LOUISVILLE — Scott Satterfield obviously has a massive rebuilding job to do with a Louisville football program that finished 2-10 last year. But if the Cardinals struggle as expected again this coming season he can draw on his experience as a rookie head coach at Appalachian State, which was certainly no cakewalk, to keep his sanity.
Speaking to the Louisville Quarterback Club on Wednesday, Satterfield recalled that when he took over at App State in 2013, the Mountaineers were transitioning into NCAA Division I as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
They wobbled to a 4-8 record.
"Fans were probably wondering why did we hire this bum?" Satterfield said to laughs from the audience. "The next year we went from 63 scholarship players to 85 but we still started out 1-4."
It didn't take a math wiz to figure out that Satterfield was on the short end of his 17-game career as the main man.
"That meant I was 5-12 and knew I might not last long," he said. "We went to Troy to play and I told my wife, let's just enjoy this season and then figure out the rest when it ends."
The rest has been a happy story, culminating with his hiring by Louisville seven months ago.
The Mountaineers defeated Troy and finished the season strong, winding up 7-5. The following season, 2015, App State went 11-2, including 7-1 in the Sun Belt. His last four seasons he was 40-11 with a 3-0 mark in bowl games, and he came to U of L with a 47-16 overall record, a .746 winning percentage that ranks 15th among active coaches.
While he would like to avoid a shaky start similar to his baptism at App State, he may be hard-pressed to do so. And it could very possibly be worse. The Cards are picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division of the ACC and didn't place a single player on the preseason all-league team.
"I don't want to start out 5-12 again, but we are in a little bit of a transition here," Satterfield said. "I really didn't know what I was getting into. We were trying to win a conference championship at App State. I didn't know much about Louisville.
"I knew about the past great football teams and quarterbacks here, especially Lamar Jackson. I didn't know they gave up 50 or 60 points in five straight games (last year) or I would have stayed at Boone (North Carolina, home of App State)."
He was joking, of course, Louisville being a gigantic step up the coaching ladder with its ACC affiliation and $3.5 million annual salary.
Satterfield referred to the Cards’ defense, worst in the nation, but noted they're hungry to improve and win.
"The good news is we have 10 starters back on defense," he said. "The bad news is we were not very good. They got experience, but it is bad experience. These guys have scarred themselves and been through that crap and they don't want to do it again."
Satterfield also talked about recruiting, complimenting his staff for doing a good job with the 2019 class despite a late start and vowing to bolster U of L's impact in Louisville and the state of Kentucky, where UK has won most of the major recruiting battles lately.
UK signed five players from Kentucky in its 2019 class, three of them from Louisville, and has four Kentucky commits in the 2020 class with three from Derby City.
U of L's 2020 class includes only two commitments from Kentucky — defensive back Josh Minkins Jr. (Ballard) and offensive lineman Austin Collins (Christian Academy of Louisville) — neither of whom were considered top prospects. Still, the class is ranked in the top 25 nationally and sixth in the ACC.
Satterfield has had to mend fences, due to former coach Bobby Petrino's poor relationship with Louisville and Kentucky high school coaches.
"We had over 200 coaches come out and watch practice that had been closed to them in the past," Satterfield said. "We can't do this by ourselves. We have to have help from high school coaches.
"Obviously, I think Louisville has the best talent in the state. As you get into more rural areas you have talent more spread around. Louisville certainly has good talent. We are trying to get high school coaches more involved in our program, particularly those within an hour, hour and a half of us."
Satterfield thinks Ohio should also be a fertile recruiting ground for the Cards, who have just one 2020 commit from there in offensive lineman Luke Kandra from Cincinnati Elder.
“Every year we will start in our backyard and try to get as much talent as we can to stay home,” Satterfield said. “But we have got to get up in Ohio. That is a talented area. We have to get up in that state and that will be huge.”