In the rush of a Power 5 college football coaching negotiation with the University of Louisville, Scott Satterfield didn’t have a lot of time for research.
The one thing he knew: Louisville was an Atlantic Coast Conference program that, despite a rough season, had been successful in the league. And coaching in the ACC would be a dream come true for a guy who grew up in Durham, N.C., selling game programs to get into Blue Devils’ games for free.
On Wednesday, Satterfield realized that dream when he stepped onto a stage with other coaches from the ACC’s Atlantic Division. As the group posed for a photo, he was told, “Here, you sit down in the front row,” next to Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
His response: “I’m just glad to be on the stage.”
“The opportunity to coach in this league that I’ve followed my whole life is a dream come true,” Satterfield said, over and over again, during a day of ACC interviews.
But when he started taking a serious look at where the Louisville program was shortly after his arrival, the feeling was hardly euphoric.
“You take a job, you don’t have a lot of time for research,” he said. “I didn’t know they’d given up 50 points five straight games. I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t even think to look. I saw their record. I knew something wasn’t right.”
But evidence of something wrong was all over the place, beginning with the roster itself.
“We had eight scholarship linemen,” Satterfield said. “That blows my mind. They had 15 receivers on scholarship. Those should be reversed, I think. That was surprising to me.”
It wasn’t all. He said coming from Appalachian State to Louisville, he expected to see a pretty significant increase in overall talent.
“That wasn’t the case,” he said. “Some of the talent at App probably would start in front of these guys. And then the other way around with some. I just anticipated these guys would be a lot better, and it wasn’t the case.”
And then there were the little things. He was surprised to learn that many of Louisville’s players never had been upstairs to the coaches’ new offices (though it should be noted, they haven’t been in their current configuration long, since the football facility expansion was only completed before the start of last season).
“That blows my mind,” Satterfield said. “So the fact that we’re having them over to our houses, and they’re hanging out in our offices, that means a lot to them and to us. We’re with these guys every day, for a long period of time, and we want them to be able to trust us, and we want to be able to trust them. And you do that by having relationships. That’s what it’s all about.”
Those kinds of things have been a revelation to the players, according to wide receiver Seth Dawkins.
“In the four years that I’ve been here, I had never been to a coach’s house before,” Dawkins said. “Coach Satt invited us a few times within the first couple of months after he was hired. He opened his home to us, his family to us, and that meant a lot. He may not realize that, but it means a lot, especially to us older players. We just realized that we never had that sort of compassion before from a coach.”
What Satterfield knew he had to do was begin to build trust, to build relationships with the players. Otherwise, he wasn’t going to get anywhere on this sizable task he has undertaken. He said he couldn’t really fathom a program where players weren’t in the homes of the coaches from time to time.
“It is surprising, because that’s all I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “I’ve always had players over to my house, and most of the coaches I’ve coached with have done the same thing with our position groups, because they’re an extension of our families. We’re around those guys more than I am my kids. Obviously, I want to bring them to my house and get them around my family. That’s part of it. It’s part of the family atmosphere that we’re creating. And I think they like that and being a part of it. Here’s what I like about it, and I like it with the camaraderie with our staff too — we play noon hoops, you know, went on a staff retreat to the lake, I took 30 of them — I just think when you do things like that, and you’re outside of football, when it comes crunch time in a football game, everybody’s got everybody’s back. Because we know how we operate. Nobody’s back-stabbing everybody else. We’re all in this together. When it’s fourth down, and we don’t get it, the defense doesn’t get mad. They just go stop them. That’s just how it works. It’s what we’ve always done, and it’s how we’ve had success.”
I asked linebacker Dorian Ethridge what one thing he appreciated or liked most about Satterfield and his staff, and he didn’t hesitate. And he answered the question in two words.
“Everybody matters,” he said. “Everybody matters. We had three (walk-ons) get on scholarship. That is easily the greatest thing that has happened to me since I’ve been in college, and it wasn’t even really happening to me. I was just there to witness it. . . . I would just say that he is just a lot more approachable. That would be the appropriate word. Coach P recruited me from high school, but me and coach Satt are almost closer already, and it’s only been, like, six months.”
The team goes bowling. It plays paintball. They had a home-run hitting contest at the baseball stadium. But football, and Satterfield knows more than anybody, requires more than some cookouts and good times to turn things around.
He is not under any delusions about the task ahead of him and his players. He just knows that if he hadn’t gained the players’ trust, he’d have had no chance. He said he didn’t watch any film of last season. He just knew by what happened and how badly the Cardinals’ had been beaten, that something had gone horribly wrong.
And when he saw the confidence level of the players, he knew it first-hand.
“It was sad, really,” he said. “I think we just said, ‘Guys, I cleaned the slate. Whatever you did in the past, forget about it. Only from now on are we judging you on. How hard are you working? It doesn’t matter your talent.’ I want great attitude and work ethic. Attitude and effort, we’ve got to have in every meeting room in our building. Because that’s what it takes on a daily basis: being consistent. So we just kind of loved on them and put our arm around them and said, ‘Listen, it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but who is willing to do that?’ Some left. But the ones that are here, they’ve done everything we’ve asked, and they’ve worked very hard and been consistent.”
But Satterfield stresses that’s only a beginning.
“I can say all these things, but until you show it, they don’t believe it,” he said. “So that’s why I say it takes time, and you have to be consistent. When I walk in the building, and I say ‘What’s up?’ to all the guys, I’m going to do that every day. I’m not going to have days where I’m not talking to anybody. You’ve got to be consistent and be who you are. And then we take them out to eat, we take them bowling, we take them paint-balling. We’re doing all these things with them because we want that interaction with them … But it’s ongoing. It doesn’t stop. We have these bracelets, and everybody on the team is wearing them, that say, ‘Trust and respect.’ And the way you build trust and respect is being consistent every day. We’re still building. We’re going to have times this fall when it’s going to look bleak. It’s not going to look very good. But you have to trust me. We’re doing good. Just keep going. Let’s build this thing.”
So that’s the tone. Sadness in the situation he found, euphoria at the opportunity to build it into something more. For four straight years at App State, Satterfield went to Clemson to study how they were doing things.
“I’ve seen it grow,” he said. “And I think we can do that at Louisville. I 100% think we can do that at Louisville. And I’ve kind of compared, and told our staff, what Clemson did over the last eight years. We can do that here. They were a team that was flirting around .500, and all of a sudden, now you win a few games, get a couple of big-time recruits, and it gets going to what it is now. Dabo has done a great job. Phenomenal … Their culture is very similar to what we had at App and what we’ll have at Louisville. Very similar. That’s where we want to be. There’s no hiding that. They just won the whole thing, and that’s where we want to be.”
But it’s going to take a long time and some tough times.
“How we measure success will be important,” he said. “We’re going to lay that out in August. It’s not going to be by wins and losses, I’ll tell you that. It’s going to be by a lot of other things, some intangibles. That’s what we’re going to base our success on … But I’m a firm believer that you do what you do. We’ll take that, and we’ll win here.”