FORD CORNERS: A Silver Lining

The Duke game was ugly, there’s no doubt about that if you are a Carolina fan.

But, with young kids, that can happen when the unexpected happens. We’re still trying to figure out our roles and we had been playing well. After the great win at Maryland, maybe coming home to the Smith Center made us thought it would be easier at home and we expected to win.

Duke came out on fire and got the big lead. When that happens, a young team can hit the panic button and try to get it back all at once. We definitely lost our poise instead of trying to stick with it, play better defense and chip away at the lead. But there was a silver lining.

I’m not sure we can play any worse or Duke any better. If we had played like we’d been playing the last six games and still got beat badly, there would be some concern. But, if we play again this weekend, I like our chances to give them a good game. When teams are hitting those 3’s, they are hard to beat. And Duke was unconscious that night. For us to be good, we need Reggie and/or P.J. to be unconscious from outside, and both had been shooting really well coming in.

The loss will also insure we’re ready to play Friday against the Florida State-Clemson winner. Both of those teams are dangerous. FSU is big and (Michael) Snair is one of the best all-around players in the ACC. Clemson lost a lot of close games this year and Devin Booker is really tough for his size. We can’t overlook either of those teams, thinking about getting another shot at Duke.

We won two ACC championships in the Greensboro Coliseum when I played, and the first one was really special because we had to beat N.C. State (the defending national champion) to make the NCAA Tournament. We were a fairly young team, with Brad Hoffman as our only senior starter. I was a freshman, Walter (Davis), Kue (John Kuester) and Tommy (LaGarde) were sophomores and Mitch Kupchak a junior. And State had David Thompson and Monte Towe back from its national championship team.

We hung in there, the game was close and the lead changed hands several times before we went ahead for good and Coach Smith called for the Four Corners. What a great thrill that was because we had some bad losses early in the season and really grew up at the end. That’s what I’m hoping for our team this season.

Our second ACC tournament title was in 1977, and that was one of the strangest games I’ve ever played in. Tommy was already out for the season with an injured knee and Walter broke his finger going for a rebound in the first-round win over State. They were draining blood from his finger in the locker room before we went out to play Virginia, and Walter was screaming so much from the training room that some of us were crying.

It was always a rough game against those Virginia teams, and at halftime there was a little scuffle between players and coaches as we left the court down the same narrow hallway. Our coaches were really fired up, and we took the lead in the second half. Virginia had upset us in the 1976 tournament and we really wanted this one. I fouled out and Kue actually had to run the Four Corners, and he was named Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.

That was a lot of fun after we won, but it was pretty intense during the game. With all our injuries, we went all the way to the Final Four in Atlanta before losing to Marquette. So this is the time of the season you want to be playing your best basketball.

Phil Ford was a three-time All-American at UNC, 1978 ACC Player of the Year, NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA all-star, and was recently inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame.



Watching the Miami game while listening to Doris Burke’s analysis was a bad combo for a Tar Heel fan this weekend. We weren’t playing well and Ms. Burke was singing Miami’s praises. The discussion of Miami as a #1 seed didn’t seem too farfetched after watching them RAIN threes on us in the first half…and the second half… but I’m not sold on the “U” representing the ACC well in the NCAA tourney. One cold night for Miami when they aren’t shooting 54% from the floor and 58% from three could be problematic for them in the big dance.

Watching the Miami game while listening to Doris Burke’s analysis was a bad combo for a Tar Heel fan this weekend. We weren’t playing well and Ms. Burke was singing Miami’s praises. The discussion of Miami as a #1 seed didn’t seem too farfetched after watching them RAIN threes on us in the first half…and the second half… but I’m not sold on the “U” representing the ACC well in the NCAA tourney. One cold night for Miami when they aren’t shooting 54% from the floor and 58% from three could be problematic for them in the big dance.

Our team desperately needs is a vocal leader/motivator on the court. When the game isn’t going our way or we simply need a boost of energy, no one (that I have seen) has stepped up to rally the troops and get us back on track. We need a person that we can consistently go to in order to get a field goal or a trip to the line. We need someone who can “stop the bleeding.”

I hear a lot of criticism of Coach Williams for not calling time-outs when the opposition is making a big run. To be quite honest, I can’t say I disagree with his strategy. After watching the Michigan-Michigan State game on Tuesday night, it was pretty obvious that a timeout isn’t going to solve your problems. When Michigan came out of the tunnel in the second half they were down by 14 points. By the 16:00 minute mark the lead had extended to 19 points. After a timeout from Coach Beilein to “stop the bleeding,” Michigan didn’t come out and respond. The lead continued to creep up to 21, then 26 and then as high as 30 points. People have argued that Michigan has one of the best teams in the country but they were obviously overmatched on Tuesday. We haven’t been regarded as the top team in the land, but it was painfully obvious that we were overmatched this weekend.

