By Colby Gable
As Shawn Clark begins his reign as the new football coach at Appalachian State University, he has started to pick his staff with new additions to the team and filling in positions that are now vacant. While the season is more than a few months away, we have already seen several of last year’s coordinators from Appalachian make departures from the program.
Charlie Harbison, last year’s cornerbacks coach as well as working with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018, followed Eli Drinkwitz in his surprise move to the University of Missouri as an associate head coach/defensive coordinator. This may come at a somewhat underrated loss for the recuperating secondary for Appalachian, as senior and all-conference safeties Desmond Franklin and Josh Thomas will no longer be with the team in 2020 after graduating this Spring.
Another notable loss for the Appalachian State staff is the departure of Garret Riley, brother of Oklahoma Head Coach Lincoln Riley, who will be heading to Dallas as the new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at SMU. Sunny Dykes, the head coach at SMU, praised Riley’s time at Appalachian State earlier this week, stating, “I think he’s a really good fit. He’s comfortable teaching our system of play, particularly in the passing game. One of the things that intrigued me about him was the success that Appalachian State had running the ball and the unique ways they did so.” And for good reason. 2019’s Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year named MVP of both the Sun Belt Championship Game and New Orleans Bowl, Junior starting running back, Darrynton Evans, ran for a whopping 1480 yards, adding 18 rushing touchdowns and 5 receiving as well. Evans also joined Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (2015) and ECU’s Chris Johnson (2007) as only FBS players this millennium with at least 1,400 rushing yards, five TD receptions and a kickoff return for a score in the same year.
Newer members to the staff include four new additions, and they are all coming from the defensive side of the ball. The first is James Rowe, who joined the staff on January 9th as a defensive assistant after spending three years with the Washington Redskins as a defensive backs coach. In 2019, Washington cornerback Quinton Dunbar was among the NFL’s top interception artists, while in 2018 Rowe helped oversee a defensive backs group that was one of the best in the league in forcing turnovers. The Redskins finished the season with 15 interceptions, which was tied for the ninth-best mark in the league. Cornerbacks Josh Norman and Fabian Moreau, along with safety DJ Swearinger, each had three forced fumbles and were all tied for the second-most forced fumbles caused by a defensive back that season. In his first year in Washington in 2017, Rowe helped the DBs unit produce the team’s strongest season against the pass in nearly a decade, ranking third in the NFL in completion percentage allowed (57.6 percent), ninth in passing yards allowed per game (213.8) and 10th in opponent passer rating (81.0).
One coach that has returned to the program which some App faithful may recognize is Dale Jones, who served as Appalachian defensive coordinator from 1996-2018 until leaving with Scott Satterfield to join him in Louisville after Satterfield left for the ACC. Jones coached at App State for 23 seasons from 1996-2018 before following head coach Scott Satterfield to Louisville, where the Cardinals completed an 8-5 season with a victory against Mississippi State in the Music City Bowl.
Jones, who coached Louisville’s inside linebackers in 2019, worked with the same position group in his last five seasons with the Mountaineers. He coached the inside linebackers and served as co-defensive coordinator in 2018, when an App State team that went 11-2 ranked among the FBS leaders in scoring defense (No. 4, 15.5 points) and total defense (No. 6, 288.0 yards). Inside linebackers Jordan Fehr and Anthony Flory were first- and second-team All-Sun Belt performers. He will fill the role of defensive coordinator in the 2020 season.
Another App State returnee comes from Mark DeBastiani, who coached defensive tackles for Appalachian in 1995 and 1996, the same time as when now-head coach Shawn Clark was an All-American offensive lineman. In 1995, App State went undefeated in the regular season, won the Southern Conference championship and advanced to the FCS quarterfinals. In his one season with Central Michigan last year, DeBastiani coached a linebackers unit that contributed to the Chippewas being a top-25 run defense. Two of his linebackers, sophomore Troy Brown and senior Michael Oliver, earned all-Mid-American Conference honors in 2019.
In a press release from the school earlier this month, Coach Clark added a vote of confidence for DeBastiani, “saying “We’re thrilled to welcome Mark and his family to the App Family. Mark was a part of our undefeated regular season in 1995 and has had tremendous success as a defensive coach at every stop since. He will be a great leader for the young men in our program.” DeBastiani also added, “”I’m coming home,” DeBastiani said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to come back to such a special place with an unbelievable tradition and culture. This is where I started my coaching career under Jerry Moore, side by side with Dale Jones and with Shawn Clark when he played. I’ve always come back to visit Boone in the offseason, and I consider it home. I’m excited to get started.”
Another addition to the staff includes Courtney Braswell, who was hired after only one year of collegiate experience as defensive quality control coach for Satterfield at Louisville last season. Before that, Braswell served as head coach for Ridgeland High School in his hometown of Rossville, Georgia. In 2018, Braswell led the Panthers to an 8-4 overall record, a Region 6-AAAA runner-up finish and a 34-14 state playoff victory over Flowery Branch before a second-round loss at Cartersville, the eventual state runner-up. Ridgeland also scored a big regular season road win at Sandy Creek. The two previous seasons before, Braswell was the head coach at Chattanooga Central High School in 2016 and 2017 and led the Purple Pounders to the TSSAA state playoffs twice. He also served on the Tennessee Football Coaches Association Board of Directors, helping to represent the interests of football coaches statewide and serving as a contributing voice with the TSSAA legislation.
Braswell released a statement through the University about the new opportunity this season, saying, ““This is a tremendous opportunity for me to be at the best place in the country to coach,” Braswell said through a school press release. “Things like this just don’t happen for kids from rural northwest Georgia. I have so much respect for the championship culture at App State and fond memories of bringing my high school teams here for training camp and talking football with guys like Dale Jones, Nate Woody and Bryan Brown.”