There’s a reunion going on in Hollywood–just not the type you might expect.
After the Los Angeles Rams signed former UNC defensive tackle Cam Thomas on Monday, the team now has three members of the vaunted 2009 Tar Heel defensive line.
Robert Quinn has become a star with the Rams–tallying 50 sacks in his first five seasons since being taken 14th overall by the team in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Quinton Coples, the New York Jets’ first-round pick in 2012, also agreed to a deal with Los Angeles earlier this offseason.
Now there’s just one question left to ask: Butch Davis, where are you?
Under their former head coach in Chapel Hill, the trio combined to help UNC finish 13th in the nation in points allowed in 2009.
Although the eight wins from that season were later vacated by the school, there’s no denying the defense was among the best in program history.
The Rams will be hoping the same formula up front pays off for them in their first season in California since relocating away from St. Louis.
There should be ample opportunity for both Thomas and Coples to win spots on the final roster–given that the Rams lost defensive tackle Nick Fairley to the New Orleans Saints this offseason, and released defensive end Chris Long.
In six NFL seasons–four with the San Diego Chargers and two with the Pittsburgh Steelers–Thomas has accumulated 6.5 sacks and 74 tackles in 85 career games.
His main job as a nose tackle, though, has always been to take up blockers in the middle of the trenches–meaning his stats don’t really show the full picture of who he is as a player.
Coples spent six games with the Miami Dolphins last season, but has played the majority of his career with the Jets. In 62 games playing as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker, he’s recorded 16.5 sacks and 75 tackles.
If Tar Heel fans learned anything from watching these guys work together up front, it’s that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.
Whether that’s true at the professional level certainly remains to be seen, but the Rams have at least proven that they definitely want to give it a shot in training camp.http://chapelboro.com/sports/unc-sports/la-rams-ink-cam-thomas-to-deal-now-have-three-unc-d-linemen
This post was originally published on the author’s blog Coaching the Mind.
Butch Davis was UNC’s first scapegoat in the AFAM paper-class scandal.
Davis began coaching at UNC in 2006 and was fired in the summer of 2011, soon after suspicions about Julius Nyang’oro’s classes surfaced. UNC’s first investigation, conducted the following year by two A&S senior-level deans, was limited, without good reason, to the years 2007 – 2011.
During my interview with Davis for my documentary, he explained, “It was like everybody wanted it to just be about my tenure. It was just going to be about football. Maybe at the end, we can tie this up in a nice little bow, and it will be, we’ll fire the head coach, we’ll blame it all on the football program, we’ll kick it to the curb, and we’ll be able to move on.”
Davis’s firing and that first investigation reveal much about UNC’s priorities, though few have been perceptive enough to see that. What UNC’s most strident critics fail to understand about the University is that its academic prestige, reflected by its status as a Top 5 public university, is far more important than its national championships in sports. Even more important, on a practical level, is the school’s accreditation. A school can persist after losing its championships: it cannot persist after losing its accreditation.
Thus, over the past five years of investigations and reforms and firings, UNC has been concerned first and foremost with protecting its academic prestige and its accreditation. The first strategy was to appoint two senior-level deans to conduct an investigation into a department within their own college and limited to the years of the fired football coach. If the UNC chancellor at the time had been serious about investigating the problem, he would have appointed deans from outside A&S and not restricted the years of the investigation. However, in an effort to deflect attention away from the A&S administration, UNC seemed to believe they could simply implicate Davis, if only indirectly, and then move on. Of course, that did not work.
Even the subsequent, now infamous, Martin Report, which critics have decried as an athletics whitewash, actually shielded the A&S deans from the scrutiny they deserved. Although Martin declared the scandal academic rather than athletic, his judgement was generic: he never pointed a finger at the particular deans who, we later learned, knew about the paper classes but did nothing about them. As a former academic himself, Martin seemed unwilling to censure those who could have been his peers.
The final investigation, conducted by Kenneth Wainstein, is a brilliant work of scapegoating. Although Wainstein did reveal that at least four deans knew about the paper classes, his report glosses over their knowledge and actions to emphasize the alleged culpability of low-level academic counselors for athletes. Wainstein’s “factual narrative” even leaves out Senior Associate Dean Bobbie Owen’s admission that an athletics official expressed concerns to her about the paper classes and that she replied to him that the issue was one of faculty autonomy. That admission is buried in what is essentially the report’s notes (p. 104). In addition, Wainstein’s report never even mentions that Fred Clark was not just an associate dean but the associate dean to whom the Academic Support Program for Student-Athletes directly reported. Like Owen, Clark, an otherwise model educator, asserted that the paper classes were a matter of Nyang’oro’s autonomy as a faculty member (p. 107). The academic counselors received that message of faculty autonomy, which is exactly why they did not question the paper classes further.