Now most of you will be bright enough to see that I’ve got a deadline on Wednesdays so I can’t breakdown our Duke performance, but I’m hoping that we show up on Wednesday and bring these few things to the table:

  1. Aggressive Fouls: I don’t want our guys flagrantly fouling the Dukies and injuring anyone, but if someone takes the ball to the basket, we need to make sure they don’t score and they think twice about driving the ball again!
  2. Solid Screens: this sounds simple, and it is. If we execute our offense like I know we have practiced, we should be getting open looks inside and out.
  3. Attacking the rim: we need to go right at Mason Plumlee on every possession until he is in foul trouble then focus our efforts on guarding the perimeter. If Plumlee is out and we are locking down the 3-point line, Duke quickly loses their effectiveness.

image by Todd Melet

Be Good At Things That Matter

I grew up caddying at Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It is a great golf course that hosts major tournaments regularly.  Some of my coaching philosophy was developed there as a teenager helping golfers navigate the course.  I learned quickly that a golfer better be good at things that matter if he/she wanted to score well at Oakmont.  
Some golfers spend their time on the practice range nailing drives 300 yards without great purpose.  Distance off the tee doesn’t matter as much as accuracy when playing a challenging course.  In fact, good golfers may use their driver fewer than six times when battling Oakmont.  Work from the tee box is not nearly as important as touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive stroke within 150 yards of the pin. 
Similarly, quarterbacks would come to our summer camp and immediately want to show me how far and hard they could throw a football.  While there is a floor that a Division I quarterback should be above in terms of arm strength, once above that floor, distance and velocity on passes are not as important as accuracy, touch, poise, confidence, and a repetitive motion.  At camps I would ask quarterbacks to throw passes from unusual positions as if they were under a heavy rush. 
Maintaining a repetitive motion from awkward positions is important.  Eighty percent of the time a QB is throwing the ball with a defensive lineman preventing him from stepping.  Accurate passers have repetitive motions no matter what the pocket looks and feels like.  Good golfers have repetitive strokes no matter the lie, wind, distance, or slope of the green. 
I think it is dangerous to evaluate a QB at a 7 on 7 camp.  It is like evaluating a golfer on the practice range.  Neither is practicing something that happens in competition.
Things that Matter Statistically
There are a few statistical categories that I think are important.  Coaches generally agree that the most important stat in football is points scored versus points against.  Simply put, whoever has the most points wins.  Although, sadly, I know some coaches who seem more interested in where they rank in total offense than in wins and losses.  I once worked with a coach who said “if we just lead the league in passing we’ll all get jobs.”  We were 1-8 when he said that. 
The quarterback who averages 400 yards passing on a .500 team is like the golfer that drives the ball 350 off the tee but shoots an 82.  Remember, John Daly doesn’t win many tournaments.  Offenses have to be good at things that matter to win close games. 
Outside of points scored, a stat that really mattered to me was the “Double Positive.”  The “Double Positive” is when our team came out on the plus side of the turnover differential and the big play differential.  (Big plays consisted of 12 yard runs and 18 yard passes in our calculations.)   We started keeping this stat in 2010 after visiting with Greg Davis, then the OC at Texas.  Like his UT teams, we found our team was undefeated when we won the “Double Positive.” 
Turnover margin is a well documented category.  The top ten teams in the country in this category are a combined 77-11.  Being on the positive side of turnovers is a point of emphasis for most teams. 
Many teams also talk about big plays – getting them and preventing them.  In  the 2010 season we started charting the “Double Positive” and found that 97% of UNC’s touchdown drives of over 50 yards contained a big play.  If we were to include touchdown drives when the defense or special teams gave the offense a short field the number only dips to  89%.  I know calculating these statistics sharpened our staff’s focus on finding ways to gain chunks of yardage at a time and ways to prevent chunks.  While big plays are often discussed, I think the margin, or differential, is not focused on enough. 
Last week in the ACC, the importance of the big play margin was clearly evident.  UNC had a +5 differential, BC +4, BYU +2 over GT, Clemson +4, and FSU was +12.  All were winners.  Of those teams, UNC, BC, and Clemson all won the “Double Positive” too.  BYU was even in turnovers and FSU overcame a -4 in turnover ratio perhaps indicating how dramatic a +12 big play differential can be.   
Things that Matter Strategically
Strategically, the most important aspect of game management is the last four minutes of the fourth quarter in a close game.  Five of the six games N.C. State has played this season against FBS schools have come down to the very end.  The Pack is 3-2 in those games.  For UNC, five of the seven games played against FBS schools came down to the last four minutes.  The Heels are 2-3 in those games. 
These are “Four Minute” and “Two Minute” situations.  In “Four Minute” the team with the ball is ahead and trying to shorten the game usually by running the ball and staying in bounds to keep the clock rolling.  In “Two Minute” situations the team with the ball is behind and trying to lengthen the game usually by passing and getting out of bounds to stop the clock.  No matter if your team runs a spread no huddle offense, a pro style offense, or the wishbone, it better be able to navigate these situations to beat good teams.  A team that doesn’t focus long and hard on finishing the game in these situations is like a golfer who doesn’t work on putting. 
Two minute situations are a frequent topic among football commentators and fans.  You can go to any football program in the country and watch them practice two minute drills with a clock, referees, and a challenging situation.
Mike Glennon engineered memorable two minute drives to beat Florida State and Maryland recently.  Against the Seminoles, the Pack was down 16-10 with 2:27 left in the game and drove 43 yards on 12 plays for the game winning touchdown.  That drive will be remembered fondly by Pack fans for years to come.  What made that drive possible was some expert management of four minute defense when Florida State was trying to run the clock out. 
For most winning two minute drives there is a corresponding losing four minute drive by the opponent.  The Seminoles were up 16-10 with 2:47 left on the clock.  On 1st-10 from their own 32 yard line they needed to run the ball, get some first downs, and finish the game.  The first run was for minus 2 yards and State used its first time out.  A three yard run on 2nd down was followed by State’s second time out.  On 3rd down, Florida State ran again, for no yards, and forced the Pack to use their 3rd and final time out.  Only 20 second were run off the clock.   
Four minute situations are harder to practice than two minute ones.  Four minute situations involve a physical brand of football where the offense has to run the ball no matter how many defenders are “in the box.”  Broken tackles are usually the difference in this situation. 
The Tar Heel defense had an outstanding four minute situation last weekend.  Three times in the 4th quarter UNC forced State to punt with a lead.  Then with the score tied 35-35 and 1:24 left in the game, the Carolina defense was good at something that matters when it mattered most.  State was forced to punt after a three and out and Gio Bernard returned it for a touchdown that will be remembered forever by UNC sports fans. 
That play is a potent reminder of the importance of “Four Minute” football.  It is not only important to be good at things that matter, but be good when it matters.  After all, the majors played at Oakmont were never won on Thursday or Friday.  They were won on the back nine late Sunday afternoon, when it mattered most. 

