled a 51-24 record in six seasons as the Mountaineers’ coach, including a 10-2 mark this year that includes a victory against Louisiana-Lafayette in the inaugural Sun Belt Conference championship game on Dec. 1.

He guided the program through a seamless transition from FCS status to the FBS, where his teams have qualified for bowls in each of their first four seasons at college football’s highest level. And the cupboard he leaves at his alma mater is anything but bare. Most of the Mountaineers’ key players — including quarterback Zac Thomas, running back Darrynton Evans, cornerback Clifton Duck and All-Sun Belt Conference linebackers Jordan Fehr and Akeem Davis-Gaither — are underclassmen who will be back next year.

According to AD Gillin, the criteria for the man he eventually hires to continue App State’s success include more than just a strong resume and winning record. Among them are a reputation for high character and community engagement and a commitment to player development both on and off the field.

With the exception of head coaching experience, Ivey checks all the boxes.

A former linebacker and defensive lineman who recorded 166 tackles in 47 games with the Mountaineers from 1991-95, Ivey has been an assistant coach at App State for the past seven years. Popular among his players, he has been an integral part of a defense that ranks sixth nationally this season, allowing an average of 15.7 points per game.

“I’m excited that (Gillin) and the university trusts me with this fantastic program,” Ivey said. “As always, I love being a Mountaineer, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as interim head coach.”

Ivey isn’t the only current staff member that figures to get serious consideration for the permanent coaching job. The list of candidates also includes co-offensive coordinator Shawn Clark and co-defensive coordinator Dale Jones (Bryan Brown and Frank Ponce, the other co-coordinators, followed Satterfield for Louisville).

Among the outside names most prominently mentioned are:

• Wisconsin assistant John Settle, a former NFL running back who was App State’s all-time leading rusher at the time of his graduation;

• Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott, another alumnus who finished out the 2015 season as interim coach at South Carolina after Steve Spurrier walked away and who led his Panthers to a bowl game in 2017 before going 2-9 this season;

• Miami offensive line coach Stacey Searels, an assistant under Moore at App State from 1994-2000;

• Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton, another former Mountaineers assistant.

Although Gillin has not put a timetable on when he’d like to have a new coach in place, he’s confident in his ability to find the right fit.

“I am excited about the future of our football program,” he said in his message to his school’s fans. “This year we reached Top 25 status and won the inaugural Sun Belt championship game on our home field. We have a great young nucleus of student-athletes returning. We have the privilege to represent a great university with a proud football tradition and a passionate fan base. This is a highly attractive job.”