UNC Football: Their Loss, Our Gain


It’s hard to get excited about an offseason hire of an assistant coaches, but I’m a firm believer UNC fans will be shocked to see how strong the defense is this next season. Keith Gilmore will turn around the defense. You know why? The former Illini top assistant coach will be the man in charge of the Tar Heels’ defensive line. And, as goes the defensive line, so will the defense as a whole.

Mandatory Credit: Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

Everything starts up front.

Keith Gilmore chose to leave the University of Illinois for greener pastures this coming season. Many feel that with the Fighting Illini’s head coach, Tim Beckman, feeling the pressure of a make-or-break season, Gilmore chose UNC for its stability. He has ties to Chapel Hill’s defensive coordinator, Vic Koenning. Koenning and Keith Gilmore were both assistants at Illinois for three seasons. However, when head coach Beckman took over, Gilmore was the only coach retained on Beckman’s new staff. Not anymore.

Keith brings an impressive résumé to the Tar Heel state. Gilmore coached two NFL first round studs in Whitney Mercilus (defensive end) and Corey Liuget (defensive tackle). Two of coach Gilmore’s defensive linemen are Akeem Spence (186 total tackles) and Michael Buchanan (159 total tackles with 14 sacks). Spence was a fourth-round pick by the Bucs and Buchanan was a seventh-rounder by the Patriots. Michael Buchanan is being heralded as “the steal of the New England Patriots’ 2013 draft”.

Those are four NFL linemen at a school not known for pumping out NFL players, much less defensive players; defensive linemen, even less so. Gilmore is the one to point to for these guys’ success. And now, he’s ours.

With this pick-up, head coach Larry Fedora shows that not only is he serious about turning around the Tar Heels’ defense but that he trusts his defensive coaches. I’m sure that Fedora did his due diligence on Gilmore. However, being that defensive coordinator Vic Koenning worked with coach Gilmore in Illinois over three seasons, I’m sure Koenning had Fedora’s ear on this one.

So why does this matter? This doesn’t fix our secondary. This doesn’t score touchdowns. This is just one element to a comprehensive defensive structure.


The defensive line is often the most important part of a defense. Their disruptiveness is essential to a strong team. If the quarterback finishes the game without grass stains, he’s often the winning QB. Any division I quarterback-receiver combo can do serious damage to a team with a weak pass rush. Combine this with a smash-mouth style of running that reaches the linebackers untouched, and you’ve got a lethal offensive combination.

Think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Warren Sapp. Western North Carolina native and quarterback of that team, Brad Johnson, was surely no Broadway Joe Namath or Peyton Manning. However, he’s wearing a super bowl ring today as a result of that shut-down defense that caused numerous turnovers. Same type of situation with The Ravens the year Ray Lewis won his first ring. Quarterback Trent Dilfer was no gun-slinger. In fact, he was often a liability on the offensive side of the ball. Again, the defense was the prime bread-winners on that team and the main reason they came away Super Bowl champs.

Will UNC be a defensive juggernaut next season? Probably not. Are they a stronger team with the hiring of defensive line coach Keith Gilmore? They absolutely are.

The Tar Heels might not be a shut-down type of team in 2013-2014. However, they’re moving in the right direction. UNC fans need to keep their eyes peeled for the defensive line this next year. My guess is that they’ll be overjoyed with Gilmore’s direction.