UNC was historically bad on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 so it wasn't really a surprise when Fox Sports Bruce Feldman broke the news that associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning would be coordinating a defense somewhere else next season. The nature of UNC's consistent defensive failures made it impossible for Larry Fedora to sit on his hands. A change of some sort had to be made and the guy with total responsibility for the defense was going to pay the price.
As much as fans were clamoring for this change as early as the 70-41 loss to East Carolina it is important to remember that changing the coach isn't a cure all. Yes, it had to be done because a sacrifice needs to be made on the altar of accountability and fan outrage. However, the state of UNC's defense in 2014 isn't the result of one factor. The sheer awfulness of the numbers point to something that is multifaceted and unresolved simply by jettisoning the coach running that unit overboard.
For the season UNC finished 118th in yards per game allowed, 113th in yards per play surrendered and 119th in points per game. The Heels gave up 50 or more points three times and 40 or more five times. The 38.9 points per game was dead last in the ACC, 11.9 points per game worse than the next team. That kind of futility on the defensive side of the ball isn't just a coaching issue. It's a personnel, depth, experience, scheme, execution, effort and coaching issue. It is a perfect storm of every relevant facet of the defense turning south at the same time.
In that respect, it will be interesting to see how much of what happens next season is a result of sacking Koenning especially if the rest of the staff remains intact. Let's be honest here. The defense in 2014 was so bad, it is unlikely a repeat is coming in 2015. This was a rock bottom moment for Fedora in terms of personnel and depth. The third year of a coaching tenure is the one where the transition from your predecessor's recruits to yours is complete. In terms of NCAA sanctions the third year is also the one where the full weight of losing 15 scholarships is fully felt. UNC was young and thin at key defensive positions which showed far too often.
Bearing that in mind it stands to reason that player development, added experience and depth should result in some modest improvements to the defense in 2015. UNC's schedule will also be more tolerable as the Heels trade Clemson and ECU for Wake Forest and Illinois. It is not unreasonable to assume 2015 will be a step up from 2014 in terms of stopping opposing teams. While improvement will be perceived to be a result of the coaching change, that may not actually be the case.
Just because a natural progression will occur doesn't mean the coaching change can't help. It is possible the current crop of players had tuned Koenning out. Perhaps he was a poor fit for what Fedora was trying to do or and struggled to motivate players to execute the scheme. If that is the case then a change here might squeeze more potential and effort out of players who had simply stopped listening. As for the scheme, this transition could result in a change in the base scheme to something like a 4-3 though that decision would severely impact recruiting. Whatever the case, some significant changes on the coaching side could leverage any natural improvement into something more.
Ultimately, Koenning's ouster was a necessary step for the sake of accountability. This is the way the world works. If UNC had been a fair to middling defense then Koenning keeps his job and in fact probably gets credit for getting a young and thin defense to produce even that much. The complete and utter failure displayed in 2014 demands something be done and Koenning's being shown the door is it. Of course accountability is fine provided it results in actual change and positive results. Accountability isn't about getting a pound of flesh over a horrendous result but rather making a change to get a better result down the line. If that doesn't happen, dropping Koenning will have been nothing but a symbolic gesture that did very little to solve the actual problem.