MTSU helped Fedora gain confidence in up-tempo offense
Growing up, Larry Fedora saw how effective the two-minute offense was, and he wanted his offense to play that way for an entire game.
Fedora finally got the chance to implement his system in 1999 at Middle Tennessee, and its success is a major reason why the 50-year-old now is the coach at North Carolina, which hosts the Blue Raiders today at Kenan Stadium (12:30 p.m., WLFL).
Up-tempo, no-huddle offenses are prevalent in college football now — UNC, Duke and N.C. State all run hurry-up, spread-it-out systems. That wasn’t the case in 1999, when Fedora went from being the receivers coach at Air Force to the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee.
The only school that ran a similar system was Tulane under then-offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, who Fedora had visited the previous spring.
But the Blue Raiders had just jumped from Division I-AA to I-A, and Fedora knew they wouldn’t have the same caliber of athletes most of his opponents had. His choice was to run the option, like Air Force did, or to implement his new offense — a choice that was made for him when he saw his starting quarterback, Wes Counts, an accurate passer but a slow runner.
“It is fortunate that I didn’t have a quarterback that could run at all, not a lick, because if he could we probably would have dabbled in the option a little bit more,” Fedora said. “But Wes couldn’t run out of sight in a day so it was an easy decision.”
By his third year, Counts would lead the country in completion percentage (72.6) and win the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year award. That team also sent running back Dwone Hicks and receivers Kendall Newson and Tyrone Calico to the NFL.
“Back then in (1999), nobody was talking about tempo,” Fedora said. “And we were doing it, and it was causing problems for people. So it was something that was a great advantage or equalizer for us as we played teams that had more talent than we did.”
Hicks, who is an assistant coach at Bleckley County (Ga.) High School, never had seen an up-tempo offense, let alone played in one, before Fedora came in.
“I thought it was great then and I still think it’s great because it keeps the defense on their heels,” Hicks said. “When I end up being a head coach some day on the high school level, I’m going to be using it.”
Hicks will have plenty of company. It seems the majority of football teams are trying to speed up the tempo or spread out the field.
“When somebody huddles, you’re like, ‘Wow, what’s going on? Why is this taking so long?” Fedora said. “That’s all you do in football is you borrow something or steal something from someone else that you think can help you be successful. I’m just glad we were able to find something to help us be successful.”
NOTES — When Fedora left MTSU for Florida, he was replaced by current UNC offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, who served as co-offensive coordinator in Murfreesboro from 2002-04. UNC tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Walt Bell and UNC graduate assistant Luke Paschall both played at Middle Tennessee from 2003-06. ... Middle Tennessee will be playing an ACC team for the ninth straight season, but this will be the first time against UNC. The Blue Raiders are 3-3 in the past six games against ACC schools, including a 49-28 win at Georgia Tech a year ago. ... Fedora is 0-1 against Middle Tennessee, losing 42-32 in the 2009 New Orleans Bowl when he was the head coach at Southern Miss. ... UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham will receive a $200,000 scholarship check and the Capital One Cup trophy during today’s game after UNC won the award for the best Division I women’s athletics program in the country. The Tar Heels won NCAA titles in soccer and lacrosse during the 2012-13 school year.