This morning, I put up a post that laid out a road map to successfully justifying Larry Fedora’s presence on the sideline (as head coach) of the University of North Carolina football team in 2019.
The qualifiers I had to add to feathers in Fedora’s cap, err, fedora, were indicators that it seems at least somewhat unrealistic to have everything go right and make that a decision that Carolina fans should be able to stomach.
As I said this morning, when faced with a decision, I make a list of pros and cons. Here’s the list of reasons why Fedora needs to be canned:
Why Fire Larry Fedora?
Recruiting is in the tank: Carolina’s 13 commitments for the 2019 class currently rank 12th in the ACC, 60th nationally. With no 4 or 5-star recruits, a few classes ahead of the Heels include North Texas, ECU, Washington State, Memphis, SMU, Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, and Indiana.
Furthermore, for the first time since the Chuck Amato era, N.C. State is winning head-to-head battles for top recruits in the state of North Carolina.
This is perpetuated by the sales pitch that Larry Fedora will not be the coach for all four years a prospect is in Chapel Hill. Can you make an argument to the contrary?
Carolina’s previous five classes, starting in 2018, have ranked 20th, 32nd, 29th, 28th, and 30th, per 247sports’ composite. That’s generally at the top of the tier below Clemson, Florida State, and Miami in the ACC. I mentioned the company Carolina is keeping at 60th, with no clear path to break into the top 50.
A one-year recruiting downturn doesn’t kill a program, but two years of recruiting at a middling G5 level will tie both hands behind the back of the next coach.
Coaching incompetence: A decidedly not-all-encompassing list of some of Fedora’s blunders:
- Losing three straight games to ECU;
- Losing three straight and five of seven to Duke. Carolina had won 20 of the previous 21 meetings;
- Let’s assume N.C. State will get three in a row on us next Saturday;
- Getting boatraced by Virginia Tech two years in a row;
- Kicking off in both halves to Middle Tennessee State in 2013;
- Running out the clock with a chance to beat #10 Miami that same year, also known as the “Zero Dark Thursday” disaster;
- Giving up 68 points to Georgia Tech in 2012, 55 and 70 to ECU in back-to-back years, losing 40-21 to Rutgers in the 2014 QuickLane Bowl, a bowl-record 645 rushing yards to Baylor in the 2015 Russell Athletic;
- Attempting a screen pass out of the endzone up 10 on Georgia in 2016, throwing 33 passes in a hurricane in a 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech the same year;
- Lining up under center on a two-point conversion attempt when Stanford’s Solomon Thomas had clearly showed to that point why he was the NFL’s #3 overall draft pick;
- No-showing the 2014 and 2016 State games at home;
- Throwing deep twice from Syracuse territory in a tie game, when 10 yards and a field goal beats the nations now-12th-ranked team;
- Allowing Cade Fortin to come in for a Hail Mary attempt from the plus-39 against Duke, forcing him to sit out one of the next two games or lose his redshirt.
Like I said, that’s not the whole list.
He’s a walking PR disaster: Fedora is well-known to speak his mind. That has gotten the coach in some hot water, most notably at the 2018 ACC Media Kickoff. There is speaking your mind, and there is what was delivered (and thus perceived) as a dismissal of CTE research. Having been there for the trainwreck, I don’t think the characterization is perfectly fair, but...know you audience, bro.
There was also a series of quotes following the Duke loss on Saturday that make you question his sanity:
You keep doing the things you are doing. You keep putting the kids in the best positions you think you can put them in. You sleep at night because you know you are not going to get outworked. And you are going to work as hard as anybody there is and these kids are going to continue to work hard and it’ll happen. I truly believe that.
Okay, but, you’re 5-20 in your last 25 games. Maybe something is inherently wrong. At least the fans are still engaged...
If they are fans and supporters then they know to stick with them. I shouldn’t have to talk you into it. It’s the Tar Heels and if you are a fan of the Tar Heels and you are a supporter of the Tar Heels and your blood is blue there is no question about what you do --- you keep supporting. These guys haven’t given up. So I don’t expect anybody to give up on them.
