Tuesday afternoon, Louisville will introduce Scott Satterfield as the 23rd head coach of the Cardinal football program. In a since-deleted tweet, departing senior defensive lineman Henry Famurewa summed up both the excitement and the apprehension some U of L fans are feeling at the moment.
Louisville football has found itself stuck in a hole many times before. Rarely has the climb out been more steep, and never before has the situation itself been less anticipated.
Stability was supposed to have been achieved five years ago. The move to the ACC put to bed forever the issue of conference realignment or of playing in an inferior league being used against Louisville on the recruiting trail. Bobby Petrino, for all his faults, was a proven winner who would do what he always had as a college head coach.
Disappointment was supposed to be 8-4 or 7-5 campaigns. Ecstasy was supposed to be competing for national titles and going blow for blow with Clemson and Florida State for the King of the Conference title.
Instead, here we are, beginning another blind climb. Every hand over hand motion, every step is a struggle, and there’s no guarantee that all the effort is even taking us in the right direction. But it beats sitting.
There’s no point in rehashing all of the unseemly details about what Satterfield is inheriting. Louisville finished near the bottom of the FBS in every meaningful positive statistic — total offense, total defense ... wins. And it finished near the top of the FBS in every meaningful negative statistic — penalties, turnovers ... passive aggressive player tweets.
When things go as wrong as they did for Louisville in 2018 — historically wrong — there’s no simple answer. You can point to Lamar Jackson being gone, you can point to Bobby Petrino’s ineptitude, you can point to a lack of effort from the players. All of those things (and many others) play their own part in what we witnessed over the past three months, but none of them are solely responsible. There is no quick fix for a complete and total system failure.
The man who will shoot for the long fix will address his new fan base today. He’ll say all the right things, and for a day, it will feel like Louisville football has been instantly teleported back to a position of prominence. Then the work to turn reverie into reality will begin.
The pros and the cons of Satterfield have been laid out a thousand times already, with the fact-framer emphasizing whichever side he or she prefers.
Satterfield wins. He wins a lot. He plays an exciting brand of football, his players obviously love playing for him, and he built a culture at Appalachian State that is worthy of envy from any sports program or franchise at any level. Seemingly everyone who follows football has dubbed him as a rising star in the profession for years now, and he leaves App State with a sparkling record of 51-24 as a head coach.
That record could be 75-0 and it would do little to diminish the counter-questions.
Not only has Satterfield never been the head coach of a power conference program, he’s never been an assistant on a P5 staff. Outside of Appalachian State, his only coaching experience consists of a season as the quarterbacks coach at Toledo, and two seasons as the OC at Florida International. Can he recruit at this level? Can he get players to buy in at this level? Can he adjust to the cultural differences between Louisville and Boone, North Carolina?
Assuming for a moment that the answer to all these questions is yes, the task at hand remains a heavy one for Satterfield. Heavier than the one presented to any of the 22 men who came before him.
Sure, Louisville football has been in a state of total disrepair many times before, but that was the expectation in those times. Never before has a new Cardinal head coach been tasked with taking U of L from Hell to Heaven when the taste of Heaven was still this fresh in the fan base’s collective mouth.
The closest thing to a parallel situation is when Charlie Strong took over in 2010, and Strong’s path to six wins and a bowl bid was five non-conference games and seven in a bad Big East Conference. Plus, the program he inherited hadn’t experienced the postseason in four years. Satterfield’s taking over a Louisville which produced a Heisman Trophy winner two years ago and was No. 5 in the College Football Playoff Rankings just 25 months prior to his introductory press conference.
Satterfield comes to Louisville as the program’s second choice, and all parties involved know it. If he overachieves immediately, this fact will only make him more beloved by the fan base. If he doesn’t, his status as next-best will only be exacerbated as the fan base refuses to put forth the level of patience this situation is going to require.
Two months ago, I wrote about my fear of Louisville football spiraling towards a state of perpetual mediocrity. For the short term, a return to mediocrity has become the goal. Achieve that, then re-assess and dream big again. That’s the new plan.
Step one towards carrying out that plan — or towards whatever is next — will be taken today.
Dig in, Coach Satterfield. We’ll dig in too.