Those Cheating Ways

When the Tar Heels visit Duke Saturday night, they will be playing one of only 44 major colleges that have never been placed on NCAA probation in football. It used to be 45 before UNC got hit with the three years in 2011.

Those who believe that college football is corrupt and teams have much better chances of winning if they cheat would be validated by looking at the list of schools that have finished No. 1 while either serving probation or committing violations that led to sanctions from the NCAA.
Southern Methodist can be called the worst cheaters in college football history in two ways. The Mustangs, who suffered the only so-called “death penalty” in the early 1980s, have been sanctioned seven times for a total of 17 seasons between 1957 and 2002. They had two great years long before their program was shut down, but never won a majority of the votes to be declared national champs in the polls (how they did it in those days). So SMuuu can be called bad cheaters.
Southern Cal, on the other hand, got far more from its cheating ways. The Trojans have served 6 separate probations for 15 seasons, but won two national championships (1972 and ’74) during a period when their violations occurred. Three times, USC investigations took so long that penalties weren’t handed down until at least three years after they (allegedly) stopped cheating, including their last title with Reggie Bush in 2004 for which they did not start serving time until 2010. That’s right, it was a six-year investigation before the Trojans were stripped, Bush gave back the Heisman Trophy and they endured a three-year bowl ban.
Since 1953, when the NCAA began handing out penalties and probations, SMU has spent 29 percent of its football seasons on probation and Southern Cal 25 percent.
But Miami – The U – got the most out of breaking the rules. The Hurricanes in their heyday won four national titles (1983, ‘87, ’89 and ’91) during an 11-year period while they were later deemed to have been cheating or while serving NCAA probations that did not include a bowl ban.  Miami never got nailed as a member of the ACC, but a major probation is on the way after the current probe into its program is completed.
Some of the other best cheaters are Alabama, which actually won the 2009 and 2011 BCS titles while serving a three-year probation that did not include post-season sanctions. In fact, last year’s championship game might have been called the “Probation Bowl” because Alabama’s opponent LSU was also in the last year of an NCAA probation.
Clemson and Florida State also won national championships while cheating, the Tigers in 1981 during a five-year period for which they went on probation from 1982-84 and the Seminoles served a one year probation in 1996 for rules they broke while being voted national champs in 1993.
Other schools that won it all while cheating or on probation for having cheated are Ohio State and UCLA (co-champs in 1954), Oklahoma (1955, ’56, ‘85), Auburn (1957) and Texas (1963).
In all, 27 schools have received multiple (more than one) football probations. The SEC is the most penalized conference with 35 probations and sanctions for 77 seasons. The Pac 12 is next with 31 probations that cover 64 seasons. The Big 12 is third (23 and 59), Conference USA fourth (23 and 56), the Big 10 next (23 and 55) followed by the ACC (18 and 38). All the other conferences and independents have not reached double figures in the number of NCAA probations received.
In all, 79 major colleges have spent some time on NCAA probation, more than half the schools playing at the BCS Division 1 (now called Football Bowl Subdivision) level. Notes of interest: 

  • Every school in the Big 12 has been placed on probation at some point.
  • Missouri and Vanderbilt are the only schools in the SEC to have never been on probation.
  • Stanford and Washington State are the only Pac 12 schools with clean histories.
  • Army, BYU and Iowa are the only schools to have won national championships when they were determined by the polls that have never been on probation. Penn State dropped off that list last year.

