Q&A with Larry Fedora, Part II

GREENSBORO, N.C. --- Larry Fedora fielded questions from reporters for an hour at the ACC Kickoff. Read everything the Tar Heel head coach said in InsideCarolina.com's five-part transcription ...

How crucial is it to have two invaluable guys like Bryn (Renner) and Gio (Bernard) at those key positions that have played and succeeded?

It's really crucial at the quarterback position. Nowadays, if you don't have a triggerman you're not going to go very far. Take a look at the NFL, what do they say, there's probably seven or maybe eight quarterbacks that can take you to a Super Bowl. If you look around the league, that's about what it is and if you don't have one of them, you're not going.

Same thing, you've got to have one in college football. I feel very fortunate that Bryn is here and he's had some experience and he can make all the throws. But more importantly is the type of person Bryn is off the field. I've had guys before that have the talent that don't get it done because they're not the whole package. But Bryn's got the whole package so I'm excited about that.

Gio, what a great kid first of all. Just a pleasant kid to be around. He's vertically challenged and I give him a hard time about that all the time, and he takes it with a grain of salt. Your first two days in spring you're in shorts, so I don't put a lot of stock into what we do in shorts. But there was one guy, while we were in shorts, it didn't take me but about half a day to figure out he was special. I hope that Gio has a big year for us this year.

How quickly did Gio get on board once he found out what your spread is really about?

I don't know, everybody asks me, ‘When did these guys decide?' I don't know. I told them from day 1, they didn't have a choice so I'm guessing it was day 1. ‘I'm here, this is what we're going to do, like it or not, this is what we're going to do.'

I think all these kids bought in from the very start. I think they were hungry to have some stability in the program and they just wanted to move forward. There were so many things happening around the program and they were the forgotten ones. Everybody was talking about everything else, but they didn't really talk about the team and what's going on with them, and not knowing who your coaches are going to be.

If you've ever played college football, you're four years with a man who you've built a relationship with and he becomes a father-like figure to you. To not have that is a tough thing. When we stepped foot on campus, they totally jumped in right away and that was kind of a surprise to me.

When you came in, why did you feel compelled to ban caps and earrings?

I don't know why, that's just the way I was raised. People say, ‘What does that have to do with football?' I don't know. But, if you're going to represent our football team and I'm going to be the leader of this football team, you're not going to wear a hat in the building and you're not going to have an earring in when you're representing us. That's just the way I am. That's old school, maybe it's stupid, I don't know. It's who I am and it's the way we're going to do things. I don't have a good answer for you.

Where did you come up with that from?

I was raised that way. My mom and dad… you didn't wear a hat in the house, that's not what a man does. I sure as heck couldn't get an earring; I'd have to move out of the house.

Do you feel it's going to help with discipline?

I don't know – I really haven't put a whole lot of thought into it. It's just who I am as a person. The team is a direct reflection of me, and so I think that's important. I expect them to play with the same energy level that I coach at, so I expect them to take on my personality in a lot of different ways.

I don't know if they really understand that because a lot of them have not been raised that way. It's a different culture, a different society and I understand. But I'm still running the show and it's not a democracy. We don't vote on it, I just said this is what we're going to do and this is what we're going to do.

Any other rules like that?

No, the big thing is to do the right thing. I tell them, ‘You have three questions to ask yourself.' If it's going to embarrass me, meaning the player, my family or my teammates, then I know don't do it, whatever it is. If you can say yes to any of those three questions then don't do it.

There's not a player on my football that doesn't know the difference in right and wrong. The reason I know that is because I asked them all that. They all raised their hand, so I know they know the difference in right and wrong. Life is about choices. The sooner they understand that every choice you make in life has a consequence, hopefully they'll make better choices.

You get labeled as an offensive guru. Carolina's had a lot of great defensive players in recent years. What's going to be the most important part about keeping the defense strong?

I think one is implementing the 4-2-5. I'm totally sold on that defense and what you can do with that defense and the problems that it causes for an offense. Then it's going out and recruiting great players.

We've got guys like Sylvester Williams that, if I wouldn't have brought Kevin (Reddick to ACC Kickoff), that would've been the next guy that I brought. The way he represents the school and everything he does. I think that if he stays healthy and the good Lord willing, he'll have a chance to play at the next level and probably go pretty early.

