North Carolina

How UNC coach Larry Fedora stays ‘hip’

UNC coach Larry Fedora has said he’s thankful to have members of his support staff who keep him “hip.”
UNC coach Larry Fedora has said he’s thankful to have members of his support staff who keep him “hip.” Robert Willett

North Carolina began preseason practice on Wednesday, as it always does, amid the sound of music. Since the day Larry Fedora arrived in 2012, the Tar Heels have practiced this way, surrounded by a familiar soundtrack mainly comprised of thumping beats and creative rhymes.

Usually it’s hip-hop that is blaring over the loudspeakers but, every now and then, genre diversity emerges. Take Wednesday morning, for instance. Not long after UNC began practicing, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” echoed throughout Kenan Stadium, where the Tar Heels are practicing this season.

All of a sudden, it was 1982 again, and Rocky Balboa was training to fight Clubber Lang. At least that’s the mental imagery inspired by “Eye of the Tiger,” the signature song of the Rocky III soundtrack, and one that, 35 years after its release, is nearly twice as old as some of UNCs’ players.

Indeed, “Eye of the Tiger” is part of the soundtrack of Fedora’s coming-of-age. He was 19 when it was released. Now he finds himself in a position, as UNC’s head coach, in which he understands the significance of relating to 19-year-olds – of exhibiting a certain brand of “hip,” as he put it recently.

Fedora’s commentary came in a tongue-in-cheek, satirical video released on the UNC football team’s official Twitter page. In the video, Fedora describes the challenge of relating to high school prospects these days but, fortunately, he says, he has a “great group of guys” who “keep me hip.”

And so begins a series of lines that Fedora, clearly in on the joke, delivers with deft, dry touch – and with a Texas accent that makes it all the more humorous to hear him saying things like:

“You hear that new Migos song? It’s pretty lit, right?”

“All right, don’t mind me and my fidget spinner. But this is why we want you, at Carolina.”

“At UNC, we play fast – zero to 100, like my man Drake says.”

“My name’s Larry Fedora, but you can me … two chains.”

He said that last one, a reference to the rapper 2Chainz, while holding up the two necklaces around his neck, and he delivered the line with the kind of self-aware grin worn by many a purveyor of Dad Humor. The things coaches do these days in recruiting.

“I don’t personally know 2Chainz,” Fedora said not long after the video was released, as if clearing up a mystery. “I do know who Drake is.”

Which is more than he could say about Migos, a trio of three rappers from Georgia. Fedora confessed that he’d never heard of Migos before he was directed to deliver the line about the group’s new song being “lit,” which is also a word he’d likely never before used in that way.

“I thought Migos was in a burrito, is what I thought,” Fedora said recently.

The idea for Fedora’s video, and others like it that use humor to connect with prospects and fans, came from Taylor Vippolis, a former UNC football walk-on who now works with the program’s video department. When Vippolis approached him, Fedora said he could offer five minutes to the project.

Fedora received his first line – the one about Migos’ lit new tune – and he added his own comedic touch. Another minute or two passed before Fedora wondered whether anyone would watch him say these things because, he remembered thinking at the time, “This sounds stupid.”

More than 1,200 retweets and 2,200 Twitter “likes” later, though, the people had spoken: Fedora’s video, the Internet marketplace had decided, was lit, indeed. Or at least entertaining enough to watch, and pass on.

“Five minutes, we’re done. Thirty minutes later, he’s posted it … and then it goes viral,” Fedora said. “And ESPN picks it up, and all these (websites) – that’s invaluable. … The publicity that we got from that thing – we couldn’t have paid for it. There’s no way.”

Back at practice on Wednesday, the final notes of Eye of the Tiger grew quieter before fading away. Of all the songs on UNC’s practice playlist, it might have been the one with which Fedora could have been most familiar.

Moments later came the sound of Yo Gotti, a rapper whose “Down in the DM” began reverberating throughout the empty stadium. It is a song about, among other things, the fickle nature of initiating romance through social media.

There is little chance it’s on Fedora’s personal playlist but, undoubtedly, he’d smile and tell you it’s lit.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter