Conversation with Gene Chizik, Part II

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In the second part of Inside Carolina's sitdown with Gene Chizik, the UNC defensive coordinator discusses his time away from coaching, and blending a great defense with a hurry-up, no huddle offense.

Have he and Larry Fedora had those conversations? Can it be done? Chizik goes on to discuss whether UNC has the personnel to match up with the type of defense he wants to run, and the motto for the defense this spring.

During your time away from coaching, you had an opportunity to visit with other football coaching staffs. Did you pick up any nuggets or learn anything that intrigued you?

I took a lot of NFL visits and spent some time with guys there, and some of it was, maybe, to get a better way to teach. Some of things I already had in terms of what we do. A lot of time when I go on those types of visits is to confirm, 'oh wow, yeah, they are teaching it the same way I would teach it,' or, to find something a little bit better or a little bit different in the way they present it.

So it was really more of that, watching how people practice, how do you stretch your practice with your offense, your defense, how they work together, come together, just to get a chance to evaluate other people without any pressure on you having to go back and install anything. Just a 10,000 foot view of what people were doing, and people were very gracious, and I could sit in on meetings with certain clubs. What it really became for me when everything was done was a lot of confirmation in there that I felt like, however we teach and communication that I felt like we were on the right track.

In college football, we’ve seen Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M hire John Chavis from LSU, and Gus Malzahn hire Will Muschamp from Florida, and Larry Fedora hire you. All three coaches are known for 'Hurry up, No Huddle' offenses. North Carolina ran more plays than any other team in the conference, yet held the ball for the fewest amount of minutes per game. Have you and Larry Fedora talked about how to marry the right defense to the type of offense he has?

Of course we’ve had those discussions, on the surface, because we’re not there yet in terms of the strategy of the season and how that intertwines, because it is all dependent upon each other: It is complementary football.

We’ve definitely had the surface discussions, not the detailed ones that I am sure we’re going to have. Larry is all about winning. He’s a great football coach so he understands the tie-in between the two. It’s just like practice right now, we’re talking about, alright, practice tempo, how are we going to make this work, we’re putting in a new defense, got to get lined up, got to teach.

There’s a good balance in give-and-take with how we’re doing that. Any time that becomes a topic of conversation we talk about it in depth and how it is going to unfold, so I am sure that will continue.

Is that discussion going on across college football? Is that the Holy Grail of college football these days, how to marry that type of offense with a great defense?

It’s worthy of some thought. We had to do that when I was the head coach at Auburn as well. Those were very, very, in-depth discussions. I know it can be done. It’s been done. I’ve been involved in it. It’s just putting your heads together and coming up with, what is the best way, given our people and our personnel, and our overall philosophy – our overall philosophy is going to be from Larry Fedora. We’re going to make it work however we've got to make it work. I know this, he’s a great football coach and he has really, really good ideas on how to win. He’s been in these types of offenses for a lot of years, going back to his days at Middle Tennessee, when they were just trying to install it, figure it out, and things of that nature.

He has a really good idea of the importance of trying to able to play within the structure of your whole team: Offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise, the whole deal. So, I feel very confident about that. We’ll definitely have those conversations and they are worthy conversations.

At practice it has been abundantly clear that you intend to install some version of the 4-3, which did not come as a shock. It is early, but do you feel that you have the personnel at UNC to play your preferred style of defense?

We’re still figuring out personnel. It is a little bit of a small sample size, two days worth, but I feel good about it. Our goal is to make sure that we have a good solid two-deep by the end of spring. I think the guys understand the level of competition we’re looking for. I think they understand what our standard and expectations are on defense.

When they understand the standard, and when they understand the expectation, and they have a care factor - most of these guys have a really high care factor, they care about trying to improve, they care about getting better, they care about playing good defense - then you’ve got a recipe where you can improve.

Really, that’s our goal. Our motto for the defense is 'inch by inch.' Because, literally, that’s what it is going to be. We saw inches of improvement from practice one to practice two, based on what we are teaching. We give them goals and we give them a mission statement every day on what we are trying to do. We want this to be measureable. I would say after looking at the film of the second day of practice as compared to the first day, inch by inch, in some areas, we got better.

A little higher level of understanding, higher level of productivity, a little more increase in our football IQ – all those things are happening in very small doses, which is what we expected. We’re going to continue on that pace inch by inch on all these things I just mentioned on a daily basis. Each day we expect to see improvement on those things we needed to improve on from the day before.

So that’s how we’re approaching this, we’re not looking for tomorrow’s practice to look like practice No. 7, or practice No. 13, it is literally an inch by inch mentality with our guys, and I am sure they will tell you that.

Check back on Wednesday for Part III of the interview…

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