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Does UNC’s coach Larry Fedora deserve the criticism?

A look at all the criticism Larry Fedora encounters.

North Carolina v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Larry Fedora’s play calling has come into question multiple times this year already. I am usually not one to question coaches. However, I, like many fans, have my moments where I find myself yelling things like, “what are you doing?!,” during games. My palm has been known to meet my forehead from time to time as I mumble things about how I could have done better. Yes, me, sitting on a couch with a beer, could have called a better play than a coach who won 11 games last year.

At the end of the day though, it is really difficult for me to question someone who gets paid millions of dollars to run a program. They know a whole lot more than all of us about the sport they are coaching, so in my mind I wonder why so many people question their play calls and game plans.

Larry Fedora isn’t alone, obviously. Coaches are always getting their decision making picked apart by the fans. Just look at Oakland Raiders’ coach Jack Del Rio this weekend, when he decided to go for 2 against the Saints. The play paid off but ESPN Stats and Info decided to tweet something that the coach didn’t seem to care for too much.

Another example is UNC’s own, Roy Williams, who seems to always be questioned by fans and critics alike. Is it a North Carolina thing? Are the fans too harsh, or do they just know it all when it comes to coaching top 25 programs? Maybe the fan base is incredibly knowledgeable, but it is more likely that everyone just has an opinion, usually negative, in the days of Twitter.

All that being said, Fedora is on the end of a lot of backlash already when it comes to his play calling, and we are only two games into the season! He’s been questioned for running the ball only 16 times against Georgia, even though T.J. Logan was averaging 13.3 yards per rush, and Hood was averaging 7.2 yards per carry. He was questioned for his unsportsmanlike penalty he received for losing his cool in Atlanta. He was questioned for going for a touchdown instead of a field goal before the half against Illinois.

Larry Fedora is constantly being questioned already this year. Is it rightfully just? That’s the real question.

Play calling against Georgia

Fedora isn’t one to shy away from questions following games, which really helps us see where his state of mind was when making a lot of his decisions. After the Georgia game Fedora was quoted as saying,

“We were so inconsistent in everything we were doing. There were a couple of series we felt like we were doing things the right way, but you can’t be second and long on every series and think you’re going to run the ball effectively. So I thought first down was tough on us. We weren’t effective on first down enough. And that caused us to get behind the chains and then it makes it tough to run.”

Now, this is Fedora explaining why they only ran the ball 16 times against Georgia. However, why must UNC pass on the majority of their first downs, enabling themselves to be in a “second and long” scenario? On UNC’s 26 first down situations, they ran the ball 11 times for 111 yards. Of the 15 times they passed the ball, Trubisky was 8/15 for 77 yards. Those incomplete and short passes on first down is what put them in “second and long” scenarios. I get the line of thinking there but it just doesn’t seem to be supported by the numbers.

To give those numbers a comparison, against Illinois, UNC had 30 first down situations. Excluding a sack on the first UNC possession, UNC ran the ball 22 times for 132 yards. Of the seven times UNC passed the ball, they were 5/7 for 41 yards. Fedora clearly learned from the Georgia game and amped up the running plays against Illinois.

Aside from the numbers, a good takeaway from this is that Fedora was quoted as saying that they needed to run the ball more following the Georgia loss. Which is what they did do against Illinois, running the ball 37 times. If the coach is learning from his mistakes and the team is growing because of it, can we really still question the mistakes he has made?

Penalty against Georgia

Fedora was quoted as saying,

Well we had the penalty on the lineman downfield and I was questioning the call. The guy didn’t like what I said so he threw the flag on me which is nobody’s fault but mine. It’s my fault. It’s the first time it’s ever happened in my life so I’m pretty disappointed. Then we’re backed up on the two or three yard line and they get the safety. That’s all on me, nobody but me.”

I like this in a coach. Own up to your mistakes. I also have no problems with the fact that he was so upset and was rewarded a penalty for it. It shows he has passion and wanted that win more than anyone. I personally love it when a coach is fiery and is willing to light into an official from time to time. Sometimes that sends a message to a team. It shows them that their coach is willing to fight for them, and that may in turn get the team to fight for him.

Play calling against Illinois

Yeah that was all me. It was all me. Here’s my thinking: if we kick the field goal, alright we’ll go up by 11, I don’t know how much momentum we would have, our guys would be disappointed, and we’re getting the ball at the start of the second half. So I decided to go for it. Nobody but me, my fault.

Listen, I am all for risking it. The situation was low risk high reward, and I completely saw where Fedora was coming from on this call. Paul Kushner talked about it in his in-depth review as well as Jake Lawrence in his highs and lows piece earlier this week, and I completely agree with both of them. A field goal would have only put UNC up by 11, while a touchdown would have put them up by 15. A touchdown could have put Illinois away compared to a field goal.

The only problem I (and most people) had with going for a touchdown was that UNC should have ran the ball, but hindsight is 20/20. If they were to get stuffed on the run I am sure I would be saying that they should have passed it because Trubisky was so great the whole game. In the end, I agree with going for it, it helps create a killer instinct for the team, and shows that he has faith in the team’s ability to score on anyone.

What’s my conclusion on the Fedora criticism? Sometimes it may seem warranted and other times it may not. It is early in the season and the Heels are 1-1. We don’t need to really be doing this for 10 to 11 more games this year. Let’s let this play out some more before we go after a coach and his decisions. After all, Fedora is clearly learning from his mistakes, and the team is clearly improving because of it.