Scott Satterfield made the other programs wait.
The former Appalachian State coach made it clear to his representatives and potential employers that he would not talk until after the 2018 Sun Belt Conference championship game.
When the Mountaineers came out of that matchup victorious, a 30-19 win against Louisiana on Dec. 1, he settled into his final App State press conference after the trophy presentation. Satterfield sat there, drenched in rain and covered in confetti, knowing his next few days would be busy and, potentially, even life changing.
Three days later, Satterfield was on the other side of a coaching search as Louisville’s head coach and coping with professional whiplash. It was such a frantic time that on the afternoon of Dec. 3, when the news of his hiring started breaking on social media, Satterfield’s kids started asking him for details. To be honest, he said later, he didn’t have anything to tell them.
“The head coaches really don’t know a whole lot — people may think they know a lot, but they really don’t,” said Satterfield, who went 54-21 in his six seasons coaching his alma mater. “... You know, you get offered a job you’ve got to, in your mind, have an idea whether or not we’re going to take this job because it happens so fast.”
The hiring process for Louisville started a month earlier, when the university fired Bobby Petrino on Nov. 11, near the end of a dismal season. But Satterfield had to act quickly, making a decision that pulled him away from coaching Appalachian in the New Orleans Bowl, as well as from a program where he spent 23 seasons as a player, assistant and head coach.
And as he began to settle in at Louisville, Satterfield faced a conundrum — which of his 10 assistant coaches should he bring with him? More importantly, how could he secure their employment and future, be it with him or elsewhere?
It’s a dilemma that coaches like Jeff Brohm of Purdue, Dave Clawson of Wake Forest and Scott Frost of Nebraska have all faced, all of them jumping from the Group-of-Five level to a Power-Five program at some point in their careers.
They all had to size up their new program’s needs and weigh them against their old staff’s strengths.
For most, it’s simple. A new job is a chance to reward your crew.
More often than not, head coaches will take a majority of their former coaching staff members with them. The Journal examined 20 instances of coaching transitions ranging back to 2010, looking at Group-of-Five head coaches who won 10 games or more the season before taking a Power-Five job. The results show the hiree, on average, brought five assistant coaches to the new job.
Now that didn’t always mean each assistant maintained their on-field role at the new school, but the coach found a spot for the person somewhere.
When Jeff Brohm took the Purdue job in 2016 after three seasons as Western Kentucky’s head coach, he wanted to bring all of his assistant coaches with him. Not only because he had built success with those guys, but because he also felt it reflected the team concept many coaches preach to their players.
A head coach, Brohm said, often gets all the credit. This was a way to show his assistants that their previous work was appreciated. Brohm was able to hire eight of his nine Western Kentucky assistants at Purdue. The ninth, Bryan Ellis, ended up at Southern Cal as an offensive quality control coach. He is now the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky.
Admittedly, Brohm felt the emotional weight of building his Boilermaker coaching staff. He kept thinking about all the people around Western Kentucky’s recent success.
“That’s probably why I brought so many. I think, like I said, while it’s important to take care of your own family, it’s important to take care of the entire family,” Brohm said. “... I think it is important to consider those relationships and the people you’re around, and how it affects everyone and not just yourself.”
In Satterfield’s first few days with the Cardinals, he realized he was one of the few people around the football facility. He needed to get to work, he needed to start recruiting, and he couldn’t wait long.
“I’m kind of overwhelmed,” Satterfield remembered. “I’m the only one in the office here, and I don’t know anybody. And we’ve got to get so many things done.”
Satterfield brought in four App State people immediately, two of which were Mountaineers assistant coaches. One was Bryan Brown, his young defensive coordinator. Another was Frank Ponce, Satterfield’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
He keyed on those two guys for understandable reasons. Ponce was someone well versed in Satterfield’s offense — they’d worked together at Florida International as assistants from 2010 to 2011 — and had deep ties to the fertile recruiting areas in Florida. And the immediate addition of Brown gave the defense a leader, allowing the 3-4 system that thrived at Appalachian to be implemented as soon as possible.