Yet Wainstein, whom the University paid $3.1 million, shrewdly depicts the academic counselors as complicit with Nyang’oro and his assistant Deborah Crowder, allowing the University to treat the scandal as if it were the result of a few low-level individuals associated with athletics rather than a systemic, administrative problem requiring extensive academic reform.
Before I go on, I want to be clear: I do not believe there was a conspiracy between UNC and Wainstein. A conspiracy was unnecessary. Wainstein is a powerful man, and the powerful have an unspoken agreement among themselves to blame the powerless. Wainstein composed his report to do just that and thereby attract future contracts from powerful institutions that can likewise afford to pay him millions of dollars to write similar reports that scapegoat the powerless.
Despite Wainstein’s fastidiousness in crafting his narrative, his report has subtle, though profound, flaws. Thanks to Butch Davis’s attorney, Wainstein himself has exposed the most significant flaw.
In his report, Wainstein essentially alleges that, whereas the deans only knew that the paper classes did not require attendance, the academic counselors further knew that Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang’oro’s involvement. Wainstein’s primary evidence against two of the academic counselors is an alleged email and a now infamous slide from a PowerPoint presentation they gave to Butch Davis’s coaching staff. That slide reveals that students in the paper classes did not have to attend class, take notes, meet with professors, or pay attention. Instead, the slide reveals (though the media has ignored this fact), students had to write a 20 – 25 page paper.
Again, that slide and an alleged email are Wainstein’s primary pieces of evidence that two of the academic counselors knew Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang’oro’s involvement. Wainstein writes,
Their slide presentation to the football coaching staff in November 2009 and their email urging players to submit their papers before Crowder’s retirement – “Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang’oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st” – is clearly evidence of their full knowledge about these classes (p. 64).
Wainstein also cites that slide to suggest that Butch Davis had some knowledge of the paper classes. Davis and his attorney, however, do not agree, and they let Wainstein know in a letter. (I highly recommend reading the letter in its entirety here.) Wainstein’s response is what is most important for this blog entry. In a letter to Davis’s attorney, Wainstein writes,
While there was evidence that Coach Davis was made aware of the particularly low academic expectations in the AFAM seminar classes that were described in the November 2009 ASPSA PowerPoint presentation to the football coaches, the presentation did not address the absence of faculty involvement in the classes or the fact that the papers were assigned and graded by an office administrator.
That sentence directly contradicts his report. In his report, Wainstein states that the PowerPoint slide “is clearly evidence of their full knowledge about these classes.” Yet in his letter, Wainstein writes that the slide “did not address the absence of faculty involvement in the classes or the fact that the papers were assigned and graded by an office administrator.”
The significance of that contradiction cannot be overstated. Wainstein’s letter completely nullifies one of his two primary pieces of evidence against the academic counselors. Indeed, that PowerPoint slide, as bad as it may appear, does not indicate that anyone knew Crowder was grading the papers on her own.
So what of the other piece of evidence?
The other piece Wainstein cites in his report is an alleged email from the counselors saying, “Debbie Crowder is retiring . . . if you would prefer that she read and grade your paper rather than Professor Nyang’oro you will need to have the paper completed before the last day of classes, Tuesday, July 21st.” Here is the problem: that statement is not actually from an email. It was not even written by the two counselors in question. It was part of a flyer written by a tutor, and that tutor, even Wainstein acknowledges, was unaware Crowder was not a faculty member (p. 118).
Thus, Wainstein’s primary evidence against the two counselors who were my closest colleagues is null. Wainstein’s evidence does not demonstrate that they were “aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes.”
Elsewhere in his report, Wainstein cites another email from academic counselor Cynthia Reynolds:
In one email to a football operations coordinator, André Williams, during the second summer session of 2009, Cynthia Reynolds, the Associate Director for ASPSA and Director of Football, wrote that “Ms. Crowder is retiring at the end of July . . . if the guys papers are not in . . . I would expect D’s or C’s at best. Most need better than that . . . ALL WORK FROM THE AFAM DEPT. MUST BE DONE AND TURNED IN ON THE LAST DAY OF CLASS.” As reflected in that email, the football counselors were painfully aware that many of their charges would not get the grades they “need” to remain eligible if someone other than Crowder graded their papers (pp. 21 – 22).
Note the last sentence. Somehow Wainstein reasons that an email sent from one academic counselor is evidence of what multiple counselors knew. Frankly, that reasoning defies logic, and that is all I need to say about that.
The two other academic counselors have emphatically insisted they did not know Crowder was managing the classes without Nyang’oro’s involvement. In addition, they had received the message from the deans that Nyang’oro had the autonomy to conduct the classes however he saw fit. Therefore, again, contrary to Wainstein’s allegation, the counselors were not “aware of every irregular aspect of these paper classes.”
