North Carolina hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator, a move that has led to criticism in some circles because he previously has been accused of NCAA rules violations. Did Larry Fedora make a risky choice bringing in a coach with some baggage, considering the NCAA scandals that have rocked the university? David Hale and Andrea Adelson debate.
Hale: Fedora made the right choice
Let’s recap North Carolina’s defensive production since Larry Fedora took over as head coach: The Tar Heels have allowed 30 points per game (dead last in the ACC), 431 yards per game (dead last), 190 rushing yards per game (dead last), 42 percent third-down conversions (13th) and 7.4 yards per pass attempt (13th).
In other words, there is nowhere to go but up.
That’s really where UNC is at right now. Fedora is in Year 4, which as we’ve seen at places like Florida, Michigan and USC in recent seasons is when coaches get fired if they don’t get things turned around. But Fedora is an offensive coach, and his offense has actually been pretty good during his tenure. The problems have been on defense, and those problems are big enough that his tenure in Chapel Hill could be on tenuous ground if major improvements aren’t made immediately. And when it reaches a now-or-never point, what is the harm in rolling the dice on a guy whose on-field track record is pretty darned good?
The Chizik hire makes sense for UNC on so many levels. First is the basic Xs and Os. Chizik has a long history of putting together impressive defenses, from his days as Auburn’s coordinator to his time at Texas, and then as a championship-winning head coach. He’s fiery and talented, and he’s got the credentials to get the attention of his team immediately. That’s crucial for a unit that looked utterly dysfunctional far too often in 2014.
Secondly, there’s the recruiting trail. Yes, recruiting stars proved controversial for Chizik at Auburn, but there was always more smoke than fire there. And the point is, he got the job done. The bottom line at North Carolina the past few years is that Fedora simply hasn’t brought in enough defensive talent, and the recruiting pitch for 2015 -- particularly with the NCAA investigation hovering like a black cloud -- needed a major injection of enthusiasm if the Tar Heels wanted to close strong.
Lastly, there’s the simple fact that Chizik is a big-time hire at a program that for a long time has shied away from making a splash in the coaching ranks. The one big name UNC has brought aboard in recent years was Butch Davis, and that obviously came with its own NCAA issues, but the Chizik hire shows that in spite of any potential controversy, the Heels aren’t backing down from bringing in a winner. It’s a show of confidence and a commitment to winning, and for a program languishing in mediocrity, that’s critical.
Yes, there are reasons to be a bit concerned about how this all ends, but those concerns pale in comparison to how bad things have already been at North Carolina. More importantly, the powers that be in Chapel Hill are keenly aware of the NCAA spotlight the program is living in, and it stands to reason they would have done their homework on Chizik before rolling the dice yet again. In that respect, this is a hire that only re-enforces the message that North Carolina isn’t going to let the NCAA’s investigation define the program, and instead wants to make it clear that it intends to compete for an ACC title regardless of any lingering off-field concerns. It’s a message that should appeal to recruits and players -- even if it manages to raise a few eyebrows in the NCAA offices, too.
Adelson: Surely there was another qualified coach available.
We can all agree Fedora had to do something to fix his defense. Those ugly defensive stats are not misleading in any way. The Tar Heels are as bad as the numbers say.
We can also agree Chizik knows his way around a defense, having coached elite units at Texas and Auburn while developing some fine NFL talents.
Will he fix what ails North Carolina? My guess is yes.
But surely, there is another top-notch defensive coach out there who could do the same. Because a scandal-plagued program like North Carolina needs all the squeaky-clean coaches it can find right now.
And Chizik does not come without some dirt. It is important to note that Chizik has never been charged with any wrongdoing. But he was not singled-out in one little isolated incident, either. Chizik has been accused of plenty in multiple reports by multiple publications: from paying players, to recruiting improprieties, to fixing grades.
Essentially, his entire tenure at Auburn was filled with one allegation after another. Assistant Trooper Taylor was taken off the recruiting trail several times for self-reported NCAA secondary rules violations in 2009 and 2010.
The NCAA changed its recruiting rules after Auburn caused a fuss with "Tiger Prowl," in which assistants cruised around in stretched Hummers and showed up en masse at high schools across the state during spring evaluation periods.
The NCAA also investigated the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton, and looked into the allegations made about paying players and fixing grades. Nothing was ever substantiated, and Chizik has denied every accusation.
So if all these allegations are false, then Chizik has had his good name besmirched and the outcry in some quarters is completely unjustified. Supporters might say, "Chizik has done nothing wrong, so why even bring up false allegations?"
There is a big reason. North Carolina remains under NCAA investigation. It has been nailed for players accepting improper benefits, and it has been nailed for academic fraud. The Tar Heels are bringing in a coach who dealt with NCAA scuttlebutt for more than three years at his previous school. It looks bad, and there is no way around that -- no matter how well North Carolina vetted Chizik.
There might have been a safer hire out there, with the coaching acumen to transform a terrible defense into a respectable one. Instead, Fedora made a risky hire, one that will leave some to question why the Tar Heels would go down this road.