By Jeff Greenberg
There’s a cliché that is passed around from time to time in different walks of life. It goes something like, “If you’ve met one ‘xyz’, you’ve met one ‘xyz’.” It speaks to the fact that we are all individuals with distinct characters, or distinctly different stories. In my experience that couldn’t be truer with coaches, particularly when you’re speaking about a coach’s journey through their coaching career. If you know one coach’s career path, you know one coach’s career path.
In 1991, a young quarterback from Orange High School, in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was graduating from high school and making decisions about his future. That process led him to decide to walk on at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. It would be interesting to know whether this young quarterback had any idea that one day he would be the head coach at Appalachian State. From the outside looking in, one might think it was a pretty simple, seamless process where he played quarterback for the Mountaineers, then quickly transitioned into coaching there and was given the head job soon after. The reality of that journey was much different.
We sat down with Appalachian State University Head Coach Scott Satterfield to learn more about his journey in the coaching profession. Coach Satterfield is entering his 6th season as head coach of his alma mater. He has led the Mountaineers to back-to-back conference titles and three straight bowl victories. In his time as the head coach in Boone, the Mountaineers have one of the best records in the entire FBS division. Has that success come easy for Coach Satterfield in his career? We asked him that and more in our conversation.
- At what point in your life did you know you wanted to be a coach? – “All I knew growing up was sports. I played football, basketball, baseball, you name it and I was playing it. I was a sports’ guy. I remember being in elementary school and every time we had to do a book report, I always chose athletes. My teachers told me at one point that I wasn’t allowed to do any more reports on sports or athletes. Looking back at that now, I wish I could go back and tell them I was able to figure out a way to make a living in sports and maybe I was on to something back then(laughing). But when I came to play at App I knew at that point that my life would be in sports, some way, somehow. I majored in Physical Education because that would help keep me in it from a professional standpoint. I didn’t know what level of coaching I would enter into at that point, but my mind was focused on being a coach somewhere when I was done playing. Growing up, my Dad owned a paving company. So I grew up shoveling asphalt. I always knew I could fall back on that and I could make a life for my family. But I didn’t want to just settle for doing something I “could” do; I was focused on doing something I wanted to do. I wanted to be a coach.”
- Who gave you the most important advice on how to work towards becoming a head coach, and what was that advice? – “Early on, being a head coach wasn’t on my mind then. I was focused on trying to be the best position coach I could be and help the team win. Every year we go to the coaching convention and one of the quotes I always remember and think about from a session there was, “Wherever you’re feet are, make the most of that job and be the best coach you can be right where you are. Don’t chase jobs. Just do the best job you can do where you are.” That’s been my approach during my career. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t set goals for myself because I believe every coach should do that for their career, the same way we tell players to set goals for their career. After some time as an assistant, I did sit down and write down my goals as a coach. I wanted to be an OC and call plays by the time I was 35 years old. And then I wrote down that I wanted to be a head coach by the time I was 40 years old. I was 28 years old at the time. Well, I started calling plays when I was 32 years old. I became a head coach 4 days before my 40th So I met both of those goals, and having those goals in place helped me get there.”
- Four days before your 40th birthday, you’re named the new head coach at Appalachian State University, the school you played for. What was going on through your mind right before they brought you on stage at that press conference to announce your hiring? – “I was nervous to be honest. Trying to get my thoughts together knowing I was heading up there to speak for the first time as a head coach. Obviously there was excitement and also a sense of gratification. It was gratifying knowing that the school I had played at and put so much blood, sweat and tears into, was going to be the place I got to be a head coach at. The most important program to me in the country was the program I was going to get to work at and lead to the level we expect here in Boone. Nothing was handed to me and it was hard work to get there, so I didn’t take this opportunity for granted. I knew it would be challenging, and I looked forward to that challenge. When you’re following in the footsteps of a Hall-of-Famer and a man you look up to, who only had one losing season in 24 years, it’s a challenge. So as you can see, a lot was going through my mind at that moment, the first of which was making sure I put some words together that made sense and showed I was the right guy for the job.”
