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3 reasons Scott Satterfield was a smart fallback for Louisville

The Cardinals didn’t get Jeff Brohm, but they made one of the better hires of the offseason anyway.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville has hired Appalachian State’s Scott Satterfield to replace Bobby Petrino as coach, finally announcing the news Tuesday evening.

Satterfield is not the guy most Louisville fans wanted when it became clear their team would need a new coach. That was Jeff Brohm, the Louisville native, former Louisville quarterback, and former Louisville assistant who’s turned Purdue from a Big Ten West doormat to a bowl team capable of annihilating Ohio State.

When Brohm decided to stay in West Lafayette instead of returning home, it was a blow. But in getting Satterfield, AD Vince Tyra made a solid choice anyway.

1. Louisville is a longer rebuilding job than the school probably wants to admit, but Satterfield’s accomplished both the quick and long buildup.

It’s not clear Louisville power-brokers have any appetite for a long rebuild, SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey and Richard Johnson reported before the hire.

But U of L’s inner circle will just have to get over it, to some extent. Coaches also told SB Nation the roster Petrino left behind was one of the worst they’d seen in the Power 5. Recruiting rankings don’t paint that grisly a picture, saying U of L had the country’s No. 38 roster this year. But given the Cards’ No. 109 ranking in S&P+, down in Rutgers and Oregon State territory, it seems like the former is closer to the situation.

Fortunately, Satterfield has experience in getting results quickly even when he shouldn’t. In 2014, he took App State from FCS, where it had been a national power and recent champ, to the Sun Belt, where it became the newest FBS program. Even for a great FCS team, it’s a huge jump. You go from playing teams with 63 scholarships to playing teams with 85, and you have to quickly build up your depth accordingly. You have to get used to a faster game week in and out.

And in that first year, 2014, Satterfield’s Mountaineers went 7-5. The other non-startup programs to join FBS this decade had these first-year records:

  • 2012 Texas State: 4-8
  • 2014 Georgia Southern: 9-3
  • 2014 Old Dominion: 6-6
  • 2017 Coastal Carolina: 5-7
  • 2018 Liberty: 6-6, but with two of those wins against FCS teams

Most of these teams had less football history than App did. The exception is blood rival GaSo, but the Eagles were 2-10 by their fourth year in FBS, after Willie Fritz left for Tulane. Satterfield avoided that falloff for App, going 40-11 the next four years.

App’s won double-digit games three of the last four and was the 13th-best team in the country this year, per S&P+, which is opponent-adjusted. The Eers almost beat Penn State in Week 1 before finishing atop the Sun Belt for the third year in a row.

Satterfield’s proved he can win some on a tight timeline, which should help with the Louisville folks who demand immediate improvement with a horrible roster. And he’s proved he can build a high-quality team every year with a little more time.

2. U of L will always have to do more with less to compete in the ACC Atlantic. Satterfield is already used to doing that, too.

Clemson is now a Death Star. Florida State won’t be mediocre forever. Louisville is the third- or fourth-highest upside program in the division, next to NC State. The Cardinals won’t usually beat Clemson and FSU unless they get one transcendent player (like Lamar Jackson, and even then, they couldn’t beat Clemson) or get more than expected out of a lot of players.

To that end, SB Nation national recruiting director Bud Elliott had urged Louisville to hire Satterfield because of his impressive talent evaluation. The Eers have won the SBC three times despite signing classes in the middle and lower half of the league. That suggests he is finding and developing better players than the industry gives him credit for. Recruiting’s improved as the team has, and as Satterfield leaves, App’s 2019 class is No. 3 in the league.

Brohm would have invigorated Louisville on the trail. He’s somehow made Purdue a fine recruiting team, and he said Boilermakers verbal commits were ready to follow him to Louisville. He also recruited the state of Kentucky better than anyone last year, drawing on old ties from his Louisville and WKU days.

But even Brohm wasn’t going to get enough blue-chips to make U of L competitive without great development. Satterfield’s showed he brings it.

By the way, Appalachian State’s 2019 class is ranked 88th nationally. Louisville’s is 80th.

3. Satterfield’s teams are great at the thing that’s held Louisville back for longest, and he’s sturdy on the other side of the ball, too.

Everything held Louisville back in 2018.

But the two years before that, the Cardinals fell short because they didn’t have a defense to match the Jackson-led offense. The D was good in 2016, the QB’s Heisman year, but still gave up 36 or more in three of four losses. It went from 19th in S&P+ to 84th in 2017, as Louisville totally wasted a Jackson season that wasn’t far off his Heisman campaign, and it got even worse this year (110th).

App’s defense has been 40th, 27th, 24th, and now 10th in opponent-adjusted S&P+ the last four seasons. Satterfield’s a former QB and offensive assistant himself, and it’d be nice if he could bring defensive coordinator Bryan Brown with him, though Brown would make sense as App’s replacement for Satterfield. But no matter who runs Satterfield’s defense, it’s fair to expect a lot of improvement.

Satterfield’s offense has varied between a top-35 and top-50 level, which is more than fine for a mid-major and would’ve been great for Louisville in 2018. If Louisville wants to stop getting embarrassed after giving up between 52 and 77 in its last five (football) games of 2018, competent D is the starting point.

It’s hard to overstate how big a lift Satterfield has in front of him. He could do a fine job and still not win, because he’s taking over a program in disrepair.

Louisville’s in bad shape. Satterfield doesn’t have the local influence Brohm has, and that might make it harder to get ideal patience. But the Cards did well to find a guy who’s won in tough circumstances and then built on it. They’re also getting a coach who’s been a bastion of stability after a bunch of turbulent years around the athletic department. That they made out this well after that season and not getting Brohm is a small miracle.