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How Will ACC Football Coaching Changes Affect Pitt?

Mack Brown, recently hired as North Carolina's football coach, leaves the 2018 Women's College Soccer Cup Final at WakeMed Park in Cary, N.C. on Sunday, Dec. 2. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

How Will ACC Football Coaching Changes Affect Pitt?

There are some new sheriffs in a few ACC towns.

Bobby Petrino, Larry Fedora and Paul Johnson are out. The first two were canned for poor performances and the third — the grandfather of the triple option — decided to retire.

Replacing them are Scott Satterfield at Louisville, Mack Brown (yes, that Mack Brown) at North Carolina and Geoff Collins, formerly of Temple, at Georgia Tech.

But what do these coaching changes mean for Pitt? How will Pat Narduzzi and his boys be affected by the arrivals of Satterfield and Collins, and the return of Brown?

North Carolina: Improved defense, dedication to in-state recruiting

Mack Brown last coached the Tar Heels in 1997 and more than two decades later, he’s back. College football fans have most recently seen the 67-year-old coach at ESPN, where he had been a commentator for the past few years. Brown won a national title at Texas in 2005 with a squad featuring future NFLers Vince Young, Jamaal Charles, Brian Orakpo and Michael Huff.

Brown went to a bowl game every season he was at Texas, except for one in 2010. He was 10-5 in those games. Before his reign at Texas, he led the Tar Heels from 1988 to 1997. Despite winning just two games over his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, Brown led the Tar Heels to a trio of 10-win seasons from 1993 to 1997. He went 3-2 in bowl games at North Carolina.

All of this is to say, we haven’t seen Brown on a sideline in college football in quite a while, but in his last two stints, he won. Pitt was one of North Carolina’s two wins this past season, and it seems like beating the Tar Heels won’t get any easier.

For starters, the defense should be improved, based on who Brown is bringing in to run it. He hired Jay Bateman, who leaves Army after building the Black Knights’ defensive unit up to the best its been in several years. Army finished the regular season with 10 wins and ranked No. 22 in the AP Poll. The Black Knights were the only team this season to hold Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under 200 passing yards and the only team to hold Oklahoma under 30 points.

Bateman’s defense was 12th in FBS against the rush, third defending third downs — allowing opponents to convert just 26.7 percent of the time — and was also 20th in passing yards allowed. It should be noted that Bateman accomplished this at Army mostly with players who Power 5 programs wouldn’t sniff at. The Service Academies are extremely difficult to get into, there are height and weight requirements, and then there’s that part of selling a teenager on the idea of serving five years in the military after they graduate.

The Tar Heels should be solid on offense too. They hired Phil Longo, formerly of Ole Miss, as offensive coordinator. Longo’s Rebels had the fifth-best passing offense in the country this past season, averaging 346.4 yards per-game.

One thing that won’t affect Pitt much under Brown is recruiting, at least in each school’s respective state. Pitt carries zero players on its roster from North Carolina, and UNC has zero players from Pennsylvania on its roster. A dedication to in-state recruiting should at least stay the same, if not increase, under Brown. His last roster at UNC, in 1997, featured 64 homegrown players.

Last weekend, Brown landed six verbal commitments and four of those were from in-state players. One of them was four-star wide receiver Khafre Brown of Charlotte.

Pitt will host Brown and UNC at Heinz Field in 2019.

Satterfield can change the culture at Louisville

After a 2-10 season that saw the firing of Bobby Petrino, Louisville was in need of something fresh.

They went to the Group of Five ranks to get their man, hiring Scott Satterfield away from Appalachian State, a place where he had a ton of success. Satterfield had coached at App State since 2013 and helped the Mountaineers transition from FCS to FBS. In each of his final four seasons, App State finished no worse than second in the Sun Belt and appeared in a bowl game.

This past season, Satterfield’s Mountaineers nearly upset then-ranked No. 10 Penn State in Happy Valley, ultimately falling in overtime by seven points. App State’s lone other loss in 2018 came on the road against a tough Georgia Southern team.

App State went 51-24 under Satterfield and did so without any hints of controversy. At App State, Satterfield ran a clean program and won, and he’s hoping to do the same at Louisville. And he’ll do it his way. Satterfield’s staff recently revoked a handful of scholarship offers to high school recruits that Petrino gave out before he was fired.

On the recruiting front, there isn’t much Pitt needs to be concerned about. There were zero players from Pennsylvania on the rosters of App State and Louisville this year.

Pitt doesn’t play Louisville in 2019. By the time the Cardinals roll around to the Panthers’ schedule, Satterfield may have built them into a conference contender.

Collins in, triple option out at Georgia Tech

While Pitt won’t see Louisville in 2019, they will play against Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets will look very different — on offense, at least.

With Paul Johnson retiring, the Yellow Jackets will no longer be lining up in the wishbone, the flexbone or any other form of his option offense that has tormented ACC defenses for a decade. New head coach Geoff Collins, a Georgia native, has already said that he will bring in “NFL-based” schemes to Georgia Tech. And NFL teams don’t run much of the designs in Johnson’s playbook, despite how successful they might be.

A change in offensive schemes could mean that Georgia Tech under-performs in its first year under Collins. Johnson recruited players designed specifically for his offense, which features hulking fullbacks, speedy slots, a quarterback who runs and tosses better than he passes, and offensive lineman who sacrifice size for speed. Temple threw 33 times per-game this past year under Collins. Georgia Tech threw just 9.5 passes per-game under Johnson.

In 2018, the only teams to rush for more than 300 yards against Pitt were Georgia Tech and Clemson. The Yellow Jackets ran 56 times and threw the ball just 15 times in that Sept. 15 win for the Panthers. Those numbers will likely change with Collins at the helm.

Collins was the coach at Temple for just two seasons, taking the job after Matt Rhule left for Baylor. He went 15-10 as the Owls head coach and led them to a bowl game in each season. The 47-year-old had also previously served as a defensive coordinator at Western Carolina, FIU, Mississippi State and Florida.

At Temple, he won with a roster filled with players from Pennsylvania, but just three of those 43 players were from Allegheny County. Georgia Tech carried zero players on its roster from Pennsylvania in 2018. It’s unclear if Collins will try to stay connected to Pennsylvania as he begins filling Georgia Tech’s roster with his own recruits.

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