Back Larry Fedora and the Jeremy Foley Way

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Larry Fedora and the Jeremy Foley Way

By Jacob Shoor
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If Larry Fedora keeps serving up games like last week's 55-31 loss to East Carolina and last year's 66-50 loss to Georgia Tech, then he will be looking for a new job sooner rather than later.

Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley may be the sports figure who has most forcefully stated the common sense maxim that once you know something must be done eventually, you are better off getting it done now. When Foley fired the Gators' coaches in three sports (baseball, men's tennis and gymnastics) in rapid fire order in 2002, he famously quipped to the AP: "I'm a big believer in the saying that if something needs to be done eventually, it needs to be done immediately."

Two years later, Foley fired Florida football coach Ron Zook, even though Zook had three consecutive winning seasons, had a winning record against Georgia, and had beaten Florida State in Tallahassee. It was clear that Zook, whose teams were up and down from week to week, never would win consistently at the top level of the SEC, and following Steve Spurrier's tenure, seven and eight-win regular seasons would not pacify the Gators fan base. Not only did Foley fire Zook, but he did so before the regular season concluded.

If you must replace the coach eventually, do it immediately.

On the Left Coast, Southern Cal athletics director Pat Haden has played the Foley role and canned Lane Kiffin. You don't have to be a Tennessee Vols fan to despise Kiffin as a smarmy, La-la Land prima donna. I think most southern fans of college football see Kiffin that way and so have little or no sympathy for him.

But here is the question: Wouldn't Southern Cal have been better off if Haden had fired Kiffin after last year's debacle at the Sun Bowl, where the Trojans were humiliated by Georgia Tech after Kiffin and his team had flaunted their boorishness before the bowl's promoters?

I pose that question now because I think that North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora faces a similar decision.

UNC AD Bubba Cunningham does not face such a decision, not now, because with the NCAA sanctions he inherited, the only way that Fedora will not be given four years as Tar Heels head coach is if the program implodes. And it is, I think, rather obvious that the one way the UNC program can implode, the one way the program might fall into an abyss of John Bunting level haplessness, is to make no progress on defense.

Should Fedora fire one or two of his three top coaches on defense?

My complaint about Everett Withers as UNC DC under Butch Davis was that if you have as much talent at your disposal as he did, then your teams should not lose two or three fourth quarter leads per year. The Tar Heels defense underachieved with Withers as DC for two reasons: (1) Withers could be out-strategized fairly easily, in both game plans and adjustments made during games, and (2) the UNC defense often displayed lack of fundamentals.

My hope for the UNC defense under Fedora was that because the offense would become the shining star on the recruiting trail, as defense had been under Davis, the new defensive staff would emphasize fundamentals. My hope lies in the dumpster. This UNC defense may have the worst tackling fundamentals I have ever seen in Carolina Blue. The players seem no better at warding off blockers than they are at making tackles.

Yes, the talent level is down due to the sanctions and to the fact that the new staff focuses as heavily on offensive recruiting as the previous staff did on defensive recruiting. And that is the point: if you know that based on recruiting emphases your program will have less talent on defense than on offense, aren't you negligent if you fail to make certain that your defensive coaches can teach, and will demand, fundamentals? The only way to overcome talent disparity is with sound fundamentals augmented by insightful, innovative coaching.

If Fedora keeps serving up games like last week's 55-31 loss to East Carolina and last year's 66-50 loss to Georgia Tech, then Fedora will be looking for a new job sooner rather than later.

The first question that should be posed is: does the UNC defense have too many chefs and not enough line cooks? The DC and cornerbacks coach is Dan Disch. Vic Koenning is Associate Head Coach for Defense and safeties coach. Ron West is co-DC and linebackers coach.

Only those inside the program can know for certain how the standard DC authority is dispersed. What is clear is that even when the right plays are called on defense, the players tend to fail due to lousy fundamentals, especially tackling that makes the average eight year old PeeWee League team feel good about its development and skills. And the weakest part of the defense is the defensive backs, which just so happen to have as position coaches the two men with the most power over the defense: Disch and Koenning.

Fedora's staff got to see the talent it had on defense in the spring of 2012. And that means that all gaps in fundamentals should have been known and addressed. The UNC defensive staff then had the 2012 season to find the right players and work out their weaknesses during live action. Spring practice in 2013 should have been enough time to smooth out rough edges and make certain that players on the field, however limited in size and speed compared to peers making All-ACC lists, at least can make tackles with some degree of consistency.

Instead, the UNC defense is no better now than it was last year. And that was bad.

The North Carolina football boosters are restless. Most of them opposed the firing of Davis. Virtually all of them see giving up 66 points to Georgia Tech in Kenan and 55 to ECU in Kenan as horrors not to be tolerated twice. Larry Fedora needs to address his defensive staff with a sharp, critical eye, the same kind of eye that Foley casts on Florida head coaches.

And if Fedora feels that the chemistry is not right on the defensive staff, or that basic coaching, such as teaching tackling fundamentals, is sorely lacking, and thus that one or two coaches need to be replaced, then he needs to act as soon as he can secure the replacement coaches he desires. If a third of the way through the 2014 season the UNC defense is no better than it is now, then the calls for Fedora's head will be growing in number and volume.

Jacob Shoor - Jacob Shoor a Tennessee native and UNC graduate who is now semi-retired and living back in Tennessee after having lived since his UNC days in SWC country and Big 8 country, as well as both SC and NC. Other than ACC sports and SEC football, Jacob Shoor is a fan of the Tour de France, the French Open, and hurling (Ireland's biggest team sport).