UNC makes change at defensive coordinator

UNC coach Mack Brown. (Al Diaz / Miami Herald via AP)

UNC is parting ways with defensive coordinator Jay Bateman.

Bateman, who arrived in 2019 as part of Mack Brown’s initial staff in his return to Carolina, after serving in the same position at Army from 2014 to 2018.

The Tar Heel defense finished 12th in the ACC in scoring this season, allowing 32.1 ppg. They were 11th in yards allowed at 418.5 per game and 6.1 per play.

Carolina appeared to get worse on the defensive side of the ball as the year went on, giving up 39 points to Virginia, 45 in a loss at Georgia Tech, and a four-week stretch where UNC gave up 35 in a loss to Florida State, 42 to Miami, 44 in a loss at Notre Dame and 55 to Wake Forest.

Carolina closed the season giving up 301 rushing yards to a South Carolina team whose top running back opted out of the bowl game.

That performance left Brown visibly frustrated in his postgame press conference.

“They were running the ball at will,” he said. “The most disappointing thing, which is what I live with, is that they rushed for 301 yards and we rushed for 128. The second thing (after stopping the run) is to make third downs. Stay on the field. They were getting seven to eight yards on first down, which made it easy on third. They were 6 of 11 converting them. We were 1 of 11. When you can’t do those two things, you’re going to lose. That’s 100%. That’s football. When I was with ESPN, they said, ‘Don’t just say that. It’s too simple.’ It’s facts. It’s real.”

Brown didn’t comment on Bateman’s status at the time, but he did promise that changes were coming.

“A lot of times, you won’t fix things as much when things are great,” he said. “We had a tough time today. … This will be better for our program than if we’d won 45-0. Everybody would have been happy. We wouldn’t have fixed as many things.”

Bateman will also need to be replaced on the recruiting front. He played a major role in the last two Carolina signing classes, which were both ranked among the ACC’s and nation’s best.

Former UNC linebacker Tommy Thigpen, who had served with Bateman as co-defensive coordinators, will remain on the staff.

Assuming Brown continues with co-coordinators, there is a long list of candidates who would be willing to come to Carolina to work with the young recruits Bateman has brought in on defense. Former Auburn head coach and UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik was a candidate in 2019, when Bateman was first hired. He left his previous stint with Carolina to be with family and hasn’t coached since, however. So he may not be willing to jump back into things.

Other former head coaches who might be considered are Will Muschamp, Al Golden, Jeremy Pruitt and Charlie Strong. Longtime coordinators Kevin Steele, Bob Shoop and Todd Grantham are also possibilities. One name to watch is up and coming coaching star Travis Williams, currently defensive coordinator at UCF.