That’s not quite how it works. If I invest in Bitcoin and lose $20,000, I’m probably not going to keep investing in Bitcoin.
Fedora is operating under the supposition that he has a captive fanbase, but...averaging a “reported” attendance of just over 45,000 per game would indicate the opposite.
(Doesn’t deserve a bullet point in and of itself, but the “Art of War” thing with injuries act has worn very thin, too. No information on player injuries leads only to further question his competence in fielding a football team when we see guys disappear and don’t know why.)
Squandered talent: The #2 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, with the skill talent in place from an offense that led the country in yards per play in 2015, went 8-5 in 2016. The 2012 team, which featured 18 future NFL players, went 8-4.
Outside of the 2015 season, Fedora and staff have underachieved versus recruiting rankings and preseason expectations, and it hasn’t been close.
In 2015, Carolina ranked 16th in Sagarin (the most easily searchable historical database), and 29th in five-year recruiting rankings. In 2016, the Heels were 31 in Sagarin, 31.8 in recruiting.
In Fedora’s five other years, Carolina has fielded teams that ranked an average of 31st in recruiting talent and 64th in Sagarin. Said another way, Larry Fedora’s program has recruited like an above-average ACC team, and performed like a slightly-above average AAC or Mountain West team.
Said another way, Carolina recruiting talent is getting Virginia results. Or, a top-30 recruiter runs a top-50 program.
Such a track record of underachievement is usually reserved for bad fit hires, such as Will Muschamp at Florida, Butch Jones at Tennessee, or Charlie Strong at Texas. Those three lasted a combined 10 years.
Limited coaching market, great opportunity: As of this post, there are four P5 jobs open: Louisville, Colorado, Kansas, and Maryland. Assuming Jeff Brohm takes the call home to Louisville, which is the most logical fit in the history of coaching searches, Carolina takes the lead as the blatantly obvious best job available. This assumes that big jobs such as Ohio State (hell, I’m willing to bet it opens), Oklahoma (Lincoln Riley seems like a Cowboys guy), USC (Clay Helton probably gets one more year) and Auburn don’t open.
In a fertile recruiting state, with a wide-open division, and a name-brand institution, Carolina should have its pick of anyone who is even remotely considering upgrading their employment status.
My first call would be to Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, who has Iowa State in the top 25 and in contention for the Big XII in just his third year on the job. They’re up to 34th in S&P+, have knocked off name opponents, and have won 17 games (with three to play) after winning 8 combined the previous three years.
Campbell would listen to overtures from UNC, as would Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck. The bloom is off the rose a little bit for Fleck, as he hasn’t raised Minnesota’s profile just yet, but his personality would energize and excite the fanbase. Like Campbell, he has taken programs from the depths to great success, culminating in Western Michigan’s 13-1 season in 2016.
Carolina could aim its sights even higher. Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State sure seem sick of each other, and TCU’s Gary Patterson is having a rough go of it as the Horned Frogs are poised to miss bowl eligibility. If Carolina went the Virginia route, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham has been complaining about assistant pay for over a decade— and the Heels could use an injection of toughness. I had Dino Babers on my short list prior to the season, but Syracuse’s success may render a move to Chapel Hill as a lateral one.
I also like Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson, but would not be inspired by such a hire.
Even if Carolina were to go to the G5 ranks, up-and-comers such as Troy’s Neal Brown, Temple’s Geoff Collins, and perhaps someone off the board such as Utah State’s Matt Wells would jump at the opportunity.
The common thread to all of the names mentioned? They’ve overachieved based on their recruiting results. If you have a turnkey top-30 recruiting infrastructure, does that make you a to 15-20 team? I’m ready to find out.
If you’re going to underachieve relative to your talent, you’d better win every press conference.
If you’re going to lose every press conference, you’d better win a lot of games.
If you’re going to make basic errors at high school level, you’d better have the talent to bail you out.
If you’re going to lose, in embarrassing fashion, to your inferior in-state rivals over and over again, you’d better take down some of the big boys in the process.
As we sit here on November 14, 2018, I don’t see any of those problems being corrected with Larry Fedora at the helm.