Besides Florida State (3), Miami (3 plus one coming) and Clemson (2), other ACC schools to serve football probations are N.C. State (4, although one was for basketball in 1954 that covered all sports), Georgia Tech (2), Virginia Tech (2), Carolina (1), Maryland (1) and Virginia (1).  Boston College, Duke and Wake Forest have never been nailed in football.

Best Of Both Worlds

I think highly of Bud Foster, the DC at Virginia Tech.  He coaches an interesting defensive scheme and I wonder why more teams don’t run it.  They describe their defense as a 4-2-5, that is four defensive lineman, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. But the techniques they employ are different than most 4-2-5 teams. 
Usually an offensive coordinator can categorize defenses into two families.  One is middle of the field open coverages (MOFO), like cover 2, where there is no safety in the deep middle. With this type of coverage, defenses have only seven defenders committed to the “box” defending the run game.  Generally speaking, it is easier to run the ball versus a “7 in the box/ 2 deep” defense than it is to throw.  (fig. 1)
Another family is middle of the field closed coverages (MOFC), like cover 3 or man free, where there is a safety deep in centerfield. In this family of defense a play caller can count on an “8 man box” and it makes running the ball difficult and passing more appealing.  (fig. 2)





And then you have Virginia Tech which, versus a standard two back set, has nine guys in the box defending the run while playing a form of cover 2.  Stacking the box and playing cover 2 is the best of both worlds.  I think this is one reason Va. Tech has been such an effective defense for a number of years.  (fig. 3)

Like in traditional cover 2, Va. Tech has flat defenders but instead of playing the flat from outside in, they’re playing the flat from inside out.  As the Weak Safety (WS) and Strong Safety (SS) buzz the flats they take away passing lanes making the QB sky the ball inaccurately over the heads receivers.  The cornerbacks (C’s) then slide to the same landmarks as the safeties do in traditional cover 2. 
The Free Safety (FS) is the guy that makes this defense uncommon.  The FS is usually a guy who has a remarkable nose for the ball (#8 Detrick Bonner this year). He is the 9th guy in the front playing the run and is tight enough that he is nearly impossible to block from outside/in with a WR.  The only way to block this guy in the run game is from inside out with a lead back or tight end.  For that reason, against Va. Tech, we rarely lined up in our tradition pro style two back sets to run the ball.  We played the game in a lot of 2 TE, 2 Back personnel groupings and used tight formations blocking the FS from inside out.
Another way to battle this defense is in 3 WR sets.  These formations may remove the FS from the box entirely giving an offense lanes to run.  The good news for UNC is that being spread out is their primary mode of operation.  They should not have to deal with the numbers problem that pro style offenses have versus Va. Tech.  And they have quality film to study as the Hokies just played Cincinnati and the formations that UNC will use are similar. 
UNC’s defense deserves a lot of credit for not giving up a touchdown over the last ten quarters.  No matter your opponents, that statistic should be used to foster morale and enhance confidence.  Va. Tech, however, will offer a much more diverse run game than ECU or Idaho presented.  With their talented QB, Logan Thomas, they will create some complicated run fits that UNC struggled with against Louisville. 
N.C. State v. Florida State 
Last week N.C. State had an interesting box score.  They had 440 passing yards balanced with 224 rushing yards.  I counted 13 big plays (runs over 12 yards and passes over 18 yards) in the game for State’s offense and the Pack accumulated an amazing 664 yards of total offense.  The problem is State also had six turnovers to Miami’s one.  As much as I can’t imagine losing a game where an offense generated 664 yards of offense, I also can’t imagine winning a game with a -5 turnover margin.
State should have strong production again this week in a game that could have a similar offensive flavor.  Florida State is a well coordinated defense.  They generate a fierce pass rush with their defensive line making it so the secondary doesn’t have to cover very long.  The Noles defensive backs will jump a lot of intermediate routes between 12 and 18 yards, because if it was anything deeper they assume the QB is sacked.
When secondaries aren’t used to covering for a long time the key is to find a way for the QB to gain a half second in the pocket.  In 2010 when T.J. Yates prepared to play FSU, we spent a lot of practice time on working the pocket:  side stepping rushers and finding a safe spot to launch a pass while keeping your eyes downfield.  This is different than scrambling.  When a QB works the pocket he stays between the tackles and makes subtle, short movements to avoid rushers.  Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two of the best at this technique.
If Mike Glennon can work the pocket at a high level this week, I’m certain that Coach Bible will design ways to get receivers open versus this tough FSU defense. 
Duke v. Virginia
If you like quarterbacks, this game will be fun to watch.  Duke uses three QB’s every game.  Sean Renfree usually produces 200+ yards passing.  Brandon Connette will have a couple of TD’s rushing in the red zone.  And Anthony Boone will get a few passes and runs just to keep defenses on their toes and morale high in the meeting room.   
For Virginia, Michael Rocco has been the starter and split time with Phillip Sims all season.  While it appears that Phillip will start the game this week, I’m willing to bet both will continue to play.  That makes five quarterbacks in one game. 
However, this game will come down to defense.  Whichever unit can prevent big plays and cause the most turnovers will win.  Under Jim Knowles, Duke’s defense is similar to what I drew up previously regarding Va. Tech’s 4-2-5.  Bill Lazor, UVa’s offensive coordinator, is a bright coach and runs a pro style offense like UNC used to run.  I will be interested to see if he sticks primarily in two back sets or tries to spread Duke out as UNC undoubtedly will do against Va. Tech on Saturday.

