On Wednesday afternoon, Larry Fedora had some rather interesting comments. Chad Floyd is attending the festivities in Charlotte this week and covered most of them in yesterday’s article. Check it out to get semi-caught up. I won’t rehash too many of them here.
Nor will I spend too much energy in defending, supporting, or attacking the content of what he said. The man has questions about CTE and football and thinks that if we continue to let football decline then the country will fall shortly after. Or something like that. Different people will take away different meanings.
Honestly, I don’t care. I just want him to lead UNC to victory at least seven victories this fall. If he does that, many of you won’t care either.
Look. Larry Fedora is not the most polished, public-relations savvy guy. His handling of the Tim Beckman situation two years ago is just one example. He has had a mercurial, though not adversarial, relationship with the media, largely for his unwillingness to discuss particulars about his program. The man sometimes seems slightly unaware of his surroundings, whether that’s during games or in everyday life.
Last fall, on the Insider Carolina podcast Fedora admitted to Jones Angell and Adam Lucas he only recently discovered that UNC had an arboretum. Mind you, he has hosted hundreds of recruits who often stroll around campus. At some point prior to last season, even if he had not visited, you might have thought Fedora would have known of its existence. Especially considering its proximity to the Morehead Planetarium and the iconic Old Well. Depending on your tour guide, both stops are occasionally visited on official campus tours (or have been in the past). That was just one example that he gave. It’s a fair assumption that there are more “unknown” locations on campus that would surprise him.
Instead, Fedora is strictly a football guy. That’s it. The game consumes him, and it has done so his whole life. He is oblivious to the outside world, and in the coaching profession he is not alone. To those of us on the outside looking in, this realization is usually surprising and borderline depressing. Remember in 2016 when Nick Saban claimed to be unaware of election day? I don’t know if this mindset is right, wrong, healthy, unhealthy, comical or tragic, but the culture isn’t changing anytime soon.
Many years ago (11 to be exact), when I was on a college staff in a different sport, I was reading the newspaper at breakfast (no iPhone then) and a picture of some soldiers were on the front page. My head coach looked at me and said, “Is that from Iraq? Are we still over there?” This was in 2007, at the height of the “surge” when the Iraq War dominated the news. Curating your newsfeed to maintain a narrow or specific stream of information wasn’t the norm. You had to be willfully ignorant to not know even the most basic information at the time. (Narrator: He was willfully ignorant.)
He then asked me to go find the VHS tape of our upcoming opponent because he didn’t like DVD players. For whatever reason, he could never get them to fast forward or rewind to his liking. I’m pretty sure we were the only Division-I team who still used VHS’s at the time. But I digress. My point is, coaches can be really weird.
So while it’s dangerous to guess what Fedora truly meant, it’s fair to say that what he spoke was more of a defense of the game of football than anything else, and not to wage some grandiose conspiracy theory/ultra-patriotic/truther campaign on the world. Every attack on the game — perceived, real, scientifically-based, or clickbait quotes tweaked for headlines — is an attack on his profession and livelihood. He tried to defend the game while explaining why he thinks it is important and what it meant to him in a passionate response, devoid of his usual “coach speak”.
Was it articulate, well said, or easy to follow? No and it’s fair criticism to question why that was the case. Most fans expect more from the CEO of their football program. Did I (or you) agree with everything that he said? Maybe and maybe not. Does it provide fuel to use against UNC on the recruiting trail? Possibly, but probably not. Is it worth getting all kinds of twisted up about, or going so far as to call for him to be fired as one national writer did (who wasn’t even at the event to hear Fedora’s complete comments)? Not unless one is as equally idealistic and self-righteous as coaches are closed off from our “normal” lives.
If he thinks the attacking or softening of a purposely violent game speaks to a greater societal problem, so what? If he tries to make an awkward comparison to the military because of how he interpreted an answer from a 3-star General, who cares? (For what it’s worth, if that conversation happened as Fedora said, I suspect that general was being slightly patronizing while trying to relate and find common ground to form a mutual connection between two men in separate career fields.)
When the attitude impacts the product on the field, then I’ll pay attention. Even with last year’s injury-riddled debacle, I’d argue it has not. I’m fairly confident that Fedora’s opinions on the downfall of America are not to blame for the non-existence of UNC’s fourth-quarter defense last season.
Nor was he insinuating that he doesn’t care about player safety. To suggest as much is preposterous grandstanding. At worst, one can argue that he could continue to become better educated on the subject. However, most would be surprised to learn that he already goes out of his way to stay informed of the most recent research.
It was Fedora who jumped at the opportunity to join forces with the NCAA and Department of Defense by allowing Tar Heel football players to participate in groundbreaking studies on head trauma. This article by Erik Brady of USA Today, posted Wednesday evening, explores that angle as well. All credit to @UnderTheHeadset, where I first saw found this information.
CTE Expert in @CoachFedora : “I’ve not worked with a coach who cares more about the health and safety of their players than Larry Fedora,” Guskiewicz said. “When he got to Carolina, he reached out to me and said...(3/4)— UnderTheHeadset.com (@undertheheadset) July 19, 2018
CTE Expert cont on @CoachFedora : “Hey, I know North Carolina is one of the leading places in the country that does concussion research, and what can we do? I want to continue to keep this thing going.”(4/4) #ACCKickOff— UnderTheHeadset.com (@undertheheadset) July 19, 2018
There are these takes provided by David Hale of ESPN that add further context and clarification to Fedora’s overall meaning. If the general nature of these thoughts are as outrageous as I was led to believe yesterday afternoon, then maybe Fedora has a right to be unapologetically defensive.
Some clarification — but definitely not a backtrack — from Larry Fedora on the CTE/“Under attack” comments… pic.twitter.com/rgTyKiAN6C— A special place in Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) July 18, 2018
Also will say this on Larry Fedora: His comments were not conveyed well, and to dismiss CTE research is foolish. But the topic is FAR more nuanced than is often discussed, and plenty of coaches agree w/him that it’s being used as a blunt instrument to attack football.— A special place in Hale (@DavidHaleESPN) July 18, 2018
There is no arguing that all levels of football have taken quite a bit of heat the past few years. The game bears the brunt of the attacks, even though other sports are dealing with their own head-trauma issues. Soccer and hockey immediately come to mind. Some of those attacks have been justifiable, and some of them have not. In response, Larry Fedora took a stand in a way that makes his supporters love him and his detractors dislike him. Loud, brash, forceful, and without regret. That style is considered “motivating” when your team wins and “undisciplined” when your team loses. In Chapel Hill, that description has changed from year to year and that theory will be tested again this fall.
If you’re one that has cried out in moral outrage or misplaced anger the past 24 hours, I’d encourage you to calm down. If you were “embarrassed” of your head coach, maybe step back and evaluate your priorities. I’d be more concerned if he wasn’t as passionate and defensive of his profession. There are plenty of other concerns heading into pre-season camp. Larry Fedora’s thoughts on life don’t crack the top 20.
So no, I don’t care about any of Fedora’s comments this week. One year removed from a disastrous 3-9 season, if UNC beats Duke and NC State and makes a bowl game, by January you won’t either.