Larry Fedora: 2016 (not 2015) is the True Test of his Coaching


Larry Fedora is in an important year for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Fedora has been with the program four years. It has not been easy for him with scholarship reductions and a program still associated with the scandals of yesteryear.

Still, Fedora has seen a diminishing result each year. His best season was arguably the campaign when the Tar Heels were on postseason probation in 2012. His last season saw the Heels make a late push to reach bowl eligibility and then never quite get over the ecstasy of beating Duke.

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Since the team painted the Duke campus, they subsequently lost to State and Rutgers in the next two games. The 4-2-5 defense was broken as the quality of personnel declined as the last Butch Davis talent left. Fedora took the hint and fired Vic Koenning and most of the defensive staff, replacing them with former third grade teacher Gene Chizik and a set of recruiters for a new scheme.

Strangely enough these moves actually downplay the significance of this season for the Tar Heels. Even though this is the swan song for quarterback Marquise Williams, most of the offensive talent on the team still has another year to go.

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The drop off from Williams to Mitch Trubisky will not be very far at quarterback. Arguably Trubisky might be a better fit given the benefit of better line play up front. Only Landon Turner leaves the offensive line after this season, so that next year’s line will be senior laden and experienced. Running backs TJ Logan and Elijah Hood will still be around to take advantage of it. Wideout Ryan Switzer should also still be around. By personnel the 2016 offense is well poised to have a big year, even bigger than what the 2015 offense produces.

The 2015 defense is the big question mark. Switching to the 4-3 makes the defensive front seven bigger. Instead of the bandit and the ram filling out that grouping, a second true defensive end and another linebacker join the formation. The trick is how well guys can develop in their new spots. Instead of Norkeithus Otis and Malik Simmons, the front seven will include Jessie Rogers and Shakeel Rashad.

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  • It is the line play that will decide how well the Tar Heels do this season. Last year teams destroyed the undersized line up front. It got to the point that NC State heavily modified its game plan around that one weakness and pounded the heck out of the Heels at the end of the year. The Coastal Division is full of teams that like to run. You have conservative Virginia Tech, pro—style Virginia, tailback recruiting Miami, former Wisconsin style Pittsburgh, and of course option driven Georgia Tech.

    Teams that defeated the Tar Heel line front last year saw big gains, because there was little the linebackers could really do if caught in the wash and there were only two of them. The secondary became responsible for tackling, and that was not its strength. If the Heels had a Kam Chancellor or Sean Taylor type, it might have been better off. That still would not have solved the line problem.

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  • This year many eyes will be on senior Shakeel Rashad. Rashad played with his hand in the dirt when he was healthy the last three years. Now he is the extra linebacker and hopefully the needed tackler the 4-3 formation requires. Rashad’s move to linebacker is not totally alien to him, he was used as the second linebacker last year in some pass rush situations.

    New defensive coordinator Chizik will have the benefit of a good set of cornerbacks to deploy. That was one side effect of the 4-2-5 system. However the safety position needs some coaching. As bad of Bunting era defenses could be, Bunting at least had Dexter Reid and then Gerald Sensabaugh to keep bad situations from getting worse (minus playing Greg Jones). The safety position has been a rotating door in recent years.

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  • While there is hope that the defense just needs some third grader fundamentals, the true magic Chizik and John Papuchis will work will be seen in the coming years when they find players to fit the system they want to work in. Year 2 will be better than year 1, so the defense outlook looks better for 2016 than it does this year. 2016 may be the prove it year for Fedora.

    So Tar Heel fans should look forward to this season, but the if Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are too much this year, they should relax. 2016 will be the true test of the Fedora regime.

    Next: Marquise Williams and the Davey O'Brien Trophy