Appalachian State was the preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference’s East Division and play in the league’s first-ever postseason championship game.
So in that respect, the Mountaineers lived up to their expectations in 2018.
But as Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski likes to say, a season isn’t about the destination, it’s all about the journey. And oh, what a journey it was for App State on the way to its third straight league title.
The Mountaineers started the season by taking Penn State to overtime. Then, with a new quarterback playing in place of a record-setting four-year starter, App State ascended into the national polls for the first time in school history.
They overcame a season-ending injury to their leading rusher, rebounded from a disheartening nationally televised loss in which quarterback Zac Thomas suffered a concussion and still ended up winning 10 games and the division.
It’s a performance that not only helped coach Scott Satterfield get a new, higher-profile job — he was hired by Louisville shortly after the Mountaineers beat Louisiana-Lafayette in the first Sun Belt Championship Game — but also earned him recognition from the staff of the North State Journal as the state’s Coach of the Year.
“We faced adversity just like another good football team does throughout a season, but these guys just continued to rally each and every week,” Satterfield said following the Louisiana-Lafayette game. “It’s hard to win. It’s hard to win championships. These guys right here, they fight each and every day to try to make it happen.
“That’s why that we’ve been able to have so much success over the last four seasons. It’s hard to beat a team that plays for each other like we do.”
Satterfield learned that philosophy from his own former App State coach Jerry Moore, for whom he played quarterback from 1989-91. As a senior, he led the Mountaineers to an undefeated regular season and the quarterfinals of what is now known as the FCS playoffs.
The 45-year-old Hillsborough native then cut his coaching teeth as an assistant to Moore during his alma mater’s run of three straight FCS national championships before taking over the program upon his mentor’s retirement in 2013.
Satterfield proved to be the right man at the right time when the Mountaineers made the transition to FBS status. Their 41 wins in the four years since — including four straight bowl victories — are the most victories of any Group of Five program during that stretch.
And yet despite all that, Satterfield is reluctant to take credit for his program’s success.
“It’s a reflection of our players and staff. That’s the bottom line,” he said. “I’m not one to want to be in the spotlight. I don’t like that. I want all our players to get recognized and our coaches.
“This is a team sport and we have 115 guys in our locker room, and if we all work as one, a lot of guys are going to get recognized. We’ve been one of the most consistent programs in the country over the last four years, and it speaks volumes to this senior class and what they’ve been able to do for our program.”
As much as he tried to downplay it, Satterfield’s contribution to that success didn’t go unnoticed by schools with more prominent programs.
His name was mentioned in connection with job openings at North Carolina and Georgia Tech this year before he finally took the job at Louisville and a contract that pays him $3.69 million over the next three seasons.
“It’s what dreams are made of for me,” Satterfield said at his introductory press conference “It proves the point that if you work your tail off and have a great attitude every single day, your dreams can be met and they will come true, because I’m living those dreams at the University of Louisville.”
Also Considered: NC State football coach Dave Doeren; UNC baseball coach Mike Fox and women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance; coach Paul Riley of the NWSL champion N.C. Courage; and Murphy High School football coach David Gentry.
Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson was the NSJ staff’s prediction for 2018 Coach of the Year, but injuries ravaged the Demon Deacons. Still, Clawson’s team scrapped to win two of its last three games to become bowl eligible for the third straight year.