What does staff turnover mean for UNC’s defense?


Within the last three weeks, North Carolina has lost two position coaches to SEC schools.

In the final days of December, Tar Heel defensive line coach Tray Scott departed for Ole Miss. On Monday of this week, secondary coach Charlton Warren left to coach Tennessee’s defensive backs and special teams.

According to InsideCarolina.com, UNC has hired Texas A&M secondary coach Terry Joseph to replace Warren.

The 2014 season marked a low point for the the Tar Heels defensively. That sparked a complete overhaul of the defensive staff and the hiring of current coordinator Gene Chizik.

Chizik has garnered a lot of praise for revitalizing North Carolina’s defense. After allowing 39 points per game in 2014, the Tar Heels allowed 24.5 PPG in 2015 and 24.9 in 2016.

Chizik, however, wasn’t alone in these efforts; Scott and Warren both arrived in Chapel Hill with the former Auburn coach in 2015 and helped greatly improve their position groups.

The Tar Heels managed to intercept only one pass in the 2016 — by far the lowest total in the ACC. Miami finished second-to-last with eight. It was also a significant drop from the previous season, when UNC intercepted 17 passes, which tied with Louisville for the most in the conference. The Tar Heels also led the ACC in turnover margin during the historic 2015 season.

Despite the sharp, drastic decline in interceptions, North Carolina, by some metrics, did well against the pass this season. Opponents completed 55.8 percent of their passes (No. 6 in the ACC), and UNC allowed just 180.8 yards through the air per game. Those are solid figures, especially considering that the defense was on the field a lot; North Carolina ranked last in the ACC in time of possession, holding the ball for a little over 24 minutes per game.

Football Study Hall’s composite S&P-plus statistic ranked North Carolina as No. 69 nationally against the pass this past season. UNC allowed just 11 touchdowns through the air in 2016, which was fourth-fewest in the nation. It helps, of course, when a defense boasts players like Naz Jones, M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence.

DB Havoc Rate6.6% (56)4.6% (119)
DL Havoc Rate4.1% (87)5.1% (56)
Sacks Per Game1.641.92
Passes Defended Per Game5.643.62
Adjusted Sack Rate85.3 (91)105.2 (57)

Note: Numbers in parentheses denote national rankings 

(Havoc rate, which comes courtesy of Football Study Hall, refers to the percentage of plays in which a defense either forced a fumble, recorded a tackle for loss or defended a pass.)

North Carolina’s defense ascended the proverbial ladder last two seasons, but the Tar Heels weren’t exactly razor-sharp on that side of the ball. There is room for growth, and a lot of work needs to be done. Now, Chizik and Larry Fedora will have to push closer to that pie in the sky with a reshuffled staff.

With Joseph coaching defensive backs, Texas A&M finished tied for No. 44 nationally in yards allowed per pass in 2016. The Aggies picked off 12 passes.