The remnants of Scott Satterfield’s staff, led by defensive line coach Mark Ivey, guided Appalachian State to an impressive 45-14 rout of Middle Tennessee State in the New Orleans Bowl on Saturday.
But that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, according to the man who called the plays in the Mountaineers’ fourth straight bowl victory since making the transition to FBS status.
“No matter who’s here,” outgoing run game coordinator Shawn Clark said, “Appalachian State football is here to stay.”
The implication is that while the ultra-successful Satterfield era is now officially a thing of the past, the Mountaineers’ run as a Group of Five power is far from over.
It’s a belief shared by the man hired to continue the momentum of a program that returns 18 starters from a team that went 11-2 this season and has won or shared the last three Sun Belt Conference championships.
Eliah Drinkwitz got his first look at the team he’ll inherit Saturday, watching from the sidelines as a spectator while App State rolled to its victory at the Superdome.
He was so impressed with what he saw that, despite the success he achieved as NC State’s offensive coordinator and in the development of soon-to-be NFL quarterback Ryan Finley, he’s not planning on making any major changes now that he’s arrived in Boone.
“We’re not coming here to shock the system, but to enhance the culture,” Drinkwitz said at his introductory press conference Monday.
“I’m not bringing NC State’s offense up here. Now I know what the DNA will look like, but it’s going to look different (from the Wolfpack). We have a talented quarterback and we’re going to tailor it to him.”
That quarterback is sophomore Zac Thomas, who threw for 21 touchdowns with only six interceptions on his way to winning Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year honors in his first year as a starter.
Unlike Finley, though, Thomas is also an effective runner with more than 500 more yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground despite missing the better part of two games with a concussion.
Combined with first-team all-conference running back Darrynton Evans, who is also just a sophomore, Thomas led an offense that ranks among the top 20 nationally at 37.3 points per game. Eight of App State’s 16 all-conference selections were underclassmen on the offensive side of the ball.
With all those weapons set to come back, athletic director Doug Gillin said hiring an offensive-minded coach was high on his list of priorities in the search to find Satterfield’s replacement.
“We enjoy our offense around here,” Gillen said.
The 35-year-old Drinkwitz, who graduated magna cum laude from Arkansas Tech, certainly checks that box. He favors a no-huddle attack that can go up-tempo when it wants and slow things down when it needs to in order to protect its defense.
He summarized his philosophy in three words — rhythm, attack and execute — and said his initial plan is to serve as his own offensive coordinator.
Drinkwitz acknowledged that there’s risk involved with trying to juggle the play-calling duties with the many other responsibilities that come with running a program. But he knows it can work from having seen Gus Malzahn do both jobs successfully while the two worked together at Arkansas State.
“I understand that if you’re the head coach and you’re also the offensive coordinator, then you’ve just doubled your responsibility,” Drinkwitz said. “I’m fully ready for that. I’m excited to attack that. This is not something that’s uncommon to me.
“I know what I’m attacking. I also know that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me as an offensive coordinator.”
Although Drinkwitz has yet to announce any staff hirings, he indicated that he’s considering retaining several of Satterfield’s assistants. It’s the product of the appreciation he said he’s already gained for the tradition and passion that have become the trademarks of App State’s program.
“The first thing you’re going to see is pride because that’s what being a representative of Appalachian is,” Drinkwitz said. “When I was down in New Orleans, you could see the pride. Everybody that came and shook my hand and wished me luck, you could tell there was a sense of pride and a sense of belonging in this university, in this program.
“All these players and all these student-athletes that we’re going to recruit, the current team, they’re going to display pride for who we are and what we’re going to be.”