- At that moment, you were taking over your alma mater, you were taking over for a legend and the program was making the jump to the FBS level. Did that add some pressure to the situation for you? – “I certainly felt all of that from Day 1. Again, following a legend is never easy, let alone doing it at your alma mater. Then we find out a couple of months later about the jump to FBS, but we can’t compete for conference title or go to a bowl game. It’s not easy to get the mindset of your players past the fact that they’re not playing for anything that first season. Our guys were used to playing for championships. Then we lost our chancellor that spring. There was a ton of change going on at that time. The challenges started from Day 1, so we just took it one day at a time. Get my staff together. Then get the team together. Then engage with the fan base. One step at a time we started building and we haven’t stopped that approach since then.”
- Did you already have who you wanted on your staff in mind when you were hired? – “When I came back here as OC in 2012, we had just overhauled the entire offensive staff. So those guys were here. I knew I wanted to change some coaches around on the defensive side of the ball. I knew I wanted to try to hire Coach Woody from Wofford because I really had a ton of respect for what he was doing there. I also needed a new quarterbacks coach and wanted to bring in Coach Ponce, who I had worked with at FIU. So those were the two guys I wanted to hire. The rest of the guys were the guys that were here when I got here and I wanted them to stay on with the program.”
- Were you married when you became a head coach? – “Yes, I was. When I graduated, there wasn’t a position open here at App. I went to my wife’s hometown in Spruce Pine and sold insurance for her Dad. I did that for about 10 months and I hated it. That was the only fall, the fall of 1996, that I wasn’t involved in football in my entire life. We got married in the summer of 1996. The next year I got a job coaching elementary PE, and I started coaching football at Mitchell County High School. The next year, a job at App opened up and I got the opportunity to come back and coach at App. We had been married for two years, and the App job was only going to pay me $7000. We had a house we bought in Spruce Pine. So to make this work at App, there was a hotel in Boone that agreed to let us live there for free during the week. We had to move out every Friday morning and move back in every Sunday. My wife, Beth, had gotten a teaching job in Boone. Well, I was so busy coaching so that meant Beth had to move us out every Friday morning before she went to school, and then back in every Sunday evening. It’s safe to say she did not like that part of this coaching life. When the season was over, I didn’t go out recruiting because I needed to find a way to make money to sustain our situation. So I went out and made snow at the ski resorts. Then I was fortunate enough to be able to coach the running backs the next season and become a full-time assistant, which paid around $31,000 at the time, and I even got a dealer car. We felt like we’d made it at that moment. We sold our house and were able to get a place in Boone to rent. That’s what is always amusing to me in this life. People see us now and what we’re making now, but they have no idea what the sacrifices have been for us in this career to get to this point. It’s been quite a journey.”
- Thinking about those early days as a young couple and the sacrifices you both had to make, what was the moment like for you and for Beth when you told her you got the head coaching job? – “We lost in the playoffs of that year in 2012. That Sunday our athletic director informed me there was going to be a change and I was going to be the interim head coach. I had to go in and address the team, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a coach. Coach Moore is a legend to all, but he is a giant in my life, both personally and in football. It was an emotional time for everybody involved. So then the athletic director told me they were going to interview me for the job, so go and get ready for that. I guess I prepared well enough because soon after the interview they came to our house to offer me the job. So Beth and I were there together when they made the offer. We were thrilled and ecstatic, to say the least. We were able to enjoy that moment together and knew everything we did to get to that point. We had moved to Toledo and Florida to get more experience and those three years were difficult because we were both North Carolina people, so we were ecstatic just to get back to Boone in the first place. Then to end up becoming the head coach was unbelievable. It was a special moment.”
That concludes Part 1 of The Extra Point with Scott Satterfield. Look for Part 2 on Thursday on www.undertheheadset.com.