The remaining question is whether Reynolds knew Crowder was managing the classes on her own. I have not talked with Reynolds, and so I cannot answer that with certainty. Nevertheless, consider the case of academic counselor Wayne Walden, whom Wainstein also accuses of being fully complicit. Walden acknowledged that he knew Crowder did some of the grading; however, Wainstein did not report everything Walden told him. Wainstein left out Walden’s testimony that he believed Crowder was some kind of approved teaching assistant. That is why Walden did not question Crowder’s grading. I suspect the same was true of Reynolds.
When all the facts are considered, neither Walden nor the two academic counselors with whom I worked can fairly be accused of collusion, and I suspect the same is true of Reynolds. That leaves Jan Boxill, but I hope to give her an opportunity to speak for herself soon.
Regardless, if not for the most egregious flaw in Wainstein’s investigation, we would not still be talking about all this. Wainstein, who, again, was paid $3.1 million, chose not to record his interviews. In every other investigative scenario I am aware of, recording the interviews is standard procedure. Without recording, no transcripts could be produced in Wainstein’s investigation, thus allowing him to report or exclude whatever he wanted. He even told one former academic counselor that he would be writing his “impressions.” Apparently, impressions are what $3.1 million buys you.
There are other flaws in Wainstein’s report, but they are less critical to undermining his narrative. Most important to understand about the Wainstein Report is that Wainstein chose not to record his interviews, which allowed him to present a skewed narrative that scapegoated low-level academic counselors and has biased the University’s and the public’s interpretation of the evidence.
Critics have interpreted the University’s handling of the scandal backwards. UNC has been trying to protect the deans more than its championship banners. Butch Davis was the first scapegoat, and, though he did collect a sizable paycheck, he will likely never again be able to do what he loves. The academic counselors who were fired made less than $40,000 per year and have been forced to find new careers. Meanwhile, the deans continue to enjoy their upper middle-class lifestyles and careers and have taken no responsibility for their negligence.
Although I am no fan of the NCAA, I believe they are conducting a more objective investigation into the paper classes than Wainstein did. That is why I expect their final ruling will not be as damning as critics hope.
In conclusion, consider the words of Malcolm Gladwell from the Bill Simmons podcast. Although Gladwell said the following about the report on the New England Patriots’ deflated footballs scandal, I believe these words equally apply to the Wainstein Report:
[That] Report, such as it was, was a piece of astonishing garbage. I mean, just because a report is produced at great cost by a fancy-sounding law firm and a lawyer with a long reputation does not mean it clarifies the issues or represents an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of the issues. That report was just bullshit.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Butch Davis for interviewing with me and for sharing a number of documents. I will include extended interview scenes with him in the bonus features of my film’s DVD/Blu-ray.http://chapelboro.com/columns/letter-from-wainstein-contradicts-report
RALEIGH – The man behind the UNC Football “money scandal” that led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis and the resignation of athletic director Dick Baddour was announced Monday morning.
WRAL reports the North Carolina Secretary of State found that Terry Shawn Watson of the Watson Sports Agency in Marietta, Georgia sent money to former UNC football player Marvin Austin and other players nationwide. At the time, Watson was not a legal agent in North Carolina as his attempt to register was rejected due to a bounced check.
Austin told investigators he received the money via FedEx which was later confirmed through shipping records. Watson associate Patrick Jones told them that was a normal form of fund dispersal.
When Everett Withers and the remains of the Butch Davis coaching regime were not retained, only one member of the old staff stayed in Chapel Hill.
John Shoop was still under contract for the 2012 season at UNC, so for the first time since grade school Shoop spent an autumn off the football field. Besides a completely new experience, he said it turned out to be one of the best years of his life.
He grew a beard and wore cool, outdoorsy clothes. He watched his son and daughter in their school activities, like a normal parent. The Shoops actually took weeks and weekends off to travel, see the world and visit family and friends.
While the early morning meetings and late-night game-planning were not part of his life and he barely stepped on a football field, the game he has loved forever was never far from his mind. He wrote a weekly column for Chapelboro, previewing the local college and high school games of note. He called Friday night prep games on WCHL radio with play-by-play sidekick Paul Connell.
And, as the only member of Davis’ staff who still lived in Chapel Hill, Shoop unobtrusively remained an advocate for the players he had recruited and coached at Carolina. He wanted them to succeed under new coach Larry Fedora and he supported the players who had been through two awful years of NCAA investigation and suspensions plus several entangled in the academic scandal.
“The year was an unbelievable blessing for us,” Shoop said this week after being named the new offensive coordinator at Purdue. “I loved helping out on the radio, filling in for D.G. Martin occasionally, doing the high school games and writing the column. We loved all of it. But the most important thing we did was to continue supporting the UNC players who had gotten caught up in some of what happened here. We advocated for student-athlete rights, particularly the young men who we had recruited to UNC.”
Shoop uses the word “we” when he speaks, because he and his wife Marcia are a team in such endeavors. Her website www.marciamountshoop.com became popular with UNC players and their families during the NCAA problems, and her spiritual blog “Calling Audibles” was often a frank and telling memoir of her view on the controversy and those it touched.
The Shoops were particularly close with fullback Devon Ramsay, who was suspended for much of the 2010 season and then reinstated when Ramsay’s mother hired an attorney and challenged the suspension. Upon returning to the field in 2011, Ramsay was injured and spent most of the last two seasons rehabbing his knee before graduating last May.
“We had a small party for Devon at our house before I left for Purdue,” Shoop said. “A lot of folks came, friends and teammates. He’s staying fit, hoping to get a shot in the NFL, and I’m doing everything I can to help him; he’s a really good fullback. Either way, that guy’s got so much on the ball that we all might be working for him some day. He is what’s right with college athletics.”
Despite how his tenure at UNC ended, Shoop holds no grudge over what happened to the coaches and program that earned four straight bowl bids from 2008-11. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We have feelings deeply invested in this place and many of the people here,” he said. “We’re not bitter; it’s the reason we stayed. We wanted to do what we could to be part of the solution.”
Shoop knew he would return to coaching, continuing to network and stay in contact with the industry during his year off. He said he had several offers from colleges and NFL teams but found Purdue to be the best fit for him and his family.
With almost 40,000 students, Purdue is one of the biggest of the Big Ten schools and, though not nationally prominent in recent years, the Boilermakers have a rich tradition, having produced players named Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Leroy Keyes and Drew Brees. Shoop found similarities between Chapel Hill and West Lafayette, Indiana, particularly the opportunity to live out in the country as he did here but still close enough to campus. He has known new Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell and offensive line coach Jim Bollman since they worked together with the Chicago Bears, where Shoop was the offensive coordinator for three years including the 2001 season when they finished 13-3 and made the playoffs. Hazell and Bollman moved on to work for Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Every year, the Carolina and Ohio State staffs spent time together. With Hazell and Bollman landing at Purdue, going with them felt right.
“Our offensive philosophies were kind of similar at Carolina and Ohio State,” Shoop said. “We both liked to be physical, run the ball from a pro style offense. We see the game similarly. And I’m excited that this is the first time I’ll be an offensive coordinator for an offensive head coach. I’ve always worked for defensive head coaches, so this will be fun.”
He did not settle on Purdue until it became clear that Butch Davis was not taking another head coaching job for the 2013 season. Shoop said he stayed in touch with his former boss over the last year “and it is fair to say he was close” to starting over again at another school.
“It’s something we would have considered,” Shoop said of going with Davis, “and I’m surprised he didn’t get one. But he will, he deserves another chance.”
Happily, Shoop has gotten his.
(Read John Shoop’s final, touching column for Chapelboro)
My one-day stint as a Carolina and Duke Football Recruit
It’s no secret that UNC and Duke squabble over basketball recruits. From Michael Jordan to Jason Williams, each school has coveted its neighbor’s latest gem.
But that’s old news. What about the other side of the equation? What about a prospect’s fight for the affectations of a revenue sport at either school? That I can tell you, because I’ve spent a day in the life of a football recruit for each program. Literally. One day.
In the fall of 2006, John Bunting and Ted Roof’s football programs at UNC and Duke, respectively, entered their death throes. Bunting would be axed at the end of the year despite prevailing in a 45-44 classic over the Blue Devils, while Roof would follow suit soon after falling to Butch Davis’ Heels the next fall in Chapel Hill.
Amidst this chaos, I quietly blipped onto a few area radars, and even more quietly bowed out. Asking an unpopular coach’s staff to recruit you is akin to playing in the band aboard the sinking Titanic; it’s a nice gesture that you’re interested in smoothing the transition, but no one’s really got time to hear you out.
Especially if you’re a kicker in the Barth era.
Specialists aren’t exactly a prized gem in a college scout’s recruiting board. We are allegedly entrusted with putting a ball through two long pieces of metal, but the job is really about what you aren’t supposed to do. Unlike quarterbacks, wide receivers or returners, we aren’t given measurable goals of yardage or points. Our goals are negative and contingent upon opportunity: don’t get it blocked; don’t kick it out of bounds; don’t mess this up. Imagine being a spot basketball player whose only job was to shoot other people’s free throws. High pressure, no reward.
So, why even try to kick? Moreover, why even try to kick at long-struggling programs continually playing second fiddle to their respective basketball juggernauts?
Like so many drawn to admire the athletic prowess of these two schools, the answer was convenience.
Personally, picking up the art of placekicking as a soccer player was an almost pre-destined trope. A lifelong witness of Triangle-oriented rivalries, the thought of playing for either shade of blue was beyond appealing. Kenan and Wallace Wade being 13 and 27 minutes from my house, respectively, was too good to pass up.
While I began kicking between two trees in my front yard, I honed what little skill I had in these two historic venues. I inched my first 60-yarder over the bar from just a few feet to the side of the Gothic “D” logo; I hit my first “spiraled” punt with my toes dug into the crisp white paint of the iconic, interlocking “NC”. I even had my first brush with the law in Chapel Hill, being chased out of the stadium after being caught climbing over a locked gate. (To all you looking to find a point of entry, there’s still a weak spot under a small Maple, between the Northwest gate and the University Health Building; it’s a rectangular-but-hospitable gap between the railing and the roof of a sidehouse used to store concession equipment.)
Yet for all the desperate antics, hoping each time that a coach would catch me instead of a DPS official, I only made a brief appearance on each school’s recruiting board through an unorchestrated coincidence.
For Coach Bunting, I was just another face in the crowd at each summer football camp; just another tape at the bottom of the video pile. I was never called back to the end-of-camp meetings where the top prospects were notified of the staff’s interest; never called to talk about the film I’d sent in. About the closest I’d ever come to a placekicking spot on the roster was standing next to Tampa Bay standout and former Carolina great Connor Barth (he of Miami-beating, 2004 field-storming fame) for a quick picture and handshake.
Needless to say, I was lucky to find that an assistant coach (whose privacy I’ll respect) for my high school knew a special teams coach at Carolina. He had a scout sent out to see me in action against that August. For all the fence-jumping, my best chance at an in with the program had been barely ten feet away from me each summer, grimacing at my every shank.
After two blocked field goals and an embarrassing kickoff returned for a touchdown, I can’t say I blamed Bunting’s staff for not calling after a train wreck of a first date. Neither can I argue with Davis’ call to go with Connor’s younger brother, Casey, a fantastic competitor who eventually eclipsed even his older brother’s star (despite several injuries).
Roof’s limited period of interest seems even more far-fetched. I met him the day after his (eventual) last game in 2007 while dining with a friend at the Red Robin on 15-501 near New Hope Commons. He’d just been sabotaged by his own special teams, relying on two different kickers who provided two makeable misses in an overtime loss. Needless to say, I caught him in the most perfect of circumstances.
Keeping my powder-blue Schadenfreude behind a façade of conciliation, I offered my services, and he offered terms: if I sent in my film (and he was still the coach the next day), he’d offer me an opportunity to try out as a walk-on the next year.
The next day, just as mysteriously as he had entered the Triangle coaching game, Roof was gone. Again, I was on the outside looking in.
After deciding to run track for Carolina, these two opportunities have more and more seemed far less notable as points when my life could have improved. Having the honor to run with another “renaissance athlete” who also wanted to kick in college, I’ve seen that picking your battles can prove strangely venerating despite seeming like conceding defeat. Ranked even higher on the national high school recruiting sites than I was, this individual (now a coach for Syracuse’s Track and Field team whose privacy I’ll also respect) chose to run track at Carolina over kicking for one of the few schools in the nation – Penn State – whose football program is recovering from more turbulence than ours.
Despite all the grief the football programs at Duke and UNC have gotten – Duke for its losing and UNC for its NCAA issues – these programs will always attract more recruits than they have time for. Want to make it past a one-night stand with either program? It’ll depend on much more than your own capabilities. Take it from me – if you want it badly enough you’ll get a chance at least, no matter how improbable it seems. Instead, your success will hinge on the connections you make, and how you handle the opportunities you’re presented. I haphazardly stumbled across the contacts, but needlessly squandered the chances.
The trick is simple, yet oh-so-difficult, like any kicking coach will tell you:
Just don’t mess it up.
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @JT_Gerlach.http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-student-athlete/dont-mess-this-up
With the 2012 season in the books and the Heels finishing out 8-4 and Coastal Division champs, I would say that there is a lot to be proud of in Chapel Hill and at the Kenan Stadium Football Center!! Here are just some quick observations/reasons about why I and so many others are “all in” with Fedora and this staff and are thrilled with what the future holds.
1. No excuses!! Coach Fedora came into an absolute mess with NCAA sanctions and with it, the opportunity for upper classmen to hit the road and transfer. Additionally, there was a wavering fan base that was upset with any number of matters – some fans were upset with the way Butch Davis was treated and how he was shown the door; the Ivory Tower academia group was upset with the “over emphasis” that is put on college athletics and have strayed away from academics; some fans just wanted to move on and forget the entire nightmare of the past two years. And then, in rides Coach Fedora and the first thing he does is install an up-tempo spread style offense that requires pro style players and a 4-2-5 defense even though he inherited basic 4-3 personnel. Again, there were no excuses, but more of a challenge to the fan base to bond together to support these players on those magical seven Saturdays every Fall in Kenan Stadium. The rallying cry was be loud in the Tar Pit, be obnoxious and come early/stay late! From all accounts I’m seeing and hearing in the community, Coach Fedora as well as Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have made huge strides with all fan groups and that’s what leaders do.
2. He’s not a politician and does not deflect blame. The common thread in college football and the NFL is that when a new coach comes in and there are bumps in the road the immediate response or tilt of the coach is that “these are not my players” or “once we get my kind of kids/players in here, the results and style of play will elevate.” Coach Fedora came in with the immediate attitude of winning NOW and winning every game. Again, against all odds of the no postseason carrot and the opportunity to technically be the conference champion, Fedora found a way for the players to buy in. To me that is truly deserving of ACC Coach of the Year status even ousting the miraculous doings of what David Cutcliffe orchestrated over in Wallace Wade this year.
***I cannot continue without stating many thanks to Coach Davis and John Shoop, who did a fantastic job of leaving the shelves pretty well stocked in the transition year….Thank you coach!
3. Momentum. These assistant coaches and Fedora have so many great selling tools going into this recruiting cycle and offseason. An 8-4 record and being Coastal Division champs (technically), the gaudy and X-BOX type numbers you can help generate in this offense which is recognized on a national level (RUN GIO RUN), a team that produced 10 All-ACC players this past season and lastly, against all odds, the Heels could well be Coastal division pre-season favorites with the way the division is trending and shaking out. These are all points that will be made in living rooms across the country as Coach Fedora brings in top level talent to run his Nascar-style offense and attacking defense.
4. Culture change. Southern Miss, do you guys wish you tried a little harder to keep him as your head man? For those of you who do not know, Southern Miss was 12-2 in 2011 and were Conference USA Champions under Coach Fedora. A year later, not so much. The Golden Eagles went 0-12 after Coach Fedora settled down in Chapel Hill. My memory of college football may be limited to the last 30 years but I can’t remember (and didn’t find online), a team that swooned so fast. This might be a first in college football. Is this all representative of only the head coach? No. But he is a pretty big piece of the puzzle and I guarantee if you ask those returning players at Southern Miss, they would be dying to have had Coach Fedora back. At UNC, a big culture change was the uniforms, swag, colors, threads, gear or whatever you want to refer to it as, but that not only rejuvenated the players but it fired up the fans including this one especially when we saw the fighting Fedoras come out of the tunnel rocking the Chrome Foot helmets against the Wolfpack. If you don’t think that had a huge impact on that game just take a look at this all-access video and see the reaction from the players. If you think that the uniform combinations have been awesome this year just wait until next year. Word from a source is that new combinations of colors were ordered recently with Nike and it will put us on track to be the “Oregon” of the Southeast. I can’t wait to see them – and more importantly neither can the players and the recruits whom we’re pursuing who will be wearing the new threads.
What does 2013 hold for the Heels? I know that we will start out of the gate with a daunting task in Columbia, South Carolina against the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Ole’ Ball Coach, who will have in his back pocket the preseason lock national player of the year in Jadeveon Clowney. With that being said folks, the future is extremely bright on the Hill. We have our leader in place, our fan base is unifying again and the black cloud is leaving beautiful Chapel Hill!!
Smart. Fast. Physical. 2013 Here we come!!
Davis talked about his current job with the Tampa Bay Bucs, turning down a coaching opportunity with the team to be a consultant. That, of course, allowed him to keep his entire $2.7 million severance from UNC, thanks to a loosely written contract that said he could not take another “coaching job” and be paid off.
He counted himself among the “innocent victims” of the UNC scandal, even though Davis padded his already enormous bank account with the 10 million bucks he made at Carolina since 2007. He said several times that he will coach again, hopefully leading a college or NFL program. His alma mater Arkansas will be hiring after this season, and Razorbacks’ Athletic Director Jeff Long will have to decide whether Davis passes the smell test to take over that scandal-ridden program.
Gravley followed the popular tack that the timing of Davis’ firing was unfair. To whom? The coach walked with his fat severance, the football program he left behind faced a season with an interim coach no matter when he was fired, and the school quickly hired what looks to be an outstanding athletic director and exciting new head coach. So when Davis was fired remains a moot point.
Davis opined that the escalating NCAA and academic investigations got him and “if they eliminated me from the scenario” it was a sign that UNC was cleaning up the program. Precisely because, whether directly complicit or not, a six-figured CEO has to take the fall when the company’s reputation is at stake. Part of the job, not to mention a major NCAA violation by anyone on his staff was grounds for firing in his contract.
Asked how a head coach could not know all the things going wrong with his program, Davis said “there was so much to know” and diverted to how he cleaned up Miami football and had to dismiss 18 players from the team his first year at UNC, saying something about “hundred dollar bills laying on their beds and putting it on Facebook.” Fact checkers, let’s get on that one.
He called his coaching staff “as proactive as any in the country” in monitoring their players. That was the perfect entrée for Gravley to ask Davis why they didn’t know what the half-dozen potential first-round draft choices were doing when Marvin Austin’s tweet from a South Beach bistro set off a chain reaction that brought down a program. A sign-up system ensued, but the damage had been done.
Davis continued to distance himself from John Blake, his long-time friend whom he taught in high school and coached with at Dallas in the NFL. He said Blake passed all vetting from UNC Human Resources to the NCAA and, due to two 12-year periods when they did not work together, claimed the only knowledge he had of Blake was as a great defensive line coach and recruiter. Gravley mentioned that Blake “was a little shady” but did not pursue his widespread recruiting reputation that gave him the industry nickname of “Black Santa”. Virtually every athletic director and football coach in the country knew about that side of Blake except, apparently, the ones at Carolina.
All in all, it was a good recruiting tape to show Arkansas and anyone else looking for a new coach. “I’m not done,” Davis said, “absolutely, I’ll be coaching again somewhere.”
Above each locker in the UNC football locker room, there is a nameplate. Beside each nameplate there is a sign that reads either “resistant,” “existent,” “compliant,” “committed,” or “compelled.” These labels were derived for each player based on coaches’ evaluations of their level of effort shown in pre-season workouts and practices. The titles are pretty self-explanatory: a player who has shown a dedication to self-improvement and has contributed to the collective progress of the team is deemed “committed” or “compelled”, while a player who has shown little or no work ethic is given a less flattering designation.
In watching Saturday’s game at Louisville, I could only wonder what these evaluations would look like if they were to be updated for the halftime locker room based on the day’s performance. For much of the game, the Heels looked as if they could barely be considered “existent.”
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the Cardinals’ offense seemed to score at will, averaging nearly ten yards per play in the first half. The Tar Heel secondary was ripe with missed defensive assignments, allowing Bridgewater to find more than his fair share of open targets. This was only ameliorated by the fact that the defensive line appeared entirely disinterested at the prospect of having to shed their blockers in order to make a tackle. Describing Carolina’s defense as porous would be a drastic understatement. The UNC offense was little better, putting up just seven points in the first thirty minutes of play.
Of course, those of us who demonstrated the intestinal fortitude to continue watching into the second half saw a completely different story begin to unfold.
In stark contrast to their lethargic first half performance, the Heels began to make plays. The defense came alive, swarming to the ball and shoring up what had earlier been gaping running lanes for Louisville. In stopping the run and putting greater defensive pressure on the quarterback, Carolina was able to hold the Cardinals to just 3 second half points.
In a similar fashion, Bryn Renner and the Tar Heel offense finally began to resemble the cohesive unit that was on display September 1st against Elon. Renner finished the game with 5 touchdown passes and tailback Romar Morris played like a man on fire, earning ACC Receiver of the Week honors for his 202 all-purpose yards, 2 touchdowns, and block of a Louisville punt.
In the end, however, it was just another tale of too little too late. Watching as Renner’s fourth-and-goal pass was wrenched from Erik Highsmith’s outstretched hands, I, along with everyone else, could only wonder where this Carolina team had been in the first half. Where was this intensity? Where was the passion? Better yet, where was the commitment?
This was still in the forefront of my mind as I walked past the Old Well on my way to class Monday morning. I didn’t think twice when I passed the news van parked in front of South Building: in the midst of the media circus of recent months, rarely a week has gone by without at least one news crew adding to congestion on Cameron Avenue. Little did I know this particular van would come to represent the close to a tumultuous chapter for the Carolina family.
I was in Spanish class when the news officially broke that Chancellor Thorp would be stepping down. And so now, it seemed, the purge of the former system was to be complete. From Butch Davis, to Dick Baddour, and now to Holden Thorp, the situation had come full circle.
Without getting into the politics of the matter (and believe me, there’s one heck of a discussion to be had), it’ll suffice to say that the slate has been cleaned. It’s been incredibly disheartening to see a place that I love so dearly to be ravaged by scandal, but I refuse to allow my opinion of this institution to be permanently swayed by the dishonest actions of a few. The damage has been done and now we must move forward.
Retired Southern Mississippi Athletic Director Richard Giannini knew he would have a hard time retaining his own football coach, Larry Fedora, late in his breakthrough season with the Golden Eagles. So when they talked about where the multi-million-dollar offers might come from, they discussed the UNC job. A former assistant A.D. at Duke, Giannini thought Fedora would be a great choice for the Tar Heels.
“Larry’s going to win 11 or 12 games with us this season,” Giannini said at the time, “and we’ll never be able to keep him. If he leaves, I’d love to see him in Chapel Hill.”
Bubba Cunningham, who came from Tulsa, and Giannini both worked in Conference USA. Bubba liked Fedora all along but knew Texas A&M, where Fedora grew up and his father and brothers still lived, was also courting him.
Fortunately, outgoing Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne could only interview Fedora and give his name to the school’s president, who would then offer one of the recommended candidates the job. Carolina was much farther down the road.
Fedora accepted a seven-year contract at UNC after Southern Miss won the Conference USA championship but before the Golden Eagles played in the Hawaii Bowl on December 24. He was introduced as Carolina’s new coach on December 9.
“Don’t miss the press conference!” Giannini said. “You’ve never seen anything like it. The guy’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
“Fast” Larry proved his old boss right, warning fans watching live over the Internet not to leave their seats when Carolina has the ball lest they miss a touchdown. And he continued to do it through his first spring practice, his first summer training camp and his first game on the home sideline at Kenan Stadium.
Forward to the season opener against Elon, when Fedora’s fast break attack scored 62 points and ran up nearly 600 yards of total offense while breaking a school and ACC record for return yards (260).
As advertised by Giannini, the hyper Fedora has taken Tar Heel Nation by storm with his non-stop work ethic, his willingness to talk to alumni, fans, students and faculty wherever and whenever, and his commitment to not only play smart, play fast and play physical, but also to demand dedication and accountability from his players. Bet the guy doesn’t sleep four hours a night, fueled by Red Bull all day long.
He’s refreshingly candid, sharing more in media sessions and on his weekly radio and TV shows than any Carolina coach in recent memory. And when he doesn’t want to talk about something, such as an injury report or the weather, he’ll just say so. No coach speak. Just the plain old truth.
Catch his press conferences on www.goheels.com and listen to his Tuesday night weekly radio show on 97.9FM from Top of the Hill. He’s funny, a bit flippant and very fair in his assessment of everything to do with his new program.
For example, he wants to run as many as 100 offensive plays a game, and the Tar Heels might have done it had Fedora not called off the dogs late with 18 minutes left vs. Elon. He will also use versatile Gio Bernard as a runner, pass catcher and punt returner without fear of overworking, of injuring, the sensational sophomore.
“In whose hands would you like to see the ball more?” he asked quizzically.
But despite Bernard’s star-studded performance, center Russell Bodine was the offensive player of the game because he had 19 “knockdowns”. A knockdown is a block that puts an opposing defender on the ground, where he can’t make a tackle.
Accountability is as much a part of his Tar Heel program as the Xs and Os. Each player has his own level of commitment written on his locker. A number of players have already earned the highest level — “Compelled”. According to the coach, accountability is not only taking care of yourself but watching out that your teammates are not making bad decisions. One of Fedora’s pledges upon taking over was that “we will win with good kids on and off the field.”
Fedora’s charisma is infectious and the Southern Miss secret will soon be out in the open at Carolina and around the ACC. The clouds that linger over the UNC football program and athletic department fall into Fedora’s philosophy, like the weather on game day: Don’t worry about what you can’t control.
He’s confident without seeming cocky, that he can turn the Tar Heels into a title-contender worthy of a giant ticket scrum before every home game. He praised the estimated 50,500 fans who showed up for the opener on Labor Day weekend in 90-plus degree heat and wasn’t fazed by a near-empty house at game’s end. He figures an exciting, winning team will fill the stadium early and keep it full.
When Fedora met with certain players who were eligible to transfer to other schools without sitting out a year due to the NCAA probation, they one by one decided to stay because they sensed something special was about to happen here. Citing Fedora’s intensity, they have all bought in early.
Ironically, the talent he came into from Butch Davis’ program and the bowl ban he also inherited have put his first team in the position to play all 12 of its games with great intensity and without much pressure. The Tar Heels will take them one at a time, try to win them all and be happy with the mythical “state championship” if they can defeat all five opponents on their schedule from North Carolina.
Next up is Wake Forest, Fedora’s first ACC road game. Fedora has admired Deacons’ coach Jim Grobe for years and respects how they have overachieved in his 12 seasons at WFU. Thus, he expects a well-coached and hungry Wake team that barely beat better-than-Elon Liberty University in its opening game.
With one day to put in the game plan (Tuesday), one day to take out what won’t work on such short notice (Wednesday) and one day to polish what’s left (Thursday), Fedora and the Tar Heels will go to war in Winston-Salem, combining a level of talent and tenacity that has rarely been seen here.
The Larry Fedora love affair at Carolina is catching on. Fast.