BOONE, NC — Page 26 from the 2001 Appalachian State media guide looks like it has been pulled from a time capsule.
In a section reserved for App State assistant football coaches, the bio for a fourth-year running backs coach takes up the left half of the page. The bio of a first-year defensive backs coach occupies the other half.
Seventeen years later, Scott Satterfield is a record-setting head coach at his alma mater and Steve Wilks is a newly introduced National Football league (NFL) head coach with the Arizona Cardinals.
“My first reaction was, ‘Man, how old was I?’ because I looked like I was about 12 in that picture,” Satterfield said with a laugh. “That was pretty cool looking back when Steve was here.
“To now be a head coach in the NFL speaks volumes to how hard he’s worked. We’re obviously proud of one of our own to be a head coach in the NFL.”
From claiming three straight Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championships to posting bowl victories in its first three years of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) eligibility, Appalachian State has a long-standing reputation as a program that wins football games at a prolific rate.
It’s also a place where a coaching tree, with its many branches, is rooted deeply in success. There are currently more than 40 coaches at Division I FBS/FCS schools, including seven head coaches, who either attended Appalachian or coached for the Mountaineers. With three undergraduate alums among the nation’s 130 FBS head coaches, App State ranks behind only Nebraska, which has four.
In the NFL, Wilks is one of three coaches with Appalachian ties, as he’s joined by Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards and Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach Lance Taylor. They were all App State assistants who worked under Hall of Fame head coach Jerry Moore, a Texas native who played for and worked with many highly respected coaches before moving east to lead the Mountaineers’ program from 1989-2012.
“I was around the best football coaches you could possibly be around, and I tried to mimic the things they did,” Moore said. “I came here to Appalachian, and we all talked funny, being from west of the Mississippi. Guys stayed, we had a lot of continuity, and as they left, I got to know people on the East coast and hired really good coaches who stayed here. Dale Jones is a great example.”
The last three weeks alone have provided several examples that show how Boone has become a strong breeding ground for coaches.
Wilks, who played at App State from 1987-91 and served as an assistant to Moore in 2001, left his job as the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator to become the Cardinals’ head coach.
Nic Cardwell, who played tight end on all three of App State’s national championship teams, and D.J. Smith, a freshman linebacker on the 2007 title team, have joined Satterfield’s coaching staff to work with players at their former positions.
Given that he enrolled at App State as a walk-on and developed into a starting quarterback before transitioning to a highly regarded career in coaching, Satterfield himself has served as a role model and mentor for a set of future coaches with Mountaineer ties. From the 2017 roster, quarterbacks Taylor Lamb, Zeb Speir and Curtis Fitch aspire to become coaches just like their fathers, all of whom work at the FBS or FCS levels. Lamb recently accepted a graduate assistant position at South Carolina, and Fitch is in the process of finalizing a graduate assistant spot for next season.
Satterfield recalls giving Fitch the freedom to signal plays in as a freshman. He made one mistake, caught some minor, half-joking grief from a composed Satterfield and performed the job flawlessly for the next few years.
“We allowed Zeb and Fitch to mentor young quarterbacks and start coaching them so they can develop their own style of teaching,” Satterfield said. “We’ve allowed them to make some mistakes without jumping all over them, and I think that’s why they’ve had great experiences.”
Whether it’s Lamb, who was a four-year starter, or Fitch, who appeared at the end of two lopsided games during his career, there are common themes that connect the dots first to alums such as Cardwell or Smith and then the likes of Satterfield or Wilks.
The family atmosphere in Boone creates a culture in which trust and loyalty take on prominent roles. And with a championship-rich tradition, there are certainly educational opportunities for players to learn from some of the nation’s top coaches, whether that player was a walk-on like Cardwell and Fitch, a college standout like Lamb or even an NFL-caliber player like Smith.
“The ability to hire former players on our staff who understand the App State culture, how to win championships and win the right way — particularly in the case of two young, energetic coaches like Nic Cardwell and D.J. Smith — is exciting for me,” Satterfield said. “This is a special place, and I certainly appreciate that from my own experience as a player, assistant and head coach here.”
Satterfield has helped continue a trend that didn’t waver under Moore, whose 24 seasons as a head coach in Boone included 17 with Satterfield as a player or assistant.
Together, the Moore/Satterfield combo has direct ties to 26 FBS coaches and 11 FCS coaches who are on Division I staffs in 2018. Like Satterfield, two FBS head coaches (Shawn Elliott, Chad Lunsford) and two FCS head coaches (Mark Speir, Randall McCray) worked with Moore during his tenure at App State. FBS head coaches Everett Withers (former App State player) and Avery County native Paul Johnson (master’s degree from App State) passed through Boone before Moore arrived.
The ties Moore and Satterfield share with Wilks involve stories of foundation-building character.
Satterfield was a freshman walk-on in 1991 when, as a senior, Wilks helped lead the Mountaineers to their first Southern Conference title under Moore. Two seasons earlier, Moore took over the program and dealt with mass player defections.
Moore credits Wilks with helping “hold the thing together” through the leadership that he showed. Appalachian State used Furman as a program to emulate, given that the Paladins had won the 1988 national championship, and Moore’s teams were 0-2 against them before the 1991 Mountaineers pulled out a 26-23 road upset in three overtimes. App State won after Wilks blocked a field goal to begin the third overtime.
“When everybody talks about the (blocked) field goal against Michigan, I’m going to tell you something,” Moore recalled. “People around here, when Steve blocked the field goal, it was on par with what happened at Michigan for that time and place because we had had trouble beating them.
“At the time that blocked field goal was as important as any play that’s been here because we were all new and it kind of solidified things.”
As a player, Wilks was a valuable asset to App State’s new coaches and a role model for young players such as Satterfield. Nearly 30 years later, he’s a new head coach looking to establish an identity with the Cardinals.
He’ll draw upon his experiences as an App State player and assistant, like so many other Mountaineers working at the highest levels of football.
“The way that Coach Moore led the program, the way I’m trying to lead it now, it’s a player-driven program,” Satterfield said. “We want our players to have ownership of it. When you do that, you develop leaders and the way you want to lead a team. That just carries into coaching.”
-Article provided by Appalachian State Athletics Strategic Communications Department-