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An Attempt to Justify Keeping Larry Fedora at UNC in 2019

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There are two sides to every story. Let’s start with keeping him in Chapel Hill for another year.

Pittsburgh v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

November is great for a lot of reasons: the college football season goes from awesome and weird to awesome and meaningfully weird and awesome, college basketball starts, and Thanksgiving (which is the best holiday, don’t @ me) happens.

Even if your college football team is not playing those meaningfully weird games, November is great for you as the fan of said irrelevant team, because there’s a chance you’ll fire your coach and hit ‘reset’ on the cycle— and talk yourself into playing meaningful football in subsequent Novembers.

Coach-firing season has officially started in earnest— Louisville, Kansas, Colorado, and Maryland are looking for new CEO’s in their football programs. There is a lot of debate surrounding whether or not North Carolina will jump into the fray with Larry Fedora sporting a sweet 5-20 record over his last 25 games.

If you’re a devoted reader of this blog, I’m sure your feelings mirror those of the Tar Heel Blog staff. If you’re new, you may have seen Steven Godfrey’s article last week on the national site and be curious as to what Carolina fans think.

When I have a big decision to make, I make a list of pros and cons to crystallize my thoughts. As I am not Bubba Cunningham, I don’t have this call to make. If I were keeping him, this is how I would justify doing it.

Reasons to keep Fedora around for 2019:

The buyout: The big elephant in the room is Fedora’s buyout, which is reported to be $10-12 million after he signed a 7-year extension in 2015. The most recent USA Today revenue list had UNC at 35th in the country— a far cry lower than in previous years. Carolina was consistently top-10 before TV deals went insane.

This number shouldn’t be a deterrent— Louisville is going to pay Bobby Petrino $13 million not to show up anymore. Carolina doesn’t have anything approaching the issues the Cardinals do— namely losing your biggest donor, or paying off a basketball coach fired amidst NCAA violations. But, Carolina is in a ‘chicken or egg’ situation— football attendance is stagnant, if not embarrassing. Does the excitement around a new hire offset the loss?

The whole “Fedora navigated the NCAA mess” thing: The biggest feather in Larry Fedora’s cap is that he stuck with Carolina through the protracted, stupid, 7-year anal probe into Carolina athletics, turning down other jobs in the process.

How much weight should that carry when the product has somehow gotten a lot worse once free from that cloud?

He’s hit the ‘reset’ button with success while at UNC: After the 2014 debacle (a 6-7 season with a blowout loss to Rutgers somehow doesn’t seem that bad anymore), Fedora cleaned house on the defensive side of the ball. He replaced Vic Koenning with Gene Chizik, and the defense went from bad to passable. Since Chizik’s departure, the defense has gone back to ‘bad’.

Fedora also hired Seth Littrell, who will be a hot coaching name in 2019, from Indiana following Blake Anderson’s departure, and he was awesome.

If the move is to let Larry do the Dabo thing and hire elite coordinators, the question becomes: is there a game-changing coordinator who wants to work for a lame-duck coach?

Injuries: Man, its been bad. Carolina lost over 200 starts to injury in 2017, including early-entry linebacker Andre Smith, four-year starter Donnie Miles, top receiver Austin Proehl, left tackle William Sweet...the list goes on and on.

It hasn’t gotten much better this year, as notable losses include THREE QUARTERBACKS LOST IN THEIR FIRST MEANINGFUL ACTION, Jay-Jay McCargo, Aaron Crawford, K.J. Sails, and many others.

One year is an anomaly, two years is a trend. If reports from various media members that players are doing max reps in the weight room in-season are true, a potential retooling would have to include a new strength and conditioning coach.

Is there a slam-dunk hire? For me, this becomes the single most important factor assuming Fedora stays. The talent drain from the G5 the past three years has been exceptional, as Tom Herman, Scott Frost, P.J. Fleck, Jeff Brohm, Matt Campbell, and many others have broken into P5 jobs and had varying degrees of success.

There doesn’t seem to be a surefire ‘can’t miss’ in the coaching cradle that is the AAC. Charlie Strong was a bounceback candidate but has South Florida punching below its weight. Neal Brown at Troy is dominating the Sun Belt again, but hiring him would feel eerily similar to the path that led us here in the first place. Utah State’s Matt Wells, a guy our Jacob Cowden mentioned on episode 2.10 of the Weekly Tar Heel Podcast, is intriguing, but has no East Coast ties.

Could the Heels lure Fleck or Campbell away? Brohm to Louisville seems fait accompli. A quick look at high-profile coordinators yields LSU’s Dave Aranda and Clemson’s Brent Venables— both of whom make over $2,000,000 a year and seem content only being responsible for half of a program.

There is a very narrow path that could convince me another to-the-studs rehab job makes Fedora’s outlook a positive one— and its ugly. Two new coordinator hires, along with strength and conditioning, would have to be made. There’s not much precedent for coaches voluntarily moving their families into a trash fire, but the staff reimagined with (I’m seriously not advocating this) Kendall Briles at OC and a similarly successful counterpart on defense would allow the team to at least reach its 7-win floor* in 2019.

*Notice I said 7-win floor? That was a reasonable expectation for this year.

Do I believe this? Stay tuned as the counterpoint hits this afternoon.