Luke DeCock

This is a milestone: UNC, NC State, Duke football coaches still standing

UNC football coach Larry Fedora.
UNC football coach Larry Fedora. Robert Willett rwillett@newsobserver.com

Larry Fedora sat at one end, Dave Doeren in the middle, David Cutcliffe to his left. Thursday was the fifth time these same three coaches have appeared together at the Bill Dooley Pigskin Preview, an annual rite of preseason passage.

Five years represents a rare moment of stability among coaches at the three Triangle ACC schools, the longest combined tenure in more than 50 years, and the rare occasion of seeing them all together in one place at an event like the Pigskin Preview – alongside relatively newish coaches from East Carolina and N.C. Central – helps drives that point home.

It’s the longest the same three coaches have been together since the six-season stretch from 1960-65 when Bill Murray (Duke), Jim Hickey (North Carolina) and Earle Edwards (N.C. State) went head-to-head in the early days of the ACC. There have been three four-year runs of coaching continuity, but this is the first time it has hit five in more than 50 years.

“It’s very unique in that regard, to have somebody – we all react when a guy’s going into Year 10: ‘Wow!’ ” said Cutcliffe, entering his 10th year at Duke. “But at one point, that’s kind of the way things were – maybe with a little bit more success, when you study the past.”

The funny thing about those six seasons in the ’60s? One of the Triangle schools either won outright or shared the ACC title in each of them: Duke the first three, UNC and N.C. State in 1963 and the Wolfpack in 1964 and 1965. Those were the days and so on and so forth.

These are different circumstances today obviously, but over the first four years of this current stretch, Duke and North Carolina have each played in the ACC title game once, but no one has won it. N.C. State probably has the best chance of the three this season, although everyone’s an outsider in a league with Clemson and Florida State.

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N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren yells to his players during N.C. State football's third spring practice at the Curtis and Jacqueline Dail football practice complex in Raleigh on Feb. 28, 2017. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

Still, each of the three coaches has delivered enough success to stick in this one spot this long. Meanwhile, the ACC’s stature as a football conference has grown enough to make sticking around more attractive than it once might have been. The combination has led to a rare era of coaching stability in a volatile profession in a combustible market.

In addition to the four men alongside him Thursday, all returnees – Doeren, Fedora, Jerry Mack and Scottie Montgomery – Cutcliffe has shared that particular dias with Butch Davis, Henry Frazier, Skip Holtz, Ruffin McNeill, Tom O’Brien, Mose Rison and Everett Withers since he made his first appearance in 2008.

“I think Cut’s probably amazed me and Dave are still around here,” Fedora said.

Fedora enters his sixth season, as long a tenure as any North Carolina coach since Mack Brown. Doeren’s only been here one season less, and is still the relative newcomer among the trio.

At a time when football coaches aren’t exactly blessed with job security, in a place where turnover has been the norm, seeing the same three guys together again is almost a historic curiosity – although even if all three return next fall to tie the Edwards-Hickey-Murray group for combined tenure, they’ll still have some catching up to do in terms of ACC titles.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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