A Coach's Choice

Duke’s Hall of Fame Coach Mike Krzyzewski is very likely one of only two people on the planet who knows what happened with his former player Lance Thomas during the 2009-10 season.  The other person is Thomas. Krzyzewski has to know because he asked and the former player had to tell his former coach the truth.
    Coach K Faces Tough Choice?

On Dec. 21, 2009, after Duke had defeated Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden to run the Blue Devils’ record to 11-1, Thomas purchased $97,800 worth of jewelry from Rafaello & Co., in Manhattan. Rafaello & Co. promotes itself as a “deluxe” jeweler which also does business as A+A Diamonds, Ltd. Its website claims to have customers such as entertainer Jay Z.
According to a lawsuit filed by Rafaello & Co. in January, 2012, Thomas made a $30,000 down payment on five pieces of jewelry he carried out of the store and received a credit for $67,800. Thomas, who finished last season with the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, never paid the balance until the suit was settled in 2012 and all terms were sealed.

The question remains and may never be answered because the NCAA does not have subpoena power and can only ask Duke to produce the facts that would determine if, by making such a purchase and getting such a large line of credit, Thomas had received an impermissible benefit and was an ineligible player for the rest of the 2010 season. Duke won the 2010 NCAA men’s basketball championship in Houston.

The new basketball season is upon us and Krzyzewski will face the media at his own press conference next week and again at the annual ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte on October 18. It will be a big stage for Krzyzewski.  Local, regional and national media will be in attendance for print, Internet, radio and TV interviews.
How will Krzyzewski answer the questions he will surely be asked about Thomas, what happened in New York and whether Duke won its last national championship with an ineligible player on the court?
He has one of three choices and all of them present him with problems: 
1) Krzyzewski can say that he talked to Thomas, who refused to give him any information that would be of help to the NCAA. That would be a far-fetched response because the one person Thomas is going to tell the truth to is his former coach, and Krzyzewski will also be asked to address the speculation that he reported all this to the NCAA in the first place.

Krzyzewski is in no position not to tell the truth. First of all, he has a reputation as an honorable manCertainly, he has withheld information when it was in the best interest of himself, his family and his basketball program. But in this case, not saying what he knows about Thomas would be widely interpreted as a move to hold onto Duke’s fourth NCAA title under Coach K. That is not good enough in the eyes of the NCAA, whose job it is to determine player eligibility.


Teams in trouble always complain that the punishment penalizes their innocent members. We have certainly heard that in Chapel Hill. But those are the rules of the NCAA game all the schools agree to play. And Duke is in the game.

2) Krzyzewski could say that he spoke to Thomas and, by everything he knows about the bylaws of the NCAA, Thomas was not an ineligible player for the balance of the 2010 season. And that he cannot say anymore due to the terms of the legal settlement.
This would also be received with great skepticism and Krzyzewski would be seen as interpreting NCAA rules in his own favor.
In 2011, he appeared on a nationally televised special with deceased and disgraced football coach Joe Paterno called “Difference Makers – Life Lessons with Paterno and Krzyzewski”. During the appearance with Paterno on the Penn State campus, the two iconic coaches praised each other for building impeccable programs based on truth and dignity.  We know what happened since then at Penn State, where that claim to honor was washed away in the locker room showers.
After the Penn State scandal erupted and Paterno was forced to resign, Krzyzewski carefully defended Paterno, saying he was 84 years old and social standards differed from generation to generation. If the truth ever came out that Krzyzewski had lied about the Lance Thomas affair, his entire career would be judged differently – as Paterno’s is now. Had they first turned in former assistant coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky, Paterno and Penn State would have been saluted for upholding the standards they instead only claimed over the next 12 years. Paterno would have gone out the hero everyone had worshipped.
3) Krzyzewski could say that he talked to Thomas and learned what he did could be in violation of NCAA rules and that he has turned all the information he had over to the NCAA. And if found in violation, he could say, Duke is prepared to give back the trophy, to vacate the 2010 NCAA title and the 26 victories in which Thomas had illegally played. He and the school were currently awaiting word of any allegations. The precedent here involves Memphis superstar Derrick Rose, who was deemed to be ineligible after his one college season ended when it was learned that someone else took Rose’s SAT.
Coach K would be acting as he knew Paterno should have many years before and, when the dust settled, he would be regarded as the most honorable coach in the history of college athletics for doing what was right and living by the rules of the sport he coached. Krzyzewski would be celebrated far more than for any victory or championship, further dignifying not only his university but the USA men’s basketball team he coached to consecutive Gold Medals. He would remain a hero to his faithful.
And even if Duke were found in violation, gave back the trophy and took down the 2010 banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and Krzyzewski’s career victories reduced to 901, unlike Paterno, he would still be coaching, still winning games and still fully capable of cutting down more national championship nets.
It’s a coach’s choice from that trio of paths that could affect a Hall of Fame career and starting next week, he will have to take one of them. 
The heady nectar of cutting the nets is already enjoyed, but we may see just how coveted that coveted trophy is when Coach K is faced with these choices.