You've got guys like Kareem Martin up front that I think has a chance to have a really big year this year. I think the sooner we can figure out where those guys need to go in this new defense – who needs to be the Bandit, who needs to be the Ram, who are those hybrid guys and then take advantage of what they can do – the better we're going to be. It's very, very important that we keep the tradition alive of having great defensive players here at North Carolina.

Every system has strengths and weaknesses. Does running the spread offense make you more susceptible to the running game in your defense?

A lot of people say that, but if you go back to the last two years in a row, there have only been two teams in the country that have rushed for over 200 years and thrown for over 250 and we're one of those two teams to do that in the last two consecutive years.

When I say spread, immediately everybody thinks ‘go fast and throw it every down.' That's not who we are. In the last five years, we've averaged over 205 yards rushing per game. There are teams that run the ball all the time, that don't average 205 yards rushing.

We pride ourselves on being able to do both. I don't believe that defenses can take both away. Now they can decide, ‘you know what; we're going to take the run away.' They can put eight or nine in the box and they can take the run away from you. I'm the kind of guy; I'm not going to beat my head against the wall. If you want to take the run away, fine we'll throw it. If you decide you're going to drop everybody and stop the pass, then we'll run it. I don't care; we're just going to take what you give us.

But what about (hurting) your rush defense?

I don't think so. One because of the way we structure practice, where we give the defense what they need. Again, we're going to be a physical football team. We have to be able to run the football, so we're going to do it against our defense. Whether the numbers are good or not, we're going to still run it.

Has the defensive play-calling... situation become clearer?

It may have, I don't know. We just got off of vacation last week, but we haven't met as a staff to sit down and go through all those things yet, but we will here before the season starts. I'm sure that those two guys have been working it out, because it was one of those things that we said when we come back from the summer I would like to have a pretty good feel on how we're going to do that.

I've left that totally up to them because they've worked together before. I'm sure it's going to be pretty much the way they had done it before. They'll probably tweak some things.

What made you such a strong believer in the 4-2-5?

Probably, I'll say this, we were right on the edge at Southern Miss of being a really good football team but we couldn't get over the hump. We go to the 4-2-5 and we got over the hump. We played Houston in that bowl game and they had the best offense in the country at that time. Case Keenum was a really good quarterback and he didn't know where our guys were coming from. So, that final nail was the thing that put it over the top for me.

What it does, it enables you to get to a 3-4 or 4-3 with the same personnel on the field. It makes it more difficult for an offensive coordinator or a quarterback to figure out what you're in, and what you're doing, who's dropping, who's rushing, what coverage you're disguising, what you're getting into. So, I'm sold on it.

Does it put more speed on the field?

Definitely. You've got two hybrid guys that are not your typical defensive end or your typical outside linebacker. It definitely puts more athletes on the field.

How do special teams factor in to your aggressive approach?

We definitely take a lot of pride in what we do in our special teams. We challenge our special teams each and every game to make a game-changing play. We want at least one game-changing play. That again evolved at Southern Miss to where we did some incredible things on special teams this past year, with blocked punts and return punts and return kickoffs and onside kicks, surprise onside kicks and we got every single one of them… fake punts, three of them from our own end zone ,and we got all three of those.

It was fun to be aggressive. Our kids understood, when coach calls a fake punt he's not calling to see if we're going to get the first down, he believes we're going to get the first down, so we better go get it. Because if we don't go get it, then he's probably not going to call it anymore. They took a lot of pride in being one of the best units on the field. That's something, a cultural change that's got to happen; it's going to be an evolution. It's going to take some time to get it done.

With what happened at Penn State, did you have any thoughts about the NCAA not doing their usual investigation and if that sets a precedent?

I don't know, the only thing I saw there was that they said that they felt like the investigation was more thorough than they could've done on their own. I really don't know enough about it to know what precedent has been set. Things are definitely changing when the NCAA president can step out there like that and basically have the blessing of the board of directors to be able to do what he wants at any time, I think that's a pretty big deal.

Check back tomorrow for Part III ...

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