The Barbour Shop: Coach Satterfield Seeking Course Change As He Approaches Iceberg

Louisville Football entered the season with high expectations. Coming off a 6-7 season with many close losses and an unexpected loss to Air Force in a bowl game, many fans thought Coach Scott Satterfield might’ve been let go at the conclusion of last season. Instead, he was retained and then set about lighting up the recruiting trail for the 2023 class. Some of the bad vibes that occurred after a blowout loss to in-state rival UK and a stunning loss to Air Force in the First Responder Bowl subsided after the big recruiting wins in the off season. However, after a third of this season has been completed, UofL sits at a lackluster 2-3. Their only two victories are over a so-so UCF team and a horrid USF team. Many of the same problems that plagued last year’s team remain: energy levels that aren’t consistently where they should be, sloppy execution of plays on both sides of the ball, ball security issues, and an inability to finish games offensively and defensively.

After the noticeable defensive woes last season, many believed that if there was no change at the head coach position, a change in the defensive coordinator spot could be coming. Coach Satterfield opted instead to retain Coach Bryan Brown and bring in Coach Wesley McGriff to be co-defensive coordinator. It was a move praised by many as McGriff was a DC in the SEC and had coached recently at Florida. It seemed like Coach Satterfield had managed to maintain his staff while adding quality to it with the hope it would improve all aspects of the defensive side of the ball.

On offense, there were issues as well. Mainly, the offense seemed to stall at important times during the game. Play-calling was criticized as being too vanilla and predictable. Fans were clamoring for more inventive plays and once again Coach Satterfield went out and made a highly praised hire. Lance Taylor, who was running backs coach at Notre Dame, joined the staff as offensive coordinator. While Coach Satterfield made it clear that play-calls would still be made by him, the hope was Coach Taylor would at least have significant input in game planning and helping the head coach mix up his play-calling more.

Now, as the team sits at 2-3 and 0-3 in conference play, it seems clear the moves are so far unsuccessful. All the expectations of improved defense, more efficient offense, and better play-calling are not being met. It culminated in one of the worst losses of Coach Satterfield’s tenure when the Cards lost to a lowly Boston College team 34-33 on the road. BC has been bad this year. They are injury-riddled, especially at the offensive line position. Entering the game, they were 1-3 with the lone win against Maine. The prior week saw a 44-14 drubbing at the hands of Florida State. They lost to Rutgers and to Virginia Tech as well. This should’ve been a relatively easy victory. Instead, it was yet another close loss. The defense was getting gashed on the ground by Garwo and Phil Jurcovec and Zay Flowers went full air raid over the secondary. Offensively, the Cards moved the ball, but it was sporadic and they failed quite a few times on cashing in drives for TDs or points in general. There were a ton of points left on the field. It was a case of deja vu as the issues that plagued the program last season were all present in this game.

For most fans and analysts, this game crystallized in their minds that the subtle changes didn’t work. There’s been little improvement from last season. It finally appears that Coach Satterfield recognizes it as well. At his weekly presser, Coach Satterfield made two significant announcements. The first was that he is giving more play-calling responsibilities to OC Lance Taylor. The second is that he will be getting more involved with the defense and special teams in practice. It seems as if Boston College was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. While some fans would like to see more drastic change beginning with the removal of Coach Brown as DC, Coach Satterfield has made no indication he would make such a drastic in-season removal. However, his announcements are still significant and drastic enough as he is finally admitting that his way isn’t working. He’s beginning to try and make adjustments.

However, will this be enough to right the ship? It’s a question no one can answer objectively because the only way to judge if it will right the ship is postmortem. In the moment, we can only give our subjective opinion on the matter. My subjective opinion is, I don’t know. Who is to say that letting Coach Taylor take on greater play-calling responsibility will result in an offense that not only produces yards, but points. I can’t definitively tell you Coach Satterfield taking a more hands on role with the defense will result in better disciplined players and better execution on the field. I just can’t tell you until after the clock hits zero on Saturday afternoon. I think this one game can tell us if these changes will produce a more potent offense and stingy defense. I believe we can gauge if there are still multiple victories to be had based on this one game. The game should produce tangible proof of whether these changes will work in the long run or not.

Sitting here a day after the press conference I do ask myself could it work in theory. Theoretically, I believe it can. Coach Taylor is a relatively young coach and has a brilliant mind for the game. If Satterfield is truly going to allow him to become an actual play-caller, it could result in a much more efficient and unpredictable offense. Obviously, this will still be Satt’s philosophy that Taylor will be working within. However, if you add variety to the play-calling (passing more on first down, utilizing a short and intermediate passing game more, not running on every second-and-long, utilizing the passing game more in the red zone), the overall philosophy can work. Having Satt more involved with the defense could help as well. Yes, he’s an offensive guy, but his mind is wired to beat defenses. So, he can offer up insight in that regard. Brown having another voice, his boss’s voice, can also force some change. Of course, Satt could possibly see issues with players and their execution he can’t necessarily see during the game and work on getting them in positions to succeed.

So, yes, it could work. As I said, my subjective opinion about these changes having any effect is that I don’t know. However, the more I think about it, the more I believe that, in my subjective opinion, I don’t believe they will. It’s too deep into the season. It smells of desperation and reeks of too-little-too-late. However, the one thing that still gives me hope and still makes me think it could work is the players. They play hard and they are still trying. I think that if these changes spark creativity in play-calling and accountability to the coaches and each other, the season can turn.

In the end, the games will be played and the record will have the final say. The good ship Cardinal is sailing along, but the iceberg is right ahead. Will the ship turn in time? If it hits the iceberg, if these changes turn out to be nothing more than a superficial attempt at staving off a disastrous season, UofL will be looking for a new coach period. However, I think we still should allow the season to play out. We are not doomed to hit the iceberg. It is not a forgone conclusion. However, the captain better grab the wheel and make that sharp turn quickly. It feels like Scott Satterfield is doing just that. The only question that remains is, is he too late? My personal hope is it is not and that the whole season turns around beginning with a victory at Virginia Saturday.

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