Chizik in Evaluation Mode

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Gene Chizik opened his introductory press conference on Wednesday as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator by waxing poetic about his defensive philosophy. The finer details of how he plans to transform arguably the worst defense in school history are yet to be determined.

UNC finished the 2014 season ranked 117th in total defense (497.8 ppg) and 116th in scoring defense (39.0 ppg), marks that ascend to the top of the record books even when adjusted for tempo.

Chizik, a heralded defensive coordinator with a Broyles Award and a pair of national championship trophies on his mantle, was brought in to replace former associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning both in scheme and philosophy.

“Gene’s going to base out of a 4-3,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora toldGoHeelsTV on Wednesday. “That’s going to be the base of our defense. We’re going to be an attacking, very aggressive style of defense. If you look back on the defenses that he’s coached in the past, he’s had some pretty good defenses. He knows what he’s doing, so I’ll turn that over to him and let him figure out how he wants to do it.”

Chizik, however, has spent the majority of his time as a Tar Heel assistant on the road recruiting leading up to National Signing Day. The 4-5 days that he has spent on campus were focused on film study of both UNC's current roster and long-standing prospects. Without hard and fast specifics in hand on Wednesday, he talked more about the look test of what he expects from his defense than the schematic details.

“You want the opponents to start worrying about you on Sunday by the intensity level and the effort level that your players give,” the 53-year-old said. “When you put on that film you want to see a certain element of selflessness with every player on the defense. So it really doesn’t matter if you’re a 4-3, a 3-4, or a 4-2-5.

“When you put on defensive film, philosophically for me over the years, those are the things I want people to see. I want to see aggressiveness, people playing with heart, and effort and soul down to the core of their body and I want them to see guys that are very selfless in terms of their contribution to being a great defense.”

He declined to unpack the particulars of UNC’s defensive signees, and stressed the importance of evaluating his roster personnel before making cementing any possible decisions.

“You have to look and see what skill set you have at every different position and then you have to put them into a position to be successful with what they can physically do,” Chizik said.

He spoke at length about the challenge of defending today’s wide spectrum of offenses, highlighting the need for variance within scheme without confusing the defensive personnel.

“That’s where the fine line is,” Chizik said. “And that’s where we have to go with it, we have to figure out what that balance is and again, that’s going to be based on the guys we have doing the job on the field.”

The evaluation process extends beyond the player roster. When asked about the potential staff retention of defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Dan Disch and defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, Chizik replied: “We’re evaluating everything from top to bottom.” reported Thursday that Disch had been relieved of his duties earlier in the day.

Disch’s dismissal leaves one opening on the defensive staff. UNC announced former Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis as a defensive assistant earlier this week. Papuchis coached the defensive line prior to being elevated to his coordinator position in Lincoln, although he told reporters on Wednesday that he was a walk-around coordinator the last three years and spent more time in the linebackers and defensive backs meeting rooms than he did the defensive line room.

No decision has been made on which position he will coach at UNC.

“I’ll fit where needed,” Papuchis said. “That’s something that Coach and I have got to sit down with the rest of the guys on staff and figure out what the best fit is. I’m sure that we’ll come to a conclusion on that pretty soon.”

Part of that conclusion will likely be based on further additions to Chizik’s defensive staff. In addition to Papuchis, Fedora and Chizik also interviewed former Auburn co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Charlie Harbison at the AFCA convention in Louisville last month, sources confirmed.

While Chizik spoke more in generalities than in specifics on Wednesday, he didn’t hesitate to hold up one position group above the others in terms of its value to his defense.

“In all of the defenses where I have felt like we’ve played a championship level-type of defense, everything starts with the defensive line,” Chizik said. “Everything.”

And even though Papuchis may not ultimately coach the defensive line, his experience in the trenches allowed him to offer insight into the quality of UNC’s current group of linemen.

“We have the pieces in place to be pretty good up front,” Papuchis said. “A lot of your success defensively is going to start there. The tradition that they have here, defensive line-wise, is second to none, so I think we can definitely build on that.”

That building process has only just begun.

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