Well, that didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours after UNC concluded their season with a loss against NC State, the school announced that head football coach Larry Fedora will not be retained. The news comes at the conclusion of UNC’s second consecutive losing season. Word of a pending change leaked last night, and this morning it became official.
Here's the release from UNC on Fedora's dismissal. pic.twitter.com/62k0P8EA48— R.L. Bynum (@RL_Bynum) November 25, 2018
It’s an unfortunate ending for Larry Fedora, who deserves the gratitude of Heels fans. He willingly took the job while the school was under NCAA sanctions and stayed loyal during the ensuing NCAA investigation. Despite those challenges, he had the highest ranked recruiting class in the state of North Carolina from 2013-2018. Class rankings of 28th, 30th 28th 32nd 29th, and 20th ensured the Heels remained competitive for the majority of this tenure. In five seasons from 2012-2016, UNC finished in the top-3 of the ACC Coastal four times.
However, the next two seasons brought a dizzying fall for Fedora. After North Carolina played Clemson for the ACC Championship in 2015, the Heels seemed ready to break through on the national scene. With the majority of the offense coming back, and defensive coordinator Gene Chizik set to return for a second season, the future was promising. It wasn’t meant to be.
North Carolina followed that title appearance with a disappointing 8-5 season. Starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky left a year earlier than expected and became the second overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. The program didn't recover. Instead, the past two seasons have been marred by injuries, poor quarterback play, off-field problems, a lack of discipline, and excruciatingly frustrating game management miscues. All of those problems have led to a program in disarray.
The decision ends weeks of speculation about the future of the football program. Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham never gave a public vote of confidence and had strong words when explaining why the school didn’t seek a 12th game to makeup for the canceled contest against UCF due to Hurricane Florence. However, a rumored buyout between $12-14 million was the most oft-cited reason that a change might not be made.
Turns out, it wasn’t quite the obstacle some believed it to be. Anyone who saw the amount of red jackets and ponchos in Kenan on Saturday would understand why that number seems like a bargain right now. That’s what happens when a program only wins five games in a two-year span. Or maybe that’s what happens when you lose three straight to East Carolina. And Duke. And NC State. You get the picture.
The swiftness of the decision supports the idea that the outcome of Saturday’s game was a non-factor in this decision. Some would argue the decision should’ve been made after the ECU debacle. A change, though, couldn’t be decided on a knee-jerk reaction or ultimatum to beat a certain team. A decision wasn’t imminent, but it was clear that day in Greenville was the beginning of the end.
In all likelihood, the wheels started turning after UNC made Duke’s Daniel Jones look like a Heisman candidate. Giving up 42 points to a team that ranks 12th in the ACC in scoring offense doesn’t inspire much confidence in the future of the program. Nor does wasting Cade Fortin’s third “red-shirt eligible” game for a single Hail Mary pass when he could've been saved to gain valuable reps against Western Carolina the following week. The entire season was just example after example of North Carolina finding a new way to lose a winnable game.
Saturday’s loss also guarantees that Fedora will exit Chapel Hill without a winning record against a single FBS program inside the state of North Carolina. He was 1-3 against ECU, 3-4 against N.C. State, 2-5 against Duke, and 1-1 against Wake Forest. If you are curious why the Heels have struggled on the recruiting trail over the past 18 months, especially within the state, those win-loss records would be a good starting point.
Whatever the reasons, it became clear that after seven years the relationship had grown stale. At this point it’s best for both parties to move on. Andrew Jones of Tar Heel Illustrated provides a fresh perspective in this piece. Greg Barnes from Inside Carolina also provides this point of view. Fedora leaves UNC with a 45-43 record. The Heels are just 5-18 (2-14 ACC) over the last two seasons.
No official word has been made about a replacement. One would hope that UNC didn’t make this decision without having a plan A, B, and/or C lurking in the background. For reference, Bubba Cunningham announced the hiring of Larry Fedora within 12 days of UNC defeating Duke in their regular season finale in 2011. Conference championships and bowl seasons can make it tricky to hire a new coach, and it's a pretty dry year for hot coaching candidates, but it would be surprising if the vacancy lingered past the first weekend of December.
Keep checking back here for our coverage of North Carolina football. We’ll have thoughts, analysis, and memories of the Fedora era over the coming days and weeks.