Larry Fedora has walked into a less-than-ideal situation. North Carolina hired Fedora, the former Southern Miss coach, on Dec. 8, nearly two months after the Tar Heels appeared before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions. A ruling came down on March 12, leaving UNC without a total of 15 scholarships over the next three years, during which the program will be on probation.
Fedora kicked off his first spring practice with UNC two days later, the start of a season that will end without a postseason appearance, as well, after the program was given a one-year bowl ban. We caught up with the new coach on Wednesday to get his take on his new squad. The Tar Heels' spring season concludes with their annual spring game April 14.
What have been your impressions so far from spring practice?
Larry Fedora: I can tell you this: Our players have had a tremendous attitude. They're working extremely hard and learning as quickly as they possibly can. And I've seen some early good things out here. But I've seen some really bad things out there. We've got a long way to go to get to where we want to be, but we're gonna get there, because of just the effort they're putting in and their attitudes. You know, when you're installing a new offense, new defense, new special-teams philosophy, it's like trying to teach them a new language, and doing it at a very fast tempo. But as long as they continue to have the attitude they're having, it's gonna be fine.
There's obviously a new staff and new system -- what are you really hoping to accomplish this spring? Is there a slower learning process? How do you go about it?
LF: Well, I mean, the things we wanna accomplish when we come out of spring is for the guys to have a very good understanding of our base offense, our base defense and our base on special teams, in all of our phases of special teams. So when we finish up they have to have a very good understanding of the base. We're not putting in any of the thrills, it's just the base, they've gotta understand the system. And once they understand that, then we can go from there. That's the first objective. The second object is to learn how to practice The Carolina Way -- the tempo, the energy level, the enthusiasm that we expect in practice each and every day. They can learn that. And then the third thing is to find out who are the guys that are gonna make plays for us next year.
Anyone stand out so far who has really caught your attention?
LF: Too early to say. We've got our first full scrimmage today, so I'm gonna have a better feel after that. But we have definitely had guys that have stepped up and shown leadership ability on defense, like Sylvester Williams, and [Kevin] Reddick; on offense, Bryn Renner, Jonathan Cooper, guys like that who have some experience. So they're able to step up and show some leadership. At the same time, they're learning everything for the first time also.
It's been a couple weeks now since the NCAA sanctions came down, that's out of the way. You know what you got and what's coming your way. How much of a relief was that, especially before spring started, to get that out of the way?
LF: I think it was a huge relief, not just for our staff but for our players. Just to get this thing behind them. I think a lot of people overlook the fact that these guys have had this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for about two years now. And that's difficult for an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kid. So I think there's just a huge feel of relief that it's over -- "Hey these are the sanctions, these are what they are, it is what it is. Now let's have a plan, let's move forward from here and let's go."
What was the hardest part, in your mind?
LF: I don't know. I just don't look at it that way. I really don't. I just look at it: These are the consequences for the actions. Because it's something that we talk about with our players all the time. Life's about choices, and when you make choices there's consequences to every choice. And a man faces the consequences of his choices. And so that's kind of just the way we've looked at it. "Hey, these are the consequences. Whether we're the reason that we have this consequence or not, it doesn't matter. It is what it is. So we've got to face them, we face them like a man, we keep our head up and we work hard and we move on."
What do you set for them in terms of a carrot that you dangle postseason-wise? Obviously the bowl game's out of the realm of possibility this year. How do you keep them going?
LF: You've been around college football. Not everybody's just playing for a bowl game. You have enough pride within you as a football player and as a person that you want to go out and you want to compete at the highest level and try to win each and every game that you can possibly play. Our goal is not gonna change as far as, we want to be competing for the Coastal Division championship. That's what we want to do. Whether it's recognized or not, we will know.
You mentioned earlier about The Carolina Way and a new beginning. How much of a sense of duty is there from you to kind of restore that and make this a new beginning, and for this program to really take in a new era here?
LF: Well, if you think about it, with all the circumstances that happened, it is a new era. It is a new beginning. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end. So that's over with. We started something new. You're talking an entirely new program, basically -- when you talk about a philosophy change, a total coaching change. So the players have to buy into this and they've got to learn this entirely new way. Everything that they've been used to, they've got to change. And it's important that we get going and move forward from here, because there's been so much uncertainty in the last couple years.
You sound like a man with a lot of energy. My colleague Heather Dinich has said you can be a walking advertisement for Red Bull. Where does that energy level come from, and how important is it, especially with this situation and this team?
LF: I'm a high-energy guy, and I'm a very positive guy. The coaches that I have on our staff are very high-energy and they're very positive. I think the team will take on the personality of the coaches. And so it's important when we're moving around and we're fast and we're talking and we're getting after it and we're positive, then I expect our team to practice the same way and also, hopefully, play the same way.