The Irish: Nowhere Else To Go

Sure, it is a boon for the ACC to add fabled Notre Dame as its 15th school, but let’s look beyond the lore of Touchdown Jesus to the reality of the situation.


Notre Dame, at least for now, will not be a football member of the ACC and will keep all money from its home-game contract with NBC-TV, which expires in 2015. The Irish need a conference in which to compete in all of their other sports, since the reworked Big East is spread out from coast to coast. And the ACC, with myriad connections to Notre Dame over the years, is a good fit in terms of most of the schools’ academic reputations.

But it was clearly a defensive move for the ACC, as well. No other conference wanted Notre Dame without getting at least a piece of its TV contract. Not the Big 10 or the Big 12, the most logical geographical choices. The ACC, which had once taken the same stance, compromised and agreed to let Notre Dame keep all of its football TV money and still get an equal (1/15th) share of the basketball TV revenue from the moment the Irish begin playing in the ACC.
“We didn’t want to wake up a few years from now and learn that Notre Dame had become a full member of another conference,” said one ACC official at Wednesday’s press conference at the Kenan Stadium Blue Zone. The presser was held there because a previously scheduled meeting of the ACC Presidents Council was wrapping up and a unanimous vote to accept Notre Dame had already been cast.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said that when Notre Dame is released from its Big East commitment, the Irish will join the ACC in all sports but football and hockey (N.D. is in the new Hockey East league). The ACC Basketball Tournament, which was already being pushed back to a Wednesday start with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, will just begin earlier in the day to accommodate one more game.

Swofford says the ACC will likely remain a 15-school conference now that it has upped the exit fee to $50 million. That should effectively end the Florida State-to-somewhere rumors.
Notre Dame officials say they didn’t join the ACC for more money, except what they would retain by not staying in the unstable Big East and that splitting the basketball revenues 15 ways is probably better than splitting the Big East cash from new smaller market schools that have joined the league.
And the ACC may get a little bump in its ESPN football contract, which constitutes 80 percent of the conference distribution, because the Fighting Irish will play five ACC teams each season, two or three on the road in alternating years. That could yield another $1 million per school per year because of Notre Dame’s audience and ratings power.
But if the ACC took in Notre Dame on a flyer, hoping the Irish would not renew their annual $15 million contact with NBC, it is baying at the moon. The Irish like their independence and keeping all of their home-game TV money, plus their bowl payout, while getting a cut of the ACC’s basketball distribution. And, despite flagging ratings in recent years, NBC needs programming more than ever with no other college football games and no college basketball, one NFL game per week, no Major League Baseball and no NBA. Right now, NBC Sports, which has started its own cable sports channel, has the NHL and the Olympics every two years. So it is likely to renew Notre Dame, perhaps for even more money.
Plus, Notre Dame gets into the ACC’s bowl rotation below the BCS level and will join the Big 10 and SEC in the Orange Bowl pool to face the ACC champion. So, in a great season for the Irish, they could be playing one of their conference brethren in Miami on New Year’s Day. And they will surely get a pro-rated cut of the ACC BCS bowl revenues.

Only if the younger guard in South Bend recognize that its football program is no longer in the national playoff picture each year might the attitude change toward playing for SOME championship and Notre Dame actually consider full-fledged membership in the ACC. Until then, the Irish get their cake and eat it too.

There is a lot of sizzle in the ACC landing Notre Dame. But, for now at least, there isn’t a lot of substance to it.

Louisville More Explosive

UNC and Louisville are very different teams from when they played each other last year. The Cards made offensive staff changes in the middle of last season, and of course we are all familiar with the total overhaul at UNC. Our staff last year thought the Cards were good on defense. With their struggling offense, we shortened the game and won a low scoring contest.

Such a low scoring win often does not appeal to fans and media. These wins, however, are often a great chance to focus on some of the best of what football is all about: strategy. The goal is to win the game. Statistics can be misleading and even meaningless if you do not win football games. Strategy can deliver the win even when the stats tell a not-so-explosive story.

The Defensive Coordinator for Louisville is Vance Bedford. Vance and I coached together from 1999 through 2003 with the Chicago Bears. He is an aggressive coach and loves to blitz. Last year I spent more time on protections than I did on designing routes to get guys open during our preparations. With that in mind, it seemed to me that the pressures Louisville had were designed to hit our QB but they wouldn’t hold up as well in the run game. Because I didn’t think we were going to have to score 30 points to win, we ended up running the ball 2/3’s of the time and Gio went over 100 yards in the win.

To throw the ball effectively against a blitzing defense your QB has to get into a mindset of beating the blitz. It will be tough to pick up every blitz Coach Bedford throws at Bryn Renner. But if he can get the ball out of his hand quickly, or beat the blitz, the coverages behind such pressures are susceptible to big plays.

