CHARLOTTE — Scott Satterfield has two football loves.
The first is Appalachian State, the school at which he was a star quarterback and, for the past six years, a coach who led the Mountaineers to new heights in its transition to FBS status.
The other is the ACC, a conference he grew up watching as a youngster in Durham and whose gravitational pull remains so strong, it lured him away from his alma mater to take the job coaching at Louisville.
“It’s a dream come true to be here, it really is having grown up right there in ACC country with Carolina, Duke, State, Wake, all these teams,” Satterfield said earlier this month at the ACC’s Football Kickoff media event, adding that he felt as though there wasn’t much more left to be accomplished by staying with the Mountaineers.
“I love App, the 23 years I spent there. But the opportunity to coach, to be a head coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference is a tremendous honor for me. These jobs just don’t become available. … If that’s a goal or dream of yours, you have to take advantage of it.”
The thing about dreams is that you eventually wake up from them.
In Satterfield’s case, the dream of getting hired by an ACC program is about to be tempered by the reality of the rebuilding job the 46-year-old coach faces with the Cardinals.
Louisville has fallen from a nine-game winner that shared the ACC’s Atlantic Division title with Clemson and boasted a Heisman Trophy quarterback in Lamar Jackson just three years ago to a disjointed squad that went 0-8 in the conference last season under embattled former coach Bobby Petrino.
This year’s team was picked to finish last in the division again, but Satterfield is confident that he and his staff will be able to prove the experts wrong — just as they did at App State during the transition from FCS.
Satterfield believes there are many similarities between his current task and the one he faced with the Mountaineers before they went on to win four straight bowl and three Sun Belt Conference championships while compiling a 40-11 record since 2015.
“When I took over at App, we were going from the Southern Conference to the Sunbelt Conference, which is a step up. There’s a lot of things we had to do,” he said. “We went from 63 scholarships to 85 scholarships. You had to build that team out to be competitive.
“We’re kind of doing that here. I’m going to draw from the experience I had at App of how we want to build our team out as we move forward. It takes a little bit of time. Obviously, people throw the word ‘culture’ around a lot. We’re changing the way we do things, which is culture. But you have to be consistent on a daily basis.”
It’s a process he said isn’t going to happen overnight.
“People talk about, ‘How are you going to measure success next fall?’ It’s not in terms of wins and losses for me,” Satterfield said. “It’s in terms of attitude and effort on a daily basis. That’s going to be how we determine success. If you’re doing that, we’re doing those kind of things, we will end up winning games, we will end up having a very successful program.”
The difference between Satterfield and his predecessor is already as noticeable as the famous twin spires at Churchill Downs, which is located literally across the street from Louisville’s Cardinal Stadium.
Petrino was brash, outspoken and sometimes out of control — both on and off the field. Satterfield is more quiet and calculated. As was the case at App State, he plans to call his own plays rather than delegating the task to an offensive coordinator.
Although he and his players have had only 15 practices to get to know each other this spring, senior wide receiver Seth Dawkins said that he and his teammates like what they’ve seen from their new coach.
“We respect Coach Satterfield so much,” Dawkins said. “He’s very family-oriented, man. He’s a great person. We feel we can trust him. They put their expectations out there the first day. We’re just following him. He’s known for winning. We’re trusting the process. Whatever it takes to win, we’re willing to do as a team.”
The Cardinals will have their work cut out for them this season, starting with an opening game on Labor Day night against Notre Dame. Regardless of the degree of difficulty, it’s an occasion Satterfield has been anticipating since those Saturday afternoons watching ACC games on television in the living room of his youth.
“For me to be able to play in this league and to be able to come back, play in Raleigh, play in Winston, coming back to where I grew up,” he said, “it’s pretty cool for me.”