For the other coaches he hoped to bring, Satterfield had to wait on the process and allow them to weigh their job options. Satterfield said it was likely that he might not have on-field coaching opportunities for all of them, needing to hire assistants with Power-Five experience. Some of his old coworkers might have better opportunities in Boone, and Satterfield wanted to give them time to see if that was the case. Mark Ivey, App State’s interim coach following Satterfield’s departure, was in the running to be the Mountaineers next head coach. That obviously would be a great situation for Ivey, an App State alumnus.
Ultimately Ivey didn’t get the job. It instead went to Eli Drinkwitz. In turn, Ivey became Louisville’s defensive line coach. Satterfield scooped up three other Appalachian staffers as well, including one who became a casualty of turnover. Nic Cardwell, Satterfield’s tight ends coach, announced on Jan. 2 that he would not be retained by Drinkwitz. Satterfield gave him an offensive quality control position at Louisville.
The hiring of his old staffers provided an immediate comfort and gave him confidence in the foundation he was setting in his new role. It’s the same reason why Scott Frost hired all nine of his Central Florida staffers when he left for Nebraska following the 2017 season.
“We were fortunate enough at UCF to take a program from 0-12 to 13-0 in two years, which is next to impossible,” Frost said. “If they were good enough to accomplish that at UCF, they are good enough to coach anywhere.”
It's not always simple
Clawson, the Wake Forest coach, can describe the whirlwind Satterfield went through almost verbatim.
Clawson was hired more than five years ago from Bowling Green. But the chaotic nature of the entire process is hard to forget. The Falcons claimed the 2013 MAC championship with a win against Northern Illinois. After a quick courtship, he was hired Dec. 10, 2013, by Wake Forest — a mere four days after coaching the Falcons to the conference title.
“I mean, I accepted the job without seeing the facilities or walking the campus,” Clawson said.
Clawson soon had to face an issue Brohm and Satterfield didn’t — moving outside of his previous recruiting footprint. It’s a factor that became significant in Clawson’s new job.
At Bowling Green (in Ohio), it was important to have assistants who could recruit in Cleveland and Detroit. But moving to North Carolina, he would need people with connections to places like Charlotte and Raleigh. Ties to Atlanta wouldn’t hurt, either.
Clawson brought four of his Falcons assistants with him: offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero, defensive coordinator Mike Elko (now at Texas A&M), special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Adam Scheier (now a special teams consultant at Mississippi State) and running backs coach John Hunter.
The then-new Wake Forest coach would retain two Jim Grobe staffers: Derrick Jackson and Warren Belin. Jackson played at Duke and worked briefly in Georgia (with West Georgia from 1999 to 2000) and Texas (Rice, 2011). Belin’s five previous stops at the time were the Carolina Panthers (2011 to 2012), Georgia (2010), Vanderbilt (2002 to 2009), SMU (1997 to 2001) and William & Mary (1995 to 1996).
Clawson also hired Kevin Higgins as his assistant head coach and wide receivers coach. Higgins has spent the previous eight years as the head coach of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. He was also Clawson’s boss at Lehigh, where the latter served as the former’s offensive coordinator.
Satterfield battled a struggle of his own with the early signing period. The 2017 season was the first to allow high school football players to sign with programs before the typical February window. App State benefited in a major way that year, netting 24 signees during the new three-day period.
Early signing day forced athletic directors to start their hiring procedures sooner, giving coaches time to salvage the recruiting class.
Satterfield, who’s inheriting a 2-10 program in dire need of a recruiting recharge, said the signing period makes it extremely difficult for the coach and the departing school. It’s why the team meeting he had with players on the morning of Dec. 4 was even more difficult than he imagined.
Here was a program where he’d spent almost all of his adult life and a group of players he and his staff poured effort and time into recruiting. He didn’t want his former players to feel abandoned, Satterfield said. But thankfully, he felt his players understood that the impromptu gathering was an unfortunate result of a change.
“It’s tough, I mean it’s tough on everybody I think, and every year this is happening throughout college football,” Satterfield said. “So you know, I don’t think it’s ever easy. That’s the hard thing.
“But hopefully you make it the best situation you can possibly make it for all parties and hope you just do it the right way.”