Unlike last season, the Cards appear explosive on offense. Fourteen points won’t be enough to win. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seems to have a great rapport with the play caller, Shawn Watson. Both are operating with great confidence and it shows in the numbers.

NC State v. South Alabama

The University of South Alabama is a dangerous team. They are from the Sun Belt Conference, the same as FIU, Duke’s opening opponent. They are an FBS level school and are fast and athletic. Schools from this conference can win big games, just look at the University of Louisiana-Monroe’s win over Arkansas last weekend. I’m certain that game got everybody’s attention in the Murphy Center in Raleigh. The staff will have some familiarity with their opponent because they played last year. This is helpful because the players will not have to be convinced how talented South Alabama is. They will know first hand.

Morale should be good at N.C. State. They’re coming off a gratifying win against a tough road opponent and they finally get to have their home opener. I’ll bet that Dana Bible, the OC at  State, will do everything possible to get Mike Glennon rolling. Getting a QB lots of completions can help boost his confidence. 30 plus completions for Glennon this week and another 30 next week versus The Citadel could be the lift the Pack needs going into the meat of their schedule.

Coaches will never look past an immediate opponent, but my bet is the staff at State is aware that they need a confident, poised, and productive QB when their schedule stiffens against Miami and Florida State starting at the end of the month. If Glennon has two big weeks statistically, look for that to heighten the confidence of the entire squad.

Duke v. N.C. Central

Most football coaches are extremely routinized people. When my weekly routine was altered, it seemed to affect the game in in an adverse way. Last Saturday, Duke and Stanford kicked off at 10:30 pm eastern time. I imagine the game was over around 1:30. The plane left the west coast for Raleigh around four in the morning and landed mid morning on Sunday.

Because Duke had a morning practice on Tuesday, they had a lot to cram into a small window of time. They needed to review the Stanford game, then game plan for N.C. Central, prep for practice, and find some sleep all in just about a 24 hour span. Never underestimate the difficulty of altering a routine in the coaching profession.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that after an unusual week, Duke is playing a familiar opponent in N.C. Central. As a coach, I wasn’t always fond of playing an FCS level school because it’s a no win situation. If you win, you were supposed to. If you lose, you start calling realtors. But this game is different because it has more potential for good things to happen. The city of Durham will be celebrating the Bull City Gridiron Classic sponsored by the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce. No matter the outcome, somebody in town will be happy.

This game will give Duke a chance to work on the run game because they will be more physical than Central. A lot of the swing passes Renfree throws are coupled with runs. He decides whether to hand off to the runner or kick it out to a WR on a swing screen. There is no audible or “check with me” at the line of scrimmage. The core runs the run and the perimeter runs the WR screen plays. I love these concepts and have used them a lot, but I look for Duke to hand it off no matter how many defenders are in the box defending the run because they will be the more physical team.

Nothing fosters good morale in a team like an offensive line coming off the ball and playing some smash mouth football. I’ll bet you’ll see Duke get physical and run down hill regardless of the defense. Developing a strong, physical demeanor will help as they approach the meat of their schedule.

Hammer or the Nail

My Dad always told me that “adversity introduces a man to himself,” and, for our Tar Heels on Saturday night, that was the case in a good ole rainy clash against ACC foe Wake Forest. The Heels, in my opinion, were the superior team in regards to personnel, but the self-inflicted wounds did us in.  Not many teams can overcome 87 yards in penalties, two red zone opportunities that yielded field goals rather than touchdowns and sloppy secondary play (at best) and walk away with a road game “W”.

My concern is that the excitement and chest pounding from a week ago is going to be replaced by the moaning of “here we go again…same old Carolina!” Please, please, please …don’t fall into that trap, and if you have already gone to the dark side, pull yourself out by the boot straps right now because these young men are going to need us!

After the game, Coach Fedora mentioned that his team experienced virtually no adversity in the season opening shellacking of Elon and that he attempted to manufacture adversity to see how his team might respond.

I can tell you that nothing can prepare you for difficulties and challenges in football like the real thing — nothing artificial, just the real thing. And the real thing knocked on our door at BB&T Stadium — a 75 minute rain delay, the absence of Gio Bernard (our most dynamic playmaker) and the adjustment to competing against ACC talent as compared to the reasonably light load that Elon brought forth a week earlier. Add to this your QB getting shaken up after a 1st half collision that I felt all the way from row FFF (which I can assure you is a loooong distance from the field) and now you have a recipe for some real adversity.

To be honest with you, I think it is exactly what this team needed. Not the loss obviously, but to have your confidence and moxie tested early will make this team stronger in the long run and ultimately these fork-in-the-road moments will be the foundation that this program will be built on going forward.

