War Eagle Extra

Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik steps down as North Carolina's defensive coordinator

Auburn coach Gene Chizik watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in 2012.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik watches from the sidelines during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in 2012. AP

Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik’s return to coaching was a brief one.

The coach that led the Tigers to a national title in 2010 stepped down in his role as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator Thursday to spend more time with his family.

“Personally, it has been extremely difficult on my family and me,” Chizik said in a lengthy statement released by the university’s athletic department. “We have been apart for the past two years for the first time in my 30-year coaching career.”

Chizik’s wife Jonna, twin daughters Landry and Kennedy and son Cally still reside in Auburn.

“As every parent can imagine, being a long-distance dad to my children has been extremely difficult on everyone,” Chizik said. “At every stop in my coaching career, I have emphasized to my players and coaches that family must come first; that family comes before football. Simply put, it is time for me to walk the walk.”

When North Carolian coach Larry Fedora visited Columbus last year for the 2016 Minority Coaches Association of Georgia football conference, he discussed hiring Chizik. Chizik spent three years away from coaching after he was fired following a 3-9 season at Auburn in 2012.

“I’ve known Gene for a long time,” Fedora said. “Back when Gene was the defensive coordinator at UCF, I was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, that was my first experience with him then I went to Florida and he went to Auburn as assistants. We faced each other again. I went to Oklahoma St., he went to Texas and we were facing each other again.”

Chizik spearheaded an impressive turnaround for a North Carolina defense that was one of the worst in college football before his arrival. The Tar Heels gave up 39 points (119th out of 128 FBS teams) and 497 yards per game (120th) in 2014.

North Carolina won a school record 11 straight games in 2015 on the way to an ACC title in Chizik’s first season running the defense.

“These last two years with Gene have been exactly what I hoped they would be,” said head coach Larry Fedora. “The defensive improvement speaks for itself, but I’m equally as proud of the growth and development of our student-athletes on the defensive side of the ball. I hate to lose Gene but certainly understand the reasoning behind his decision, I know it’s been hard on him and his family. We wish the Chizik family all the best and appreciate their dedication to Tar Heel football.”

Chizik coaching career included two stops at Auburn. He was the program’s defensive coordinator for three seasons (2002-04) for Tommy Tuberville. Chizik returned to the Plains in 2009 after a two-year stint as Iowa State’s head coach.

The Florida native went 33-19 in four season at Auburn, which included the program’s 2010 national title. Chizik was named college football’s coach of the year for the 14-0 season.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra