I have been told that if I want to continue coaching, I need to distance myself from what happened at UNC. One administrator told me that what happened there is “toxic” and only time and distance will make it go away.
I don’t want to distance myself from UNC. On this Thanksgiving week I want to give thanks for ALL the young men who I had the privilege of coaching at the University of North Carolina. My feelings are deeply invested in each of them. I cannot imagine distancing myself from these fine young men who I recruited and coached. In fact, in difficult times, amid the messiness and ambiguity of the last couple of years, these young men inspired me daily and fed my spirit to continue to work hard.
As a coach at UNC I wanted to help them become the best football players that they could be. I also wanted them to become the best students, family members, fathers, and citizens they could be. I found in my five years of coaching at UNC and six years of living in this community that these young men taught me a lot more than I probably taught them.
My memories from the University of North Carolina will not be of an institution, an emblem, or a brand. My memories will be of people. I am so thankful for the relationships forged here and the players will forever remain close to my family and me.
T.J. Yates, who found the strength to persevere when things were tough, is someone I am thankful for. I did not have the luxury of asking people to leave the stadium when T.J. got booed. I walked with T.J. every step of the way and watched him transform himself from the butt of jokes to the Tar Heel of the Year for the 2010-2011 school year.
I will forever remain close to men like Devon Ramsey, who was unjustly suspended by the University and then banned by the NCAA. Devon is the type of person this community and the NCAA should hold up as all that is right in college football, yet somehow, for reasons I will never understand, he was thrown under the bus. With the help of wonderful people like his mother, Sharon Lee, and a Raleigh lawyer and UNC grad, Bob Orr, Devon regained eligibility and will finish his sixth year as a Tar Heel this Saturday. Devon’s quiet strength and remarkable resiliency are models for us all.
I am a better father, partner, and family member because of my relationship with Dwight Jones. Dwight modeled unwavering love and commitment for family members amid complicated and ambiguous situations that few will ever understand. His spirit and love for his children is something that I draw upon regularly. Dwight brought so much more to the Carolina community than touchdowns and big plays. He is one of the most responsible people I know and one of the greatest blessings in my life.
Bryn Renner’s uncontainable enthusiasm and spirit lifted me and spurred me to continue working hard in August of 2011 during the darkest days of my professional career. After Coach Davis was fired days before the start of training camp we regularly prayed together and pushed one another forming an uncommon bond that will last a lifetime. Bryn started the season in record breaking fashion and set the standard for a work ethic that every member of that record- setting offense developed.
If you ever go to Dallas, NC, due west of Charlotte, just drop the name A.J. Blue and you will be treated like royalty. As A.J. recovered from a knee injury during the 2010 season he switched from running back to quarterback, the position he played in high school. I felt that this would be a way to keep him mentally stimulated throughout the season as he continued to rehab and learn the game. He developed a close bond with T.J. Yates and became the individual that signaled the plays from the sideline for the 2010 season. More importantly, A.J. brought an indomitable spirit to our meeting room that made having 14 starters suspended seem insignificant. T.J. once told me he “learned more about life in our meeting room than in all my classes combined.”
Pete Mangum, a walk on from Leesville Road High School, demonstrated to everyone in the Carolina community what it means to seize an opportunity. I can remember how frustrated I would get at him for playing so well defensively on the scout team, therefore, making our offense look bad. I begged Coach Davis to give him a shot on special teams. He did, and Pete earned a scholarship. He has been a pillar of strength in the program as they rotated through three head coaches in three years.
Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate will forever be dear to me. These two men were recruited by Coach Bunting and immediately welcomed me and committed to all that our staff asked of them. Hakeem and Brandon worked on their craft as hard as any players I have ever coached and today are outstanding NFL wide receivers. They are also devoted fathers that everyone in the Carolina community should be proud of.
I hope that in the coming years the Carolina community will develop more of a capacity to value the gifts that this diverse group of men brought to the community. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “College is not an education, but a means to an education.” I learned the most in the Carolina community through the difficult and invisible work of relationship building. I have sat in team meetings where faculty members have lectured our team on the importance of visiting their professors during office hours. While I think this is important, I think it is equally important for faculty members and administrators to meet these young men where they are. I pray that faculty members and administrators won’t waste another day. Introduce yourself to T.J. Thorpe. You will thank me. Ask Landon Turner out to lunch. You will enjoy a meal with one of the most generous souls I know. Familiarize yourself with the amazing stories of Kiaro Holts, Romar Morris, and Reggie Wilkins. And take time to notice the uncommon gifts that Eric Ebron brings to the community. He has a chance to become one of the best in the world at what he does and that has value.
I am thankful for the relationships formed with all of the young men I have been blessed to coach at UNC. No matter where my career takes me, the closer I stay to these kinds of relationship, the better off I’ll be.
On a beautiful night in a stadium that has not seen so many people and so much passion in a long, long time, the Tar Heels could not or did not raise their level of play to match what they should have known was coming until the frenetic fourth quarter. And it’s probably something they have to learn by losing.
And for the first time in a long time, Duke is a pretty good opponent. Great, in fact, for most of this night. And one that might be around for a while.
The Tar Heels got off to a fast start, what they’ve been trying to do for the last four weeks, and blew the singular chance to silence the crowd and take the juice out of the home team when a long interception return to inside the Duke 10-yard line was nullified by an over-aggressive hit on the quarterback. Had Carolina not committed that penalty and gone up 10-0, it might have been a whole different ball game (even the blowout one columnist predicted).
But through three quarters, they settled for three field goals, which made it five straight 15-minute periods without crossing the goal line. With Duke loading the box to try to stop the magnificent Gio Bernard, Carolina started off throwing and was not effective after Bryn Renner got shaken up on a scramble up the middle.
As lousy as the Tar Heels played and as loud as the old horseshoe was through those first three quarters, Carolina finally came to life with a fake field goal and first down run by holder Tommy Hibbard and the squelching of a fake punt by Duke that gave the Heels a short field and the chance to crawl back closer from 14 points behind.
Somehow they lead 30-26 with just over three minutes left and were one stop from a most undeserving retention of the Victory Bell that’s been painted royal blue by now.
Duke, which had bamboozled UNC all night by running the ball up the gut for large chunks of yardage, went back to its traditional passing game. The Blue Devils matched the Tar Heels’ 91-yard march of minutes before with a last-ditch drive of 87 yards to the winning play on literally their last chance — 4th and goal at the 2. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, playing on this night like Duke Coach David Cutcliffe’s protégés named Manning, fired the fatal bullet between double coverage.
“They made more plays than we did,” Larry Fedora said after his first taste of the Duke-Carolina rivalry. “We didn’t execute on offense and didn’t execute on defense. Simple as that.”
Maybe it was Renner, who doesn’t seem to play well right after getting his bell rung. Back-up Marquise Williams’ only pass of the night was a well-executed screen to Super-Gio that went for 40 yards. Why didn’t Williams at least finish that series that led to a field goal and 3-0 lead instead of a touchdown?
Maybe it was Carolina’s “NFL offensive line” that got outplayed by Duke’s anonymous blocking front until late in the game, blowing the Tar Heels front four or five off the line of scrimmage snap after snap.
Maybe it was UNC’s secondary, which for the second week in a row did not give up anything long over the top, but couldn’t keep Duke’s All-ACC receiver Conner Vernon from turning in critical long catch-and-runs on the last drive.
Or maybe it was Fedora, getting his first taste of the Carolina-Duke rivalry, who could not get his team to raise its level of intensity until the fourth quarter when the Tar Heels were whooping it up on the sideline and coming out en masse to join every timeout huddle in the dramatic last minute.
“Gio the Great” rushed 27 times for a grinding as well as electric 177 yards (a 6.6 average) and registered two first half touchdowns. Additionally, he caught four passes for 36 yards, including a 16 yard, shoe string grab on 4th and 6 that would make even Jerry Rice proud. That catch kept the momentum going on a key drive and led UNC Coach Larry Fedora to say, “Gio’s a complete player. Whether it’s pass blocking on protections, catching the ball or running, he’s going to do whatever he can to help us win.” Coach Fedora calls him complete – I call him the most dynamic player in the ACC this year. He is running behind an offensive line that ESPN NFL gurus Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have called the best O line in the country so there is a growing chemistry working where the boys up front have Gio’s back and he has theirs.
Other Florida products wearing the Tar Heel blue made their presence felt on Saturday as well: LB Tommy Heffernan (Miami, Florida) came up huge with a big time sack on Miami’s final drive and continues to be a new fan favorite with his underdog story and tough play; Tre Boston (Fort Myers, Florida) had a huge game and highlighted great Tar Heel secondary play with one pick and another one called back due to a questionable pass interference call. Boston is one of three UNC defensive backs from the great state of Florida with the final spot being occupied by Virginia product Tim Scott. Boston knew what to expect when he said, ”South Florida boys can run, and that’s exactly what I am,” and indeed our defensive skill players were stride for stride with Miami’s running backs and receivers.
So as trilled as I am by getting our first road win in Miami, I’m also excited about what this does for the game within the game. W’s like this help give Coach Fedora and his staff an upper hand when it comes to the game of recruiting. Coach Fedora has stated on record very clearly that his first and foremost goal in recruiting is to put a barbwire fence around the state of North Carolina and make sure that the most talented prospects from this state commit to the flagship University in North Carolina where they will have the opportunity to experience what I did six years ago – the magic of being a Tar Heel and everything that it stands for. I am 100% on board with this strategy but, at the same time, you cannot ignore the hot beds of talent that sit in close proximity to us in Florida and Virginia respectively. With two great back-to-back wins over perennial Coastal Division juggernauts Virginia Tech and Miami, Fedora and his staff will have a great selling tool and recruiting momentum when they enter the living rooms of high school prospects this off-season to sell them on the dreams of where this program is going. The culture change of Carolina Football has been front and center the last two weeks in the ACC and people are taking notice. You can see below that our current starters have a strong Virginia and especially Florida background and I know we will build on this going forward.
LT – James Hurst (Plainfield, IN)
LG – Jonathan Cooper (Wilmington, NC)
C – Russell Bodine (Scottsville, VA)
RG – Travis Bond (Windsor, NC)
RT – Brennan Williams (West Roxburry, MA
TE – Eric Ebron (Greensboro, NC)
QB – Bryn Renner (West Springfield, VA)
TB – Giovani Bernard (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
WR – Erik Highsmith (Vanceboro, NC)
WR – Sean Tapley (Jacksonville, FL)
WR – Quinshad Davis (Gaffney, SC)
DE – Kareem Martin (Roanoke Rapids, VA)
DT – Sylvester Williams (Jefferson City, MO)
NT – Tim Jackson (St. Petersburg, FL)
BANDIT – Dion Guy (Washington, D.C)
WILL – Travis Hughes (Virginia Beach, VA) / Tommy Heffernan (Miami, FL)
MIKE – Kevin Reddick (New Bern, NC)
RAM – Gene Robinson (Memphis, TN)
CB – Jabari Price (Pompano Beach, FL)
SS – Tre Boston (Fort Myers, FL)
FS – Sam Smiley (Jacksonville, FL)
CB – Tim Scott (Fredericksburg, VA)
Next stop: Duke under the lights, protect the Victory Bell at all cost!!
Smart. Fast. Physical.
Fortunately for the Tar Heels, those two things have to go hand in hand to pull out a beautifully ugly 18-14 victory over Miami for the first road W of the Larry Fedora era.
Carolina did a lot of things right and a lot of things wrong, but only a team with moxie pulls one out when it was there for the losing. Nearly 500 yards of total offense and only 18 points is generally a formula for many mistakes. Take your pick.
Two failed field goals and one interception in the red zone. A second straight game with 15 penalties, this one for more than 150 yards that included consecutive 12-men on the field flags. When it figured out you can only play with 11, the defense warped and bent but, thank goodness, did not break.
Most of all thanks to the human bowling ball known as Giovani Bernard, who finished like he started on his way to 177 yards rushing, 36 receiving and 26 returning.
The biggest mystery surrounding Bernard’s homecoming to Fort Lauderdale, where he starred for St. Thomas Aquinas High School, is how the hell he ever got out of Florida without signing with Miami, Florida, Florida State, Central Florida, South Florida, Florida International or Florida Atlantic? Well, you get the point.
Fedora should send a thank you note to Butch Davis and his staff for snagging this bullet train, among other talented players that are flourishing in the new system.
Bernard scored both of Carolina’s touchdowns, picking his hole and then blasting through it to the end zone. The first one set the tone for what looked like a blowout on the beach before the Tar Heels began blowing opportunities to do so. The second one gave the guys in all white the lead they kept for good, precariously protected by Bernard’s last-drive yardage that put Miami into the Hail Mary mode.
Carolina’s secondary gave up 235 passing, mostly to wildly erratic quarterback Stephen Morris, but the DBs kept the Miami receivers in front of them and forced long drives. That’s not the Hurricanes’ MO. The Heels, on the other hand, love lopping off large chunks of yardage quickly, trying to tire out the defense. Bernard is a brilliant weapon in such an attack.
Gio’s golden moment was a drive-sustaining shoe-top catch of Bryn Renner’s lob that only someone so small with such hands of glue could snag off the grass and control while he rolled over twice. With a fresh set of downs, Carolina needed only one snap as Bernard bolted 17 yards for the lead, which became eight when punter Tommy Hibbard caught the ‘Canes napping before the point-after team shifted over.
Hibbard’s two-point pass to Eric Ebron provided a lead that Miami could not match when its own trick play for a tie was slapped with a delay-of-game penalty. The Canes kicked to get within one, the closest they ever were in dropping to 4-3 and 3-1 in the ACC.
It didn’t work last week, but maybe when the Tar Heels prepare for Duke. Fedora had plenty to bitch on following the fabulous offensive display against Virginia Tech, like those 15 penalties, special team gaffes and defensive lapses. He’ll have even more to ride them about this week.
When you have so little to play for, it’s a good thing you have a too-small back to lead the way.http://chapelboro.com/arts-angle/arts-angle-little-big-man/
For me, sitting through the rainy 66-0 romp this past Saturday against Idaho was enjoyable (to a point) for three reasons:
1) Carolina football is extremely important to me and my family, and it’s built-in time for us to be together and cheer on our University that we love so much.
2) For as long as I have been following Carolina football, how many times have you seen a Tar Heel team completely and utterly humiliate and dominate its opponent from the opening whistle to the final gun? Not too many is the answer …and I loved every moment of it
3) With the age of social media and twitter-verse upon us, I love hearing from fellow fans and players alike about all things Tar Heel, and it helps provide information for all of us, which fuels the fire of excitement that builds up to game time.
Take a look at the tweet below from my good friend, and assistant equipment manager, Jason Freeman, announcing that the Tar Heels were going to be wearing a special American Flag decal on their helmets in recognition and support of Military Appreciation Day which he released via twitter on September 24th:
This next tweet was posted on Game Day.
Eric Ebron @Ebron_
Rain, Sleet, Snow.. You Stomp On Our Interlocking NC.. I Have No Respect For You.. GAME TIME!!!
I’m sure that the Vandals wish they had chosen to get fired up in a different manner. Not only is Ebron a fan favorite to Tar Heel Nation, but he has definitely shot up the boards as one of my top Heels on this year’s team! This is the kind of vocal leadership you need (whether you are doing it with your mouth or your thumbs), and the program and the team will build on this kind of bravado.
So now, let’;s talk a little Turkey. When I originally got our schedule last spring, I thought, at best, we’d be 5-0 at this point, likely 4-1, and at worst, 3-2. I had come to terms with 4-1 because I knew Louisville was going to be a tough road showdown against a talented and explosive Cardinals team, and that’s what we saw firsthand. Now that we’ve gotten a few bumps out of our system, it’s ACC schedule time from here on out. We have seven straight division opponents, and it begins this weekend with Coastal Division juggernaut Virginia Tech.
Since entering the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have won the Coastal Division five times and the ACC Championship four times. Their 6-foot-5, 260-pound quarterback Logan Thomas is equally happy to lower his shoulder and run the ball as he is to effortlessly toss it downfield, so our Defense needs to be ready for this multi-dimensional offense. Add to that the Hokies top 25 defense which is coached by Bud Foster (a possible head coaching candidate at one time for UNC) and its legendary special teams units, and the Tar Heels (players and fans) will need to bring a 60-minute effort against the Turkeys. Now the real test for the fighting Tar Heels begins, and the 66-0 blowouts will be a memory of the past (although I’d be thrilled if the Heels prove me wrong on this).
One thing that I am looking forward to on Saturday is figuring out just who this Tar Heel team is as we move into the ACC schedule. I spend a lot of time talking Tar Heel with friends, former teammates, and another media outlet, and no one is quite sure who these Tar Heels really are. I think I’m getting a better idea, but the real tale of the tape will be in all white on Saturday for Carolina’s “Whiteout,” and it will be interesting to see how she looks against some real competition!
Smart. Fast. Physical. SEE YOU ALL IN WHITE!
Last week’s blowout of Elon gave Tar Heel fans plenty of reasons to be optimistic heading into our first ACC showdown against Wake Forest last Saturday. The Phoenix certainly aren’t a college football powerhouse, but UNC still excelled in all three phases of the game. The offense played well, scoring with relative ease in putting up our highest point total since Mack Brown was head coach; the special teams were a revelation, with the electric Gio Bernard taking a punt return back 70 yards for a touchdown; and the defense posted a shutout for the first time since blanking Duke back in 1999. Students were truly excited about the football team for the first time in my tenure at UNC, and taking on a Demon Deacons team that struggled to put away FCS-school Liberty last week seemed to be the perfect recipe to keep the excitement level high.
The rain delay that pushed back kickoff by more than an hour and the news that Gio Bernard was being held out due to a knee injury quickly put a damper on my mood, though. The Tar Heels turned in a frustratingly inconsistent performance on both sides of the ball, demonstrating at various times just how good and how bad we can be. The major takeaways from the tough loss to Wake are below.
1. Early Offense:
2. Running Back-Ups:
3. Tremendous Turnover:
4. “Special” Special Teams Plays:
1. Concussive Forces:
2. Defen-sieve Effort:
3. Perplexing Penalties:
Following football in the Triangle will be hard for me this season. I’m taking a year off from coaching since being fired by UNC. I won’t be watching many games on TV but will be getting game films weekly to study. Watching the more sterilized game film copy may ease some of the pain of not coaching a team.
I have some great friends on the Duke and State coaching staffs that I will be able to root for in a way I never have before, and that will be pleasing. Most importantly, there are many fine young men on the Carolina team in whom I have deeply invested feelings. I hope great things happen for each of them.
In this column, I will provide a coach’s perspective this football season. Since I’m not calling plays for now, I will, for once, look forward to all your comments.
N.C. State v. Tennessee (Friday night)
In 2010, I had the chance to coach in the Chick-fil-A bowl when UNC played LSU. We were without 14 starters who were suspended but gave the Tigers all they could handle behind T.J. Yates’ memorable performance. It was a very exciting atmosphere, and the State fans are in for a treat.
This is a great match-up between two similar QBs and two accomplished play callers. Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon are both tall, lanky QBs with strong pocket presence and good production. The difference is that Bray will have to throw against one of the best secondaries in the country. I know from experience (bad experience) that David Amerson is an All-American. If this becomes a pass fest, which it may, you can bet that Amerson will get his hands on two or three balls. What separates him from common corners is that when he touches it, he catches it. Some corners are satisfied with PBUs (pass break ups). Not him. He has the hands of a great WR. His playmaking ability reminds me of Dre’ Bly. I’m setting the over/under for combined pass attempts at 92.
I also think this is a great match-up of play callers. I have a profound respect for Dana Bible, the OC at State. Jim Chaney, the OC for UT, loves to call passes and is good at it. After all, he was Drew Brees’ coordinator at Purdue. However, I know UT has a seasoned and talented OL and some strong RBs. If the Vols can run the ball, control the clock and keep the ball out of Glennon’s and Amerson’s hands, they have a shot at winning. But I think State will be tough to beat because of strong senior leadership and a staff that is seasoned and able to handle the inevitable unexpected that comes with a big time opening game.
UNC v. Elon
I think Elon has a chance to contend for a conference title, but will run into too much talent in Chapel Hill to open the season.
UNC has great talent on offense. It starts with Bryn Renner. He was the most efficient QB in the conference and averaged 8.91 yards per pass attempt last season. Steve Young once said the most telling stat for a QB is yards per attempt and anything over 8 yards is special. I think Bryn is special and a future NFL player. And Bryn played all of his record-breaking last season with three bone spurs the size of grapes in his foot. The trainer told me he had never seen a person able to play with such an injury. His amazing toughness, uncommon leadership skills, and humble demeanor make him a person the entire Carolina community can rally around. He stands for what is right in college sports.
Bryn is lucky to have six offensive linemen on the team that will make a living playing football on Sundays. James Hurst, Jonathan Cooper, Russel Bodine, Travis Bond, Brennan Williams and Landon Turner are all NFL prospects. I’d challenge anyone to find a better-looking offensive line in college ball. They are big, strong, and athletic. But most important, they all love one another and have uncommon chemistry.
A guy just as lucky as Bryn to have these giants in front of him is RB Gio Bernard, who is strong, powerful, fast and quicker than a hic-up. He is also a wonderful person. I will bet that Carolina doesn’t lose a game in which he has 25 carries or more. Gio also had 45 catches last year. If he gets 30 touches a game, he will be in the Heisman conversation.
Finally, a sleeper to keep an eye on is Eric Ebron. He is the most talented player UNC has had at TE since I started coaching here, and that includes a couple of NFLers in Zach Pianalto and Ryan Taylor. If you are in a fantasy league, you want Eric on your roster. Trust me on that one.
Duke v. FIU
Florida International is a team I’m glad we never had to play. I watched them a number of times against a common opponent and remember thinking they had fine athletes and were well coached. This is a tough draw for Duke. I think FIU has a great coaching staff and athletic administration, led by AD Pete Garcia. They are aiming high. Some in the coaching world believe FIU could overtake the U in coming years. I wouldn’t bet against Pete Garcia and Mario Cristobal.
I think Duke has an outstanding staff, too. OC Kurt Roper is bright and creative. I have always valued studying his schemes when we played common opponents. He will draw up anything to score some points including sets with three QBs. Duke will be fun to watch on offense this year.
On defense, they play solid zone football. In zone, eleven pairs of eyes are on the ball creating more gang tackling. You can play fast in zone because you’re never the last line of defense. FIU will have a new OC this year as Scott Satterfield left to return to Appalachian State. But the schemes should be the same. Rest assured it won’t be something Jim Knowles, Duke’s DC, hasn’t seen before. Duke’s staff has marvelous chemistry that will continue to serve them well on their march to a bowl game this season. This would be a quality win for Duke. Those in the coaching business know how good FIU is even if the rest of the country doesn’t yet.