Two coaching veterans are returning to North Carolina’s football program to strengthen the Tar Heels’ defense.
Two-time National Champion Gene Chizik, a 26-year coaching veteran, has been named Carolina’s assistant head coach for defense, and 17-year veteran Charlton Warren is the Tar Heels’ new co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, Head Coach Mack Brown announced on Saturday. The duo returns to Chapel Hill after working together on the defensive staff during the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
Chizik, who is a national coach of the year award winner, a Broyles Award winner, and a Broyles Award finalist while at Carolina, reunites with Brown after previously serving as Brown’s defensive coordinator at Texas in 2005-06. With his return to coaching, Chizik becomes one of six active coaches to have won a National Championship as a head coach (UNC has two of the six). Warren, who was named one of the nation’s top recruiters by 247Sports, brings seven years of defensive-coordinator experience and 15 years of experience coaching in the secondary to Chapel Hill.
“We’re excited to welcome Gene, his wife Jonna, and their three children, Landry Grace, Kennedy Danielle and Cally, back to the Carolina football family,” Brown said. “Gene is one of college football’s great defensive minds and we’re excited that he’s returning to lead our unit. He’s spent the last five years in the media studying college football, so like me, he’s had a chance to look at a number of different schemes, while staying on top of how the game has evolved over the last few years. Gene has been approached a number of times for head coach or defensive coordinator jobs during that time, but decided this was the best opportunity at the right time for him. Gene is also very familiar with our current staff, having coached with Tommy Thigpen, Tim Cross and Larry Porter, and having relationships with a number of our other coaches. He also has experience recruiting in our footprint, so we expect our success in that area to continue.
“We’re also thrilled to welcome Charlton and his three children, Jayree, Teya, and Chase, back to the Carolina football family. Charlton has a wealth of experience at a number of the top programs around the country, has recruited at a high level, and with his previous experience in Chapel Hill and working with Gene, I expect him to be a great fit with our staff. His work in the secondary has been very impressive throughout his career, and I’m excited to see what he can do with the talented players we have both on the current roster and coming in. We can’t wait for both Gene and Charlton to get to Chapel Hill and get started.”
In addition to his pair of National Championships, Chizik has collected a number of top coaching awards including the Bear Bryant Award, the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award, the Home Depot Coach of the Year Award, the Bobby Bowden Coach of the Year Award, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award, the SEC Coach of the Year Award and the Broyles Award. Chizik is also the only coach in college football history to coach three consecutive Thorpe Award (nation’s top defensive back) winners from 2004-06.
“I want to thank Coach Brown and the administration for welcoming my family and I back to Chapel Hill,” Chizik said. “Having coached here previously, I know this is a special place and I’m excited to help the program take the next step towards competing for and winning championships. I’m also excited to work with Coach Brown and a number of the assistants again. I know this group does things the right way and for the right reasons, which is really important to me. We’ve had a number of opportunities to get back into coaching, but this one is the total package. I’ve seen what the program has become since Coach Brown’s return, I know where it’s headed, and I’m excited to be a part of it. We can’t wait to get to Chapel Hill, meet all the guys, and get to work.”
In two seasons as defensive coordinator at UNC from 2015-16, Chizik turned around a unit that ranked No. 120 in yards per game the season prior to his arrival. Carolina was the nation’s most improved Power 5 defense in 2015, averaging 14.5 points per game fewer than the previous year. UNC also had the most improved pass defense in the country in both efficiency and yards per pass attempt, and was the fifth-most improved team in passing yards per game. Carolina led the ACC in interceptions, turnovers gained, turnover margin and passes defended en route to a record-setting 11-3 season, a berth in the ACC Championship Game and a No. 15 final ranking in both national polls.
In 2016, Chizik led a defensive unit that continued to improve, lowering its yards per play to 5.37 and its yards per game to 408.1. The Tar Heels led the ACC and ranked 16th nationally in passing yards allowed. The unit also allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the ACC and ranked fourth nationally in the category.
Prior to his work in Chapel Hill, Chizik served as head coach at Auburn from 2009-12 and led the Tigers to three bowl victories, including the 2011 BCS Championship, which followed an undefeated 2010 season. He achieved unparalleled success at Auburn in his first three years as head coach. He won more games (30) than any other coach in the school’s history, including the school’s first National Championship in more than 50 years. In addition, Chizik had an Academic Progress Rate (APR) of 970 or above in three of his four seasons, including a 985 in his third year and a 978 in his final season.
Chizik’s second season at Auburn saw the Tigers win BCS and SEC Championships, while he earned Home Depot and Liberty Mutual National Coach of the Year honors, as well as SEC Coach of the Year accolades. The 2010 Auburn squad went a perfect 14-0, recording the program’s first title since 1957, and its first conference crown since 2004. Players under Chizik’s tutelage earned several national awards, including the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, Lombardi Award and Thorpe Award.
Chizik was the defensive coordinator at Texas under Coach Brown when the Longhorns captured the 2005 National Championship. The Longhorns ranked eighth nationally in scoring defense, 10th in total defense and fourth in pass efficiency defense. In 2006, Chizik’s Longhorn defenders were second nationally against the rush (58.8 ypg) after 12 games and his aggressive schemes resulted in 100 tackles for loss, 96 quarterback hurries and 30 takeaways during the 2006 regular season. Chizik coached six Longhorns to All-America honors and his defensive players earned 18 All-Big 12 awards during his tenure.
In three years at Auburn as defensive coordinator, Chizik helped the Tigers to a 30-9 mark including an 18-6 Southeastern Conference record. During those 39 games, the Tigers were able to defeat nine Top 10 programs, win three bowl games, and hold 24 of 39 opponents to two touchdowns or less, including 14 that managed single digits against his aggressive, physical defenses. He tutored three All-Americans, 10 first-team All-SEC honorees, and 10 NFL Draft picks over his three seasons.
Warren comes to Chapel Hill after spending last season as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Indiana. Prior to his time with the Hoosiers, Warren spent two seasons on the Georgia defensive staff coaching the defensive backs. During that time, he helped the Bulldogs to two SEC East titles and two New Year’s Six bowls.
“My family and I couldn’t be more excited to be returning to Chapel Hill,” Warren said. “I obviously followed the Tar Heels since leaving, and you can see that the program is on the cusp of something special. They’ve recruited extremely well, and have a roster of talented players I’m really looking forward to working with. I want to thank Coach Brown and the administration for extending me this opportunity, and I can’t wait to get to work with the staff at North Carolina.”
In 2020, the Georgia defense finished second in the SEC and 12th in the nation in total defense, and they were second in the SEC and 16th nationally in scoring defense. In addition, Warren’s secondary produced four NFL Draft picks, including first-rounder Eric Stokes and second-rounder Tyson Campbell.
In his first season at Georgia, Warren was part of a coaching staff that led the Bulldogs to their third straight season with 11 or more wins. Georgia led the nation in scoring and rushing defense, ranking among FBS leaders in several other categories. The leader of Warren’s first group in the secondary was safety J.R. Reed, a 3-year starter who earned first-team All-America honors and was a finalist for the Thorpe Award.
Warren spent the 2018 season coaching cornerbacks at Florida, where he developed C.J. Henderson, who went on to be selected ninth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. He spent the 2017 season coaching Tennessee’s defensive backs and serving as the program’s special teams coordinator. In addition to stops at North Carolina (2015-16) and Nebraska (2014), Warren worked at the U.S. Air Force Academy, his alma mater, from 2005-13 in a variety of roles.