I hate going back to old quotes, but Coach Fedora has left us with so many that make sense in these kinds of situations that I can’t help but reference what he told Tar Heel Nation when the NCAA sanctions were announced. In regards to the challenges that lay ahead, he said, “I’ve got a saying with the football team that adversity, when it strikes, it’s going to happen and it brings out the best in all of us. But when it does, you look it in the eye, you grab it by the throat and you choke it. … That’s what we’re going to do with whatever adversity comes up, now or in the future.” – (Associated Press)

Folks, I can tell you when I read that, I get excited about the challenges and successes ahead for this football program, and I can tell you that the players in that locker room are getting that message pounded home to them this week.

With a daunting challenge ahead of them this week facing a top 20 opponent, what are we going to do? What are we going to be this week in Papa Johns Stadium — the hammer or the nail? Knowing the culture that Coach Fedora wants to instill in this program, and barring any unforeseen hurdles before kickoff, there is no reason in my mind why our Heels can’t be the hammer!


Winning is Fun and a Goal Worth Striving For

Friday evening found us gathered around our kitchen table for a rousing game of competitive Chinese Checkers. Before that, we played an invigorating game of competitive Scrabble. We ended the evening with a cutthroat game of competitive Memory.

You might have noticed a common theme here. At our house, we take our games seriously. We gloat if we win and we frown and mumble bad words if we lose. That doesn’t mean that we are mean or that we hurt people’s feelings or that we throw tantrums or storm about if things don’t go our way (usually). What it means is that we like to win and play every game with that goal in mind.

Many disagree with the encouragement of competitive play. I remember a playgroup not that long ago where the other moms were somewhat horrified to learn that I didn’t let my preschoolers win every game of Candyland and Chutes & Ladders. I never “let” my kids win anything and they have always known that. If they win, it is because they earned the win. What I have tried to do is to teach my kids that winning is fun and a goal worth striving for, and that there is no shame in losing if you played your best game.

I will never understand the whole “let’s be fair to everyone” theory. In the town we used to live in, the brilliant minds at the local high school decided that the traditional cheerleader tryouts were simply not fair. Customarily, only the girls who performed best at the tryouts made the team. Many felt that such a selection process was unfair to those girls who really wanted to be on the team but simply weren’t very good at cheering.

After much debate, it was determined that any girl who had the wherewithal to attend the cheerleading tryouts would automatically be on the team. As you might imagine, this plan resulted in a ridiculous number of cheerleaders, most of whom had seriously substandard cheering ability! Then came a whole host of problems – like how to provide uniforms for all those girls and how to manage such a huge cheering squad at the games.

Another debate soon arose in that “fairness to all” school district and that was the grading system. If a kid works hard but simply can’t perform the work, is it really fair that he should get a bad grade? The school district said no. A bad grade would do nothing but crush that kid’s spirit. So let’s just give out good grades to everyone! And that is exactly what they did.

The problem with this fairness theory should be obvious. Life isn’t fair. And if our goal is to prepare our children to be upstanding adult citizens, then we might as well do away with the fairness notion right now. Some people are smart and others not so much. Some people can sing and others can’t hum a note. Some people can cheer and others are clumsy and uncoordinated. That’s just the way it is.

On the same note, let’s not mislead our children and tell them they can be whatever it is they want to be. The truth is, they can’t. It’s not going to happen. I am never going to be a world-famous, elite athlete. It just isn’t in the cards for me. That doesn’t mean I can’t love to work-out and train and compete. It doesn’t mean that I can’t always be striving to do better and more with the ability I do have. It means that just because I get a notion to do something, however unrealistic it might be, doesn’t mean I have the ability to do it.

It sounds like I’m in the business of crushing kids’ spirits, deflating their hopes and dreams at every turn. Not so!
What I want is for my children to recognize and develop their own special talents, to work hard and to always put forth their best effort. Nothing is going to be handed to them on a platter and that’s okay because no one is entitled to that. I also tell them that if the game is worth playing, then it’s worth playing to win. That’s not to say you have to win every game you play. You won’t and you shouldn’t expect to. But knowing that shouldn’t result in lowered expectations or effort. Winning can still be the goal.

It’s also important for them to realize that winning isn’t always beating out everyone else. Winning has to do with performing your personal best. In running, winning is not necessarily coming in first in the race (though I would guess that would be pretty great), it’s beating your “PR” (personal record).

My kids will have successes in life, but they’ll also have disappointments. What I wish for them is a healthy competitive spirit and the goal of always striving to achieve their personal best. It is the lackadaisical, entitled, “who really cares” attitude that I find most unappealing — the people who float through life by doing the bare minimum; the ones who perform a job for the sole purpose of collecting the paycheck.

Someone asked me once, given my competitive, type A personality, how I would handle having a child that didn’t do very well in school. I thought about that and finally answered that it would depend. If my child got a “C” because he didn’t bother to study or complete the required assignments, I would be irate. But if that “C” was a hard-earned “C” then I would be fine with it. I can accept limited talent and ability. I cannot accept laziness and lack of ambition.

The kids think we play games like Scrabble, Chinese Checkers and Connect Four for fun. We do. But I also have the ulterior motive of teaching them life lessons about competition and working hard and accepting loss and celebrating victory. Lessons they will hopefully carry with them into adulthood.

Plus, truth be told, I really do like to win at board games. On occasion, I’ve even been accused of gloating.