Fedora hopes new crop of Heels can live up to hype
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has already scripted out how every period of every practice will go during training camp. Now he just needs for it to start.
Players are due in Chapel Hill on Wednesday, with the first practice session Thursday morning. In August, Fedora will start to gain a sense of what kind of team he has. Until then, all he can do is guess — though that doesn’t stop people from asking him about it.
Fedora faced his latest batch of questions Thursday at the 11th annual Bill Dooley Triangle/East Chapter Pigskin Preview.
“This is the part of it, whether you like it or not, it’s a part of college football,” Fedora said. “It’s the anticipation, it’s the calm before the storm, all of those things. You understand it’s part of it. We’re going to talk about it for a long time and then next Wednesday, I can say I’m tired of talking about it and let’s go. Let’s strap it on and see what we’ve got.”
Until then, Fedora will keep talking — at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn. on Monday, back in the area at a women’s clinic on Monday night, at a senior dinner on Tuesday.
“You really don’t know what you’ve got until you get into fall camp and you start playing some games and you find out what this team’s going to be,” Fedora said. “You’re trying to find a new identity each and every year because every team, none of them are ever the same. They have different personalities, different maturities, everything’s different.”
The team will get a real sense of where they stand in five weeks, when the Tar Heels open the season by traveling to South Carolina, who will potentially be ranked in the top 10.
“I think it’ll be a great measuring stick for us to find out where we are as a football team in the second year of this process,” said Fedora, who went 8-4 in his first season.
Fedora pointed to the Gamecocks under coach Steve Spurrier as a model for UNC’s progression. South Carolina won between six and eight games in each of Spurrier’s first five seasons before finally getting to nine wins in 2010, and then 11 wins in each of the last two seasons.
“Everyone wants it to happen now, including myself, but I understand it is a process and it will take time but eventually it will happen,” Fedora said.
That hasn’t stopped the anticipation from growing in Chapel Hill, especially now that the Tar Heels are free from a postseason ban imposed by the NCAA for major violations that occurred under the previous regime.
UNC was shaky on defense last season and lost its top two players from that unit, linebacker Kevin Reddick and tackle Sylvester Williams. But that didn’t lower Fedora’s expectations of the defense, which allowed an average of 37.4 points in its last five games.
“I expect us to be better defensively than we were last year, even though we lost our two best players on defense, just because guys understand the system,” Fedora said. “They should feel more comfortable, they should think less, and they should be athletes. They should turn it loose and play because they’re not going to be worried about what to do.”
It’s an optimistic premise. The next few months will determine if it’s true.
NOTES — Among the highlights of the Pigskin Preview are the non-football questions thrown out by emcee Don Shea. Fedora said his greatest achievement was being married for 25 years. His biggest superstition is putting his right shoe on first. “I’ve never done it any other way so I don’t know what effect it has,” Fedora said. His most redeeming quality: “I’m just so calm and relaxed all the time.” No. 1 on his sports bucket list is to play in the national championship game.
Finally, when asked who should play him in a movie, Fedora said he didn’t know the names of any actors (East Carolina coach Ruffin McNeill volunteered Colin Farrell). But Fedora didn’t hesitate when asked how many days until the N.C. State game — 100.