ACC Week: One Big Question for North Carolina, Does The Fedora Fit?


Miami headlined the scandalous summer of 2011, when Yahoo! Sports investigative reporter Charles Robinson published a litany of charges against the Hurricane football program. Somewhat overshadowed were the alleged transgressions of ACC mate North Carolina — transgressions that cost Butch Davis his head coaching job.

Everett Withers took over literally weeks before the season and helped UNC to seven wins under less than desirable circumstances. Looming over Withers was not only the cloud of NCAA investigation, but a certainty that the athletic department would take a different direction beyond 2011. That proved true when UNC hired Larry Fedora on Dec. 7, days after he coached Southern Miss to the Conference USA championship.

Fedora has yet to coach a game, or even a fall workout, but his tenure already mirrors that of Al Golden’s in Miami. Golden had filled Miami’s vacancy before the full scope of possible NCAA violations came to light, leading to questions of Golden being able to leave despite his contract. UNC received NCAA penalties this spring for charges including former assistant John Blake’s involvement with an agent and possible academic violations. The depth of the latter is surfacing with reports of a fraudulent course for football players.

Georgia basketball was embroiled in a similar controversy in 2003, when the son of head coach Jim Harrick was discovered “teaching” a facade class for players. Harrick Jr. was promptly fired, and Harrick Sr. has not coached in the college ranks since. UGa. received four years of probation from the NCAA.

Whether the faux class was already known to the NCAA when it rendered its one-year bowl ban and loss of 15 scholarships decision remains to be seen. Otherwise, it only adds to the tumult of Fedora’s inaugural campaign.

The Tar Heels are not lacking talent, and a successful season could rinse some of the bad taste the off-field issues left. Giovanni Bernard might be the best running back in the ACC; his 1253 yards and 13 touchdowns scored in 2011 would support that theory. Bernard would also seem a perfectly suited player to Fedora’s system, which at Southern Miss produced rushing offenses that ranked Nos. 24 (2008), 33 (2009) and 20 (2010 & 2011) nationally.

Similarly, Oklahoma State had college football’s eighth most proficient rushing offense in 2007, Fedora’s last year as the Cowboys’ offensive coordinator. Running back Dantrell Savage went for 1300-plus yards that season and nine touchdowns, but what really fueled the ground attack of both that Cowboys team and Fedora’s Golden Eagles is a dual threat quarterback.

OSU had Zac Robinson. Eleven-win USM had Austin Davis. UNC returning starter Bryn Renner has not what you would refer to as a dual threat quarterback. Renner played a prototypical, drop-back style that was beautiful at times (the season opener against James Madison, he threw just one incompletion) and shaky others (he went 9-17 with two interceptions in the 13-0 loss to NC State).

Nothing from spring practices would suggest Renner is anything but tops on the depth chart. He was outstanding in the spring game. Conversely, freshman Marquise Williams, a quarterback perhaps more suited to running the dual-style, spread offense of past Fedora teams, struggled.

Still, some experimentation might be in order. That’s particularly apropos given the Heels cannot go bowling. A positive for a new head coach like Fedora stepping into a job with the looming problems UNC faces is the extra recovery necessary allows for more freedom. Fedora can build UNC to his specifications without the same pressure cooker atmosphere